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Posted at 2:22 PM ET, 01/ 7/2011

Uncertainty reigns in 2012 House handicapping

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

With Republicans gaining a whopping 63 seats in the 2010 election and the decennial redistricting process just beginning to ramp up, uncertainty is the watch word heading into 2012 House election.

It's too soon to know who among the giant GOP freshman class will be stars and who will be sub-par performers -- although it's a certainty in class of more than 90 that there will be plenty of both.

It's also too early in the redistricting process to know what members will see their districts wiped out or joined with another seat -- forcing an incumbent versus incumbent standoff.

Friday Line

Given those two factors, our first House Line of the 2012 cycle is meant to be taken cum grano salis -- in a major way.

The ten seats -- six Democrats, four Republicans -- that made our inaugural 2012 edition of the House Line almost all have two things in common: an incumbent who barely won in 2010 and the prospect of a redistricting plan that could further weaken their chances.

This Line should rightly be regarded as a starting point for what well could be a broad playing field created by Republicans' massive gains in 2010 and the electoral chaos created by redistricting.

Our top 10 is below. The number one ranked race is considered the most likely to switch parties in 2012. Have your own thoughts? Offer them in the comments section.

10. Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.): Bass beat Democrat Ann McLane Kuster by less than 2 percent in November and was under 50 percent. Kuster ran a good campaign, is weighing another run and would appear to have a good shot at beating Bass in the rematch. (Don't forget, Bass already lost reelection once, in 2006.) Republicans control the redistricting process in New Hampshire, but both of its House districts are swing districts right now, and any help Bass got would just make freshman Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.) that much more vulnerable.

9. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.): Peters was one of the only targeted Democrats to win in Michigan last cycle but his narrow victory over a subpar GOP nominee is likely to embolden Republicans to challenge him more seriously in 2012. Couple that with the fact that the GOP now controls all the levers of the redistricting process in the Wolverine State make Peters' one to watch.

8. Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.): Despite facing an unheralded opponent, Altmire won by just 2 percent in 2010. But he's got one of the toughest districts as one of the few remaining "McCain Democrats" -- i.e. Democrats holding districts that were won by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008. Republicans will re-draw the lines here, and they will try to make things tougher for both Altmire and Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pa.)

7. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.): Walsh was one of the more surprising winners in November. He makes this list both because Democrats will redraw his district and because a very capable politician, now-former Rep. Melissa Bean (D), may seek a rematch. Keep an eye on Bean, who would be an "A"-level recruit for Democrats.

6. Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.): McIntyre was the one that got away for Republicans this year. It was the only North Carolina race on which the GOP spent significant money, but the Democrat still won by 8 percent. Republicans control the redistricting process, and they won't do McIntyre (another McCain Democrat) any favors. The GOP does have some other potential targets here, in Reps. Larry Kissell and Brad Miller, but it's a good bet they'll go after McIntyre.

5. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.): Donnelly was the lone Democratic survivor among the three Hoosier State House seats that Republicans targeted in 2010. (The GOP knocked off Rep. Baron Hill and won the 8th district open seat.) But, with Republicans in charge of the redistricting process, Donnelly's days in Congress might be numbered as his South Bend-area 2nd district could well be sliced up. Recognizing this political reality, Donnelly is weighing a run for governor.

4. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.): Republicans' narrow takeover of the state Senate means there is split control of the redistricting process. But since the state is losing two seats, any compromise is likely to include a sacrificial lamb from each party. Because of population shifts, one of them is likely to come from a New York City Democrat, and the other is likely to come from a western New York Republican. Buerkle is one of three freshman out west, but she's easily the least heralded of the three, and her district is probably the easiest to eliminate.

3. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.): West is almost certainly too conservative for this south Florida district and the early days of his congressional tenure suggest he has no plans to moderate. Republicans control the redistricting process and will try to firm up West unless a new ballot measure that passed this fall, which seeks to take all political considerations out of the line drawing process, makes such a move impossible. No matter what, West is in for a very difficult race.

2. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas): In an election night filled with pleasant surprises for Republicans, the victory by the little-known Farenthold in a south Texas district was perhaps the most shocking. Farenthold's margin -- 775 votes -- and the overwhelmingly Hispanic nature of the 27th district make it a very tough hold for him in a presidential year. Republicans control the redistricting process in Texas but it's not clear yet whether they can make Farenthold's district any better.

1. Bobby Schilling (R-Ill.): In 2010, Shilling took advantage of an incumbent in former Rep. Phil Hare (D) who wasn't paying any attention. By the time Hare realized he had a race, it was already over. But, the demographics of Shilling's 17th district are tough -- President Obama won by 15 points there in 2008 -- and with Democrats in charge of redistricting in the state, things could get ugly for Shilling as he could be faced with the prospect of a race against rising star Rep. Aaron Schock come 2012.

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake  | January 7, 2011; 2:22 PM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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