House playing field grows, Republican opportunities increase
Welcome to the first House Line of 2010 -- now with twice as much of the straight political dope you have come to expect.
Starting today the House Line grows to 20(!) races and just in time too as the increasingly volatile political climate continues to expand the potential playing field where the battle for the majority will be fought in less than 10 months time.
The Cook Political Report currently ranks 50 races in its most competitive categories while the Rothenberg Report pegs that number at 34. Regardless of which number you choose, the opportunity is almost all on the Republican side; Cook counts 40 Democratic races in his competitive 50 (80 percent) while Rothenberg has 30 Democratic seats in his top 34 (88 percent).
There are three mains reasons for Democrats' significant exposure in the coming midterm election.
First, history is against them. The first midterm election of a president's first term is almost always characterized by House losses in the mid-teens (and often higher). Remember that the Republican wave election in which the GOP picked up 54 seats and took back the majority came in 1994 -- the first midterm of President Bill Clinton's first term.
Second, the party is a victim of its own success. In 2006 and 2008 Democrats picked up better than 50 seats in the House -- often winning in places like Idaho and southern Alabama. By demographics alone, many of the 49 districts represented by Democrats but carried by Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in 2008 should move back to the GOP column this fall.
Finally, while it was always going to be hard for Democrats to consolidate their gains even in a neutral political environment, the fact that the national landscape has tilted against them makes their job all the more challenging in November.
As a result, Democratic-held seats dominate the new 20-race strong Line. As always, the number one ranked contest is considered the most likely to switch sides in the fall.
One other note: Due to the doubling of the number of races we are writing about, each write-up will be shorter in an attempt to preserve the Fix's sanity. That is all.
To the Line!
20. Colorado's 4th district (Republican-controlled): Rep. Betsy Markey (D) won this conservative-leaning Colorado Springs seat in 2008 because former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R) was so focused on bolstering her profile as a national conservative leader that she forgot about her district. Republicans are high on state Rep. Cory Gardner but he faces a primary fight. (Previous ranking: N/A)
19. California's 3rd district (Democratic-controlled): Rep. Dan Lungren (R) slipped by a surprisingly strong challenge in 2008 with 49 percent of the vote even as President Obama was squeaking out a 500-vote victory in the Sacramento-area 3rd. Democrats are very optimistic about their chances in the seat in 2010 and have lined up behind physician Ami Bera. (Previous ranking: N/A)
18. Idaho's 1st district (D): That Rep. Walt Minnick (D) is this far down the Line in a district where Obama took just 36 percent in 2008 is a testament to the incumbent's solid performance and the somewhat weak Republican field. Vaughn Ward, an Iraq war veteran, is the preferred GOP nominee but he faces a primary and has struggled on the fundraising front. (Previous ranking: N/A)
17. Ohio's 1st district (D): After years of frustration, Democrats finally ousted Rep. Steve Chabot (R) in 2008 thanks to heavy black turnout in the Cincinnati portion of the seat. Chabot is back again and, without President Obama at the top of the ticket, freshman Rep. Steve Driehaus (D) may struggle to recreate his winning math from last election. (Previous ranking: N/A)
16. Ohio's 15th district (D): In the days immediately following the 2008 election, state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) looked like the next Congressman from this Columbus-area district But, Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D) ultimately prevailed by just over 2,000 votes. Stivers is back and this is a district where a slight change in the national environment could hand the race to Republicans. (Previous ranking: N/A)
15. Washington's 3rd district (D): Rep. Brian Baird's (D) surprise retirement last month hands Republicans a pickup opportunity. The southwest Washington State district is swing territory -- President Obama won it with 53 percent in 2008 -- and both sides are headed toward real primary fights. (Previous ranking: N/A)
14. Florida's 8th district (D): Rep. Alan Grayson (D) doesn't seem to grasp that he sits in a district that is among the most evenly divided along partisan lines in the Sunshine State. Grayson's charge that Republicans want ill patients to "die quickly" became a national controversy and the Congressman's unrepentant attitude about the comment suggests he doesn't grasp his own political peril. Republicans think state Rep. Kurt Kelly is their best nominee but he will have to survive a primary. (Previous ranking: N/A)
13. Mississippi's 1st district (D): Rep. Travis Childers (D) scored a major coup when he claimed this northern Mississippi seat in a May 2008 special election and subsequently won a full term in November 2008 with 54 percent. Two things work against a Childers' re-election: the black turnout in the district will be down due to midterm turnout patterns and Republicans have nominated a candidate -- state Sen. Alan Nunnelee -- from the right geographic part of the district (Tupelo) this time around. (Previous ranking: 8)
12. Tennessee's 8th district (D): Rep. John Tanner's (D) December retirement in a district where Obama won just 43 percent in 2008 makes this west Tennessee seat a major battleground between the parties. Democrats are optimistic about their chances thanks to the candidacy of state Sen. Roy Herron who dropped from the governor's race to run. Farmer Stephen Fincher has drawn some national attention for his surprising fundraising but will have to win a primary fight. (Previous ranking: 9)
11. Virginia's 5th district (D): First, the bad news for Rep. Tom Perriello (D): he was one of only a handful of targeted Democrats to vote for both the cap and trade and health care bills. The good news: while Republicans are very excited about the candidacy of state Sen. Robert Hurt, a crowded primary remains a real possibility although Hurt has to be considered the favorite for the nomination. (Previous ranking: 5)
10. Arkansas' 2nd district (D): Rep. Vic Snyder (D) has long maintained the odd practice of not raising money -- literally, not a dime -- in off years. He's survived in his Little Rock-area district despite tying a hand behind his back because Republicans have never fielded a real challenger. Until now. Former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin has been in the race for months and is far ahead of the incumbent in cash and, if this survey commissioned for a liberal blog is to be believed, in polls as well. (Previous ranking: N/A)
9. Alabama's 2nd district (D): Rep. Parker Griffith's (R) party switch last month leaves Rep. Bobby Bright (D) as the only white Democrat in the state's delegation and, as such, a major Republican target. It's a testament to Bright's political skills that he was able to win this open seat in 2008 while Obama was winning just 37 percent in the seat. Bright's saving grace in that race was the district's large -- and energized -- black vote, a bloc of voters almost certain to shrink in a midterm election. (Previous ranking: 10)
8. Kansas' 3rd district (D): Rep. Dennis Moore (D) has held this Kansas City-area district for a decade despite its conservative underpinnings. His retirement in late November, however, has left Democrats scrambling to find a plausible replacement. Those efforts suffered a blow on Wednesday when former Kansas City Mayor Carol Marinovich announced she wouldn't run. Democrats must now hope they can convince current Mayor Joe Reardon to make the race. (Previous ranking: N/A)
7. Illinois' 10th district (R): Both parties are playing host to competitive Feb. 2 primaries in the race to replace retiring Rep. Mark Kirk (R) in this affluent North Shore district. Republicans argue that they have a strong field of candidates but the district's demographics -- Obama carried it with 61 percent in 2008 -- would seem to give the eventual Democratic nominee an edge. (Previous ranking: 4)
6. New Mexico's 2nd district (D): Former Rep. Steve Pearce (R) held this southern New Mexico seat easily before giving it up for an unsuccessful run for Senate in 2008. Rep. Harry Teague (D) used his personal wealth and familiarity with oil and gas issues to catapult himself to a surprise victory. Pearce is running for his old seat in 2010, however, and Teague's vote for cap and trade won't likely play well in the district. (Previous ranking: 6)
5. Maryland's 1st district (D): A recent poll conducted for state Sen. Andy Harris' (R) campaign showed him leading Rep. Frank Kratovil (D) by a 52 percent to 39 percent margin. That Kratovil's campaign didn't release numbers of its own suggests the incumbent isn't in a good place -- not surprising given the Republican tilt of this Eastern Shore district. (Previous ranking: 7)
4. Louisiana's 3rd district (D): Time moves slowly in this southeastern Louisiana district where the candidate fields remain in flux. State Rep. Nickie Monica is running on the Republican side while Democrats still hold out hope that Scott Angelle, a member of Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) cabinet, will decide to not only run but decide to run as a Democrat. (The Cook Report lists Angelle as a potential candidate for the Democratic and Republican nominations.) The key number to remember in this race is 61, which is the percentage of the vote that McCain won in the district in 2008. (Previous ranking: 3)
3. Louisiana's 2nd district (R): Rep. Joseph Cao became a Democratic celebrity late last year when he was the lone Republican vote for the President's health care bill. The problem for Cao is he will still be running for re-election in this New Orleans-based district where Obama won 75 percent with an "R" after his name. (Previous ranking: 2)
2. Delaware's at-large district (R): Republicans insist they will find a real candidate against former Lt. Gov. John Carney (D) in the open seat race to replace Rep. Mike Castle (R). While they have some time to do just that -- filing closes on July 30 -- it's hard to see a candidate of real strength emerging from the state's weak Republican bench. (Previous ranking: 1)
1. Tennessee's 6th district (D): Rep. Bart Gordon's (D) surprise announcement last month that he would retire from this middle Tennessee seat he has held since 1984 likely handed Republicans a pickup. Not only did President Obama take just 37 percent in the district but Democrats can't seem to find a serious candidate interested in running. Republicans are headed toward a crowded primary but it may not matter. (Previous ranking: N/A)
January 15, 2010; 12:47 PM ET
Categories: The Line
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