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President Obama, the 50 percent mark and the battle for the House

Screen shot 2010-08-13 at 10.15.50 AM.png

Gallup recently released a study examining the correlation between a President's approval rating and the losses or gains his party incurs in midterm elections.

The results have to be worrisome for Democrats with just 81 days before the 2010 vote.

In the seven midterm elections since World War II in which the president's approval rating was under 50 percent in the run-up to the vote, his party lost an average of 36 House seats. By contrast, presidents with approval ratings over 50 percent see their party shed an average of 14 seats.

In the most recent Gallup daily tracking poll, Obama's approval stands at 46 percent, and it has hovered between 44 percent and 47 percent for much of the last three months.

Assuming Obama's numbers don't improve between now and Nov. 2 -- and the stability they have displayed over the past 90 days suggests that, barring a large-scale event, they won't -- it's clear that Democrats are headed for major losses at the ballot box this fall.

Friday Line

If the 2010 election plays out to historic norms then, a 36-seat loss would keep Democrats in control of the House by a meager three seats -- a scenario as nightmarish (or perhaps even more so) for the party in the run-up to the 2012 presidential race than losing control entirely.

Why? Such a narrow majority would virtually ensure gridlock far worse than what we have witnessed in the first two years of the President's term. And, Democrats would still have to deal with the political reality that they are the majority party -- and, as such, the side expected to get things done in Washington.

Most Democratic strategists we talk to still argue that being in the majority even by a few seats is better than the alternative -- due at least in part to the likelihood that Republicans would use their subpoena power to tie the Obama Administration in knots.

Regardless of where you come down on whether a small Democratic majority or minority status is the better outcome for the party's long-term prospects, there is no debate that control of the House is up for grabs this fall.

Below are the 30 races most likely to switch party control in the fall. Agree or disagree? The comments section awaits.

To the Line!

30. Texas's 17th district (Democratic-controlled): Rep. Chet Edwards was endorsed by the National Rifle Association earlier this week - further evidence of the Democratic incumbent's successful outreach to conservative voters and groups. He'll need it as he represents a district, which includes Texas A&M University (whoop!), that is strongly conservative. Edwards told The Fix he sees this race against businessman Bill Flores (R) as pretty similar to the many tough campaigns he's already won. But, this election cycle presents a tough challenge for any incumbent -- particularly a Democrat in a seat like Edwards holds. (Previous ranking: 24)

29. Ohio's 16th district (D): Businessman Jim Renacci (R) outraised freshman Rep. John Boccieri by more than $150,000 in the 2nd quarter -- and self-funded $200,000 on top of that. Boccieri's decision to switch from opposing the first House health care bill to supporting the second one could be costly and tough to explain. (Previous ranking: N/A )

28. Nevada's 3rd district (D): Freshman Rep. Dina Titus (D) pulled even with former state Sen. Joe Heck (R) in the most recent Mason-Dixon poll on the race. In April, Heck led 49 percent to 44 percent; Titus took 42 percent to Heck's 40 percent last month. Titus benefited from Obama's strong performance in the state in 2008; she could be hurt by his fading numbers in 2010. (Previous ranking: N/A)

27. Florida's 2nd district (D): Rep. Allen Boyd has spent heavily -- $2.3 million -- during his primary against state Sen. Al Lawson, but much of that money is actually targeted toward the general election. If Boyd survives the primary -- and he should -- he will have a big financial advantage on businessman Steve Southerland (R), who raised a paltry $34,000 between July 1 and Aug. 4. Still, this is not a very good district for Democrats and the late primary doesn't help Boyd. (Previous ranking: 30)

26. New Hampshire's 1st district (D): Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) surprised many political observers by winning her seat in 2006 and surprised them again by winning re-election two years ago. New polling from the University of New Hampshire shows she leads all comers but is well below 50 percent. The GOP primary, which goes down on Sept. 14, seems to be between former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta and wealthy Republican National Committeeman Sean Mahoney. (Previous ranking: 22)

25. Florida's 24th district (D): National Republicans hope self-funding former Ruth's Chris CEO Craig Miller comes out of a crowded GOP primary in this Orlando-area district. The other candidates haven't shown the ability to raise serious money. Waiting is Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D), who like Boccieri flipped on the health care bill. (Previous ranking: 25)

24. Tennessee's 8th district (D): Farmer/gospel singer Stephen Fincher did surprisingly well in an expensive and brutal GOP primary with physician Ron Kirkland and Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn but he now finds himself at a significant financial disadvantage against state Sen. Roy Herron (D). Herron, a conservative Democrat is a good ideological fit for this area but Fincher's stronger-than-expected primary win has boosted Republicans' confidence. (Previous ranking: 27)

23. Pennsylvania's 7th district (D): State Rep. Bryan Lentz (D) is taking significant heat after campaign supporters circulated petitions to get a tea party candidate on the ballot as an independent. The candidate, Jim Schneller, called the situation "dreadful", and it could be a big liability for Lentz against former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan (R) who is touted by national Republicans as a star in the making. (Previous ranking: 28)

22. New Hampshire's 2nd district (D): Though more Democratic-leaning than the state's 1st district, the primary campaign between Democrats Ann McLane Kuster and Katrina Swett has been so nasty that state party chairman Ray Buckley has publicly pleaded with the two candidates to tone it down. Former Rep. Charlie Bass faces a GOP primary but he's looking strong. (Previous ranking: 29)

21. New York's 24th district (D): Rep. Michael Arcuri was the first New York Democrat to call for Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) to resign from the House amid ethics charges against him. That's the sign of a concerned candidate, and Arcuri should be. Businessman Richard Hanna (R), who narrowly lost to the incumbent in 2008, is already on TV and is one of few challengers to equal an incumbent in campaign funds. (Previous ranking: 21)

20. North Dakota at-large (D): Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D) is a perennial target for Republicans who look at the GOP tilt of the state and struggle to understand why they can't win the seat. Pomeroy's resilience is due to his attentiveness to his campaign apparatus and his fundraising prowess. But, state Rep. Rick Berg is a strong candidate running in a very good Republican year. (Previous ranking: 23)

19. Florida's 8th district (D): Rep. Alan Grayson (D) seems oblivious or uninterested in the idea that this Orlando-area district is very closely divided between the two parties -- regularly appearing on liberal chat shows and doing everything he can to turn himself into a spokesman for the liberal wing of the party. Grayson's approach has paid off in massive fundraising totals ($1.4 million on hand as of Aug. 4) but leaves him vulnerable to attacks in the general election that he is out of step with the mainstream of the district. (Previous ranking: 13)

18. Virginia's 5th district (D): Rep. Tom Perriello (D) is smart, affable and a terrific fundraiser. But, he may well be representing a district that in unwinnable in an election environment like this one. State Sen. Robert Hurt nicely weathered a primary challenge earlier this summer and while his fundraising has to improve, Republicans feel good about where the race stands. (Previous ranking: 20)

17. Virginia's 2nd district (D): Unlike Perriello who has voted for all of the major elements of President Obama's agenda, Rep. Glenn Nye (D) has opposed them. It may not matter. If Nye can't energize the African American Democratic base in the district, he can't win. Auto dealer Scott Rigell is the Republican nominee. (Previous ranking: 19)

16. Illinois 10th district (Republican controlled): The race to replace Rep. Mark Kirk (R), who is running for the Senate, is shaping up to be one of the best contests in the country this fall. Democrat Dan Seals has run and lost twice for the seat while businessman Bob Dold gets favorable reviews from national Republicans. The demographics of this affluent North Shore seat -- President Obama won it with 61 percent in 2008 -- give Seals the edge but both sides acknowledge the race is close. (Previous ranking: 11)

15. Ohio's 15th district (D): State Sen. Steve Stivers is one of the few Republican challengers with a cash edge over the Democratic incumbent he is taking on. (Stivers ended June with $1.24 million on hand as compared to $933,000 for freshman Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy.) Democrats believe Stivers' work as a lobbyist could be a potentially race-saving issue for them but Kilroy won by only a handful of votes against Stivers in 2008 -- a far better year in Ohio and nationally for Democrats. (Previous ranking: 16)

14. New Mexico's 2nd district (D): One of the least-fluid races in the country is being staged in southern New Mexico between Rep. Harry Teague (D) and former Rep. Steve Pearce (R). Both men are well known and there is very little undecided vote to speak of. Pearce's fundraising has been very strong and in a good year nationally for Republicans it's getting harder to see how Teague pulls it out. (Previous ranking: 15)

13. Hawaii's 1st district (R): Rep. Charles Djou's (R) special election victory earlier this year was the result of an internecine Democratic fight that allowed him to shoot the middle gap. He won't have that luxury in the fall as Democrats have united behind state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa. Republicans insist Hanabusa is a weak candidate who won't be able to take independent voters from Djou. Maybe. But, this a Democratic district by the numbers. (Previous ranking: 9)

12. Maryland's 1st district (D): Unlike many of his Democratic colleagues, Rep. Frank Kratovil has publicly released a poll showing him ahead of 2008 Republican nominee Andy Harris. This Eastern Shore district is still a very tough hold for Democrats in a year like this one, however. (Previous ranking: 10)

11. Mississippi's 1st district (D): Rep. Travis Childers (D) is up with his first ad of his general election fight against state Sen. Alan Nunnelee, a spot in which he seeks to put as much distance as possible between himself and Democrats in Washington. It's a smart strategy in a district where President Obama won just 38 percent in 2008. But, is it enough? (Previous ranking: 8)

10. Indiana's 8th district (D): It's easy to look at President Obama's narrow four-point loss in this southern Indiana district in 2008 and assume it is a swing seat. But, look a bit further back and you see that then President George W. Bush carried the 8th by 24 points in 2004 and 14 points in 2000. Democrats like their candidate -- state Rep. Trent Van Haaften -- but this is a very, very tough seat by the numbers for the party to hold. (Previous ranking: 18)

9. Kansas' 3rd district (D): State Rep. Kevin Yoder struggled against former state Rep. Patricia Lightner in last week's primary for the right to take on Stephene Moore (D) for the seat being vacated by her husband Dennis Moore (D). Yoder's less-than-convincing win brightens Moore's prospects somewhat although she's already being tied to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by Americans for Prosperity, which went up with a TV ad this week. (Previous ranking: 6)

8. Colorado's 4th district (D): Outside groups are everywhere in this district already. State Rep. Cory Gardner (R) is being hit by EMILY's List and the Defenders of Wildlife while Americans for Prosperity has launched a $330,000 ad buy against freshman Rep. Betsy Markey (D) centered on her votes for the cap-and-trade and health care bills. This is a very tough district for Democrats and Gardner is a very good candidate. (Previous ranking: 12)

7. Ohio's 1st district (D): This race is moving rapidly up the Line, a trend line reflecting the fact that former Rep. Steve Chabot (R) has to now be considered the favorite in his challenge to freshman Rep. Steve Driehaus (D). A Susan B. Anthony List poll released last week showed Chabot leading Driehaus 51 percent to 41 percent and Democrats have released no data to rebut it -- suggesting that there isn't any. (Previous ranking: 14)

6. Delaware at-large's district (R): Former Lt. Gov. John Carney (D) remains the favorite in the race for the seat of Rep. Mike Castle (R), even though both businesswoman Michele Rollins (R) and developer Glen Urquhart (R) have personal wealth to draw upon in the race. Rollins is VERY wealthy and national Republicans would like to see her emerge from the state's Sept. 14 primary. Even with the national environment favoring Republicans, the GOP will be hard-pressed to hold this seat. (Previous ranking: 5)

5. New York's 29th district (D): It's looking less and less likely that Democrats will be able to hold this seat in the race for the seat of former Rep. Eric Massa (D). Former Corning Mayor Tom Reed's (R) campaign has not dazzled, but Democrats have a lackluster nominee in CIA analyst Matt Zeller. Zeller took in $86,000 in the second quarter, compared to $345,000 for Reed. (Previous ranking: 7)

4. Arkansas' 2nd district (D): Former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin (R) is a strong favorite to claim the seat of retiring Rep. Vic Snyder (D). State Sen. Joyce Elliott was the weaker of the two potential Democratic nominees as she is probably too liberal for the district. Griffin took in $379,000 in the second quarter, leaving him with three times as much cash-on-hand as his Democratic rival. (Previous ranking: 4)

3. Louisiana's 3rd (D): Early voting begins tomorrow in the Aug. 28 Republican primary for the seat of Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) in which former state House Speaker Hunt Downer and attorney Jeff Landry will face off. Downer took in nearly $275,000 in the first five weeks of his bid, but he has been hammered by Landry for previously being a registered Democrat. The winner of the Republican primary is expected to sail to victory in November. (Previous ranking: 2)

2. Louisiana's 2nd district (R): A month ago, a poll released by Rep. Joseph Cao's (R) camp showed the endangered freshman running ahead of the Democratic field. Since then, fundraising reports have shown Cao brought in a lackluster $139,000 in the second quarter, and the DCCC has placed state Sen. Cedric Richmond (D) in its "Red to Blue" fundraising program -- all of which suggest the future might not be Cao. (Previous ranking: 3)

1. Tennessee's 6th district (D): Certification of the final vote tally is still pending after last week's GOP primary that saw state Sen. Diane Black eke out the narrowest of victories over former Rutherford County Republican Party chairwoman Lou Ann Zelenik and state Sen. Jim Tracy . Even so, it's a very safe bet that the eventual nominee will be on track to take the seat of retiring Rep. Bart Gordon (D) in the fall. (Previous ranking: 1)

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

By Chris Cillizza  |  August 13, 2010; 12:41 PM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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