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The Fix 50: Democrats make marginal gains, majority still in jeopardy

House Democrats appear to have made some marginal gains since our last Friday Line but the party still appears headed toward a very difficult election on Nov. 2 with the loss of their majority still very much a possibility.

Republican strategists long fretted that September would be a difficult month for them as the Democratic financial advantage -- at the candidate and committee level -- was brought to bear. And, it was.

Unlike in Senate races where American Crossroads -- the leading conservative-aligned outside group -- spent heavily to make up the difference with Democrats, there was far less third party money spent on the GOP side in House contests in the month.

Friday Line

The result was a series of races where Democratic incumbents were able to drag themselves from the brink of electoral defeat by going negative early and often against their Republican opponents.

One good example of this trend: South Dakota Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) who appeared to be in deep trouble in August but improved her prospects over the last six weeks.

The question for Herseth Sandlin -- and House Democrats more broadly -- is with both parties now at parity on television for the final month of the campaign can she/they hold on?

Below you'll find our rankings of the 50 House races most likely to switch parties in the fall. Kudos or critiques of our Line? The comments section is open for business.

To the Line!

50. Wisconsin's 8th district (Democratic controlled): A recent Republican poll showed Rep. Steve Kagen (D) trailing GOP challenger Reid Ribble by 18 points, and Wisconsin is a tough state for Democrats. (Previous ranking: 50)

49. Indiana's 2nd district (D): Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) has led in all the polling, but he's also been at the forefront of Democrats who have been running against their party leadership. That suggests he's scared. (Previous ranking: N/A)

48. Georgia's 8th district (D):The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee just spent its first money on this district and Republicans are growing more optimistic about state Rep. Austin Scott's chances. (Previous ranking: 48)

47. Hawaii's 1st district (Republican controlled): This is one of those districts where both sides really seem to like their chances, as special election-winning Rep. Charles Djou (R) faces state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D). (Previous ranking: 32)

46. South Carolina's 5th district (D): Rep. John Spratt (D) appears to be the most vulnerable of several Democratic committee chairmen who face a tough 2010 race. (Previous ranking: 46)

45. Illinois' 14th district (D): State Sen. Randy Hultgren's (R) campaign released a poll this week showing him leading Rep. Bill Foster (D) by six points. (Previous ranking: 41)

44. New York's 24th district (D): There hasn't been a poll showing Rep. Michael Arcuri (D) in big trouble, but he only won by four in 2008 and he faces a rematch this November. (Previous ranking: 28)

43. Ohio's 16th district (D): The DCCC has spent $536,000 on Rep. John Boccieri (D), while the National Republican Congressional Committee has spent $259,000 on businessman Jim Renacci (R). (Previous ranking: 27)

42. Pennsylvania's 8th district (D): Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) trails former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R) by 14 points in an independent Franklin and Marshall College poll of a rematch of their 2006 campaign. (Previous ranking: 49)

41. South Dakota's at-large district (D): This matchup between two female politicians in Herseth Sandlin (D) and state Rep. Kristi Noem (R) is one of the more compelling nationwide. (Previous ranking: 35)

40. Wisconsin's 7th district (D): State Sen. Julie Lassa (D) has been doing her best to distance herself from retiring Rep. David Obey (D) and outgoing Gov. Jim Doyle (D), even in a Democratic-leaning district. (Previous ranking: 39)

39. Michigan's 7th district (D): The two national party house committees have spent more in this district than any other -- a combined $1.25 million so far. (Previous ranking: 44)

38. West Virginia's 1st district (D): The atmospherics in this conservative-trending open seat are tough for Democrats - especially with the Senate race between Gov. Joe Manchin (D) and businessman John Raese (R) moving in the GOP's favor. (Previous ranking: 36)

37. Alabama's 2nd district (D): A Democratic poll recently showed him up nine, but Rep. Bobby Bright (D) was frightened enough to say this week that he will not support Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for another term as Speaker. (Previous ranking: 43)

36. Arkansas' 1st district (D): A Democratic poll last month was a lot friendlier to Democrats than other public data on the race; it showed former congressional aide Chad Causey (D) and agricultural broadcaster Rick Crawford (R) virtually tied. (Previous ranking: 34)

35. Michigan's 1st district (D): Michigan is one of Democrats' toughest states right now, and state Rep. Gary McDowell (D) has his work cut out for him in a swing district. (Previous ranking: 33)

34. Nevada's 3rd district (D): Rep. Dina Titus' (D) race with former state Sen. Joe Heck (R) has consistently polled as a toss-up -- just like the state's U.S. Senate race. (Previous ranking: 30)

33. Indiana's 9th district (D): Republicans are confident they can beat Rep. Baron Hill (D) with attorney Todd Young (R). (Previous ranking: 40)

32. Arizona's 5th district (D): Former Maricopa County Treasurer David Schweikert's (R) rematch with Rep. Harry Mitchell (D) is one of several rematches that could very well bear fruit for the GOP. (Previous ranking: 45)

31. Washington's 3rd district (D): State Rep. Jaime Herrera (R) could use a good performance at the top of the ticket from Senate candidate Dino Rossi (R) to win this swing open seat. (Previous ranking: 37)

30. Tennessee's 8th district (D): Farmer Stephen Fincher (R) has endured several weeks of bad publicity over his personal finances. But, this is a Republican leaning district in a state that looks to be going heavily for the GOP at all levels. (Previous ranking: 23)

29. Pennsylvania's 11th district (D): The NRCC is up with an ad using Rep. Paul Kanjorski's (D) long tenure in Congress against him. Kanjorski is attacking Lou Barletta (R) on his record as mayor of Hazleton. (Previous ranking: 25)

28. Pennsylvania's 3rd district (D): Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D) is in real trouble against car dealer Mike Kelly (R); a new Penn Schoen Berland poll gave Kelly a 13 point lead. (Previous ranking: 42)

27. Illinois' 10th district (Republican controlled): Two-time congressional candidate Dan Seals (D) has taken the fight to businessman Bob Dold (R) in a district held by Rep. Mark Kirk (R) but won easily by President Obama. (Previous ranking 12)

26. Pennsylvania's 7th district (D): Former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan (R) and state Rep. Bryan Lentz (D) are running neck and neck in a new Monmouth University poll. (Previous ranking: 22)

25. Arizona's 1st district (D): A poll done for The Hill newspaper showed dentist Paul Gosar (R) leading freshman Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) by seven points. The DCCC just plunked down more than $250,000 for ads for Kirkpatrick, however. (Previous ranking: 38)

24. Texas' 17th district (D): Rep. Chet Edwards (D) released internal polling Thursday night that showed him losing by four points to businessman Bill Flores (R) and the incumbent at only 42 percent. Not good. (Previous ranking: 31)

23. North Dakota at-large (D): Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D) has proven his ability to win in a tough district but this is his most difficult race ever. Republicans view this as a must-win for their side. (Previous ranking: 20)

22. Florida's 8th district (D): Rep. Alan Grayson is running perhaps the most unorthodox campaign in the country. And, it's starting to backfire. Witness the scads of negative press he received over his "Taliban Dan" ad. (Previous ranking: 26)

21. Florida's 2nd district (D): The NRCC is up with ads that paint Rep. Allen Boyd (D) as a tool of national Democrats -- a potentially potent message in a district where Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) won with 54 percent. (Previous ranking: 19)

20. New Hampshire's 2nd district (D): Both parties got their preferred candidates out of the primary. Moderate former Rep. Charlie Bass (R) has a slight advantage in the general election over Ann McLane Kuster (D) although the DCCC is on television hitting the Republican nominee.
(Previous ranking: 21)

19. New Hampshire's 1st district (D): Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) has run and won in two terrific election cycles for Democrats nationally. That won't be the case this time and an independent poll has former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta (R) ahead by 10 points. (Previous ranking: 29)

18. Maryland's 1st district (D): Freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil (D) began the cycle as one of the most endangered incumbents in the country. He's still in a perilous spot but the DCCC's heavy spending on his behalf suggests they think there is a path to victory. (Previous ranking: 10)

17. Virginia's 2nd district (D): A new poll conducted for The Hill newspaper showed auto dealer Scott Rigell (R) with a 42 percent to 36 percent lead over freshman Rep. Glenn Nye (D). (Previous ranking: 18)

16. Mississippi's 1st district (D): Both national parties are running ads in this district; Democrats say state Sen. Alan Nunnelee (R) is a tax raiser, Republicans say Rep. Travis Childers (D) is too close to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). (Previous ranking: 16)

15. Virginia's 5th district (D): Rep. Tom Perriello (D) still appears to be a priority for national Democrats, who continue to spend on the race, but the freshman congressman remains in peril. (Previous ranking: 15)

14. New Mexico's 2nd district (D): Democrats are accusing former Rep. Steve Pearce (R) of being the "most corrupt congressman" while Republicans are hitting Rep. Harry Teague (D) hard for canceling his employees' health insurance before Christmas. (Previous ranking: 14)

13. Ohio's 15th district (D): Freshman Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D) is running against national winds that are buffeting the Buckeye State particularly hard; recent polling shows her down double-digits in the race. (Previous ranking: 13)

12. Illinois' 11th district (D): National Democrats have yet to put resources into the race, and a poll conducted for The Hill newspaper this week showed Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D) was down 18 points against her Republican rival, Adam Kinzinger. (Previous ranking: 24)

11. Florida's 24th district (D): National Republicans are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars against Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D) on a new ad tying the freshman Democrat to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Previous ranking: 17)

10. Ohio's 1st district (D): A slew of recent polls show former Rep. Steve Chabot (R) is well-positioned to win back his former seat from Rep. Steve Driehaus (D). (Previous ranking: 11)

9. Indiana's 8th district (D): Heart surgeon Larry Buschon (R) maintains the edge over state Rep. Trent Van Haaften (D) in the race to succeed Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D) who is a major underdog in the Senate race. (Previous ranking: 9)

8. Colorado's 4th district (D): Just how much trouble is Rep. Betsy Markey (D) in? The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has yet to spend on her bid, making the race state Rep. Cory Gardner's (R) to lose. (Previous ranking: 8)

7. Kansas' 3rd district (D): State Rep. Kevin Yoder (R) pulled in a stunning $730,000 in the third fundraising quarter, putting him well on his way to victory next month. (Previous ranking: 7)

6. Delaware at-large's district (R): Rep. Mike Castle's (R) loss in the Delaware Senate primary is made all the more bitter by the fact that Democrats are on track to take over his soon-to-be-former seat in the House. (Previous ranking: 6)

5. Louisiana's 2nd district (R): State Rep. Cedric Richmond's (D) most recent TV ad featured President Obama, a major plus in this heavily African American district. (Previous ranking: 2)

4. New York's 29th district (D): The former seat of disgraced Rep. Eric Massa (D) is soon to belong to the GOP, with former Corning Mayor Tom Reed (R) cruising over former CIA agent Matt Zeller (D). (Previous ranking: 5)

3. Arkansas' 2nd district (D): Yet another open-seat race where Democrats are hard-pressed to stay competitive; former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin (R) is coming to Congress. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Louisiana's 3rd district (D): The race for the seat of retiring Rep.
Charlie Melancon (D) is all but over following attorney Jeff Landry's (R) win in last week's runoff. (Previous ranking: 4)

1. Tennessee's 6th district (D): Attorney Brett Carter (D) has called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to "step aside" for the good of Democratic candidates, but the seat of retiring Rep. Bart Gordon (D) is safely in GOP hands. (Previous ranking: 1)

By Chris Cillizza  | October 8, 2010; 11:15 AM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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