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The Friday Line: Dems Firm Up House Target List

For those of us who spend too much time trying to figure out how the battle for control the House of Representatives will play out this fall, Democrats offered a major clue earlier this week.

2006 Election -- Interactive Map
Interactive Campaign Map: More Election Data and Analysis.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began reserving time in media markets around the country, signaling where Democrats plan to spend significant dollars to win back the majority. The buys, which would total $20 million, cover 11 media markets and 14 congressional districts.

Here's a look at the markets where the DCCC has reserved time and how much time the committee asked for; the competitive district covered by that market is in parentheses.

* Tucson, 8 weeks (AZ-08)
* Denver, 6 weeks (CO-07)
* Hartford, 5 weeks (CT-02 and CT-05)
* Miami, 3 weeks (FL-22)
* West Palm Beach, 5 weeks (FL-22)
* Cedar Rapids, 10 weeks (IA-01 and IA-03)
* Evansville, 11 weeks (IN-08 and IN-09)
* Louisville, 6 weeks (IN-09 and KY-04)
* Indianapolis, 3 weeks (IN-09)
* Cincinnati, 6 weeks (KY-04)
* Charleston, 6 weeks (KY-04)
* Lexington, 6 weeks (KY-04)
* Albuquerque, 8 weeks (NM-01)
* Philadelphia, 4 weeks (PA-06, PA-07, PA-08)

This list will fluctuate between now and the election as Democrats adjust their spending priorities. But this is the first indication of where House Democrats believe the fight for control will be staged, so pay attention.

To the Line! These are the House races most likely to change party control in the November election. The No. 1 race is the one that's most in danger of flipping. The comments section is open for your own lists.

20. Illinois's 8th District: Rep. Melissa Bean, who began the cycle as the most endangered Democratic incumbent in the country, has nearly made her away off the Line. Bean continues to shine on the fundraising front, with more than $2.2 million on hand at the end of June. Businessman David McSweeney (R) has the deep pockets to keep himself in contention, but even Republicans acknowledge that Bean hasn't given them much to work with. (Previous ranking: 17 | Candidate Profiles/Links | IL-08 Demographics)

19. Virginia's 2nd District: This race makes the Line for the first time. Virginia Beach Commissioner of Revenue Phil Kellam (D) is already running television ads that tout him as an "independent voice" for the district, a contrast to Rep. Thelma Drake (R), whom Kellam paints as walking in lockstep with President Bush. A Kellam poll released recently showed the soundness of that strategy. Just 32 percent of the sample approved of the job Bush was doing, compared with 62 percent who disapproved. Kellam led in the head-to-head question, 45 percent to Drake's 42 percent. Remember that Gov. Tim Kaine (D) won this district in 2005 -- a sign that voters are willing to side with a Democrat with the right message. (Previous ranking: N/A | Candidate Profiles/Links | VA-02 Demographics)

18. Vermont's At-Large District: This race is a puzzler. Democrats insist it has no business in the top 20, pointing out the strong Democratic tendencies of the state and the not-ready-for-primetime campaign being run by Adjutant General Marha Rainville (R). Republicans argue that this seat remains one of their top opportunities because Rainville is a well-known and well-liked person in the state who is seen as above partisan politics. The road appeared to get slightly easier for Rainville when restaurateur Dennis Morrisseau dropped from the Republican primary. But Morrisseau is now likely to run in the general election as an independent. Still, given their successes over the past several cycles, we don't take House Republicans' optimism lightly. (Previous ranking: 20 | Candidate Profiles/Links | VT-AL Demographics)

17. Pennsylvania's 7th District: Count The Fix among those impressed by retired Admiral Joe Sestak's (D) fundraising over the period. He outraised Rep. Curt Weldon (R) by $15,000 from April 1 to June 30 and is now well within shouting distance in cash-on-hand -- $1.15 million for Weldon, $994,000 for Sestak. Weldon hasn't had a real race in a long time, and it shows. His latest gaffe? Using his official picture and biography on his campaign Web site. He changed it after Sestak's campaign protested. This race has the potential to keep moving up the Line. (Previous ranking: 19 | Candidate Profiles/Links | PA-07 Demographics)

16. New York's 24th District: National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) regularly makes the point that he cut his political teeth in New York's not-so-nice political world and takes great pride in his knowledge of the state, its districts and its people. Given that background, you can bet Reynolds will do everything within his power to keep this Upstate New York district in Republican hands this fall. State Sen. Ray Meier will be the Republican nominee, while Oneida County District Attorney Michael Arcuri will be the Democratic standard-bearer. Democrats' top-of-the-ticket dominance this fall in New York should help downballot candidate, but it won't likely make up for the 40,000 difference between registered Republicans and registered Democrats in this district. (Previous ranking: 16 | Candidate Profiles/Links | NY-24 Demographics)

15. Illinois's 6th District: Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth (D) opened some eyes with her fundraising total from April to June 20. In those three months she collected $844,000 -- far outpacing state Sen. Pete Roskam, who brought in $401,000. Although Roskam still carried a $400,000 cash-on-hand lead over Duckworth, her strong quarter shows the strength of her candidacy. This seat is DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel's (Ill.) No. 1 priority -- the district is in his backyard and he convinced Duckworth to run. The Fix wouldn't bet against Rahm. (Previous ranking: 18 | Candidate Profiles/Links | IL-06 Demographics)

14. North Carolina's 11th District: Rep. Charles Taylor's (R) races are very difficult to handicap. On the one hand, Taylor keeps a low profile in the district, and in this campaign he has been consistently outraised by former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler (D). (Shuler closed June with $669,000 in the bank compared to Taylor's $238,000.) But Taylor is one of the wealthiest men in the Tarheel State and can easily finance his campaign with a flick of a pen. And although he has been targeted in the past, Taylor hasn't dipped below 55 percent since winning the seat in 1990. Shuler's star appeal and conservative stance on social issues make him Taylor's strongest opponent to date. But it remains to be seen whether the newcomer can withstand the bright lights this fall. (Previous ranking: 15 | Candidate Profiles/Links | NC-11 Demographics)

13. Kentucky's 4th District: While many Democratic challengers across the country eclipsed or equaled the fundraising totals of their GOP incumbent rivals in the last filing period, former Rep. Ken Lucas (D) brought in less than half of what incumbent Geoff Davis (R) raised. Davis collected $732,000 to Lucas's $318,000 and widened his cash-on-hand lead to more than $900,000. (Davis hosted President Bush in the district for a fundraiser on May 19.) National Democrats are sure to spend heavily here on Lucas's behalf, but the slowdown in his fundraising (especially when so many Democrats are experiencing the exact opposite phenomenon) is troubling. Still, the only polling done in this race showed Lucas with a 10-point lead, so he may begin the general election with a cushion. (Previous ranking: 11 | Candidate Profiles/Links | KY-04 Demographics)

12. Iowa's 3rd District: The only district currently held by a Democrat where the DCCC reserved TV time for the fall is Rep. Leonard Boswell's seat. That's telling. Boswell went through a rough health patch last year and, although he appears to have recovered, questions remain about his ability to match the energy of state Sen. Jeff Lamberti (R) on the campaign trail this fall. Boswell raised more than $400,000 between April 1 and June 30 to Lamberti's $378,000. (Previous ranking: 13 | Candidate Profiles/Links | IA-03 Demographics)

11. New Mexico's 1st District: Seeking to define the terms of what will likely be the most expensive race ever in this Albuquerque-based district, Rep. Heather Wilson went up with television ads earlier this month. After a introductory positive spot, Wilson has pivoted to attack Attorney General Patricia Madrid's (D) record as the state's top cop. "As Attorney General, Patricia Madrid has ignored the corruption in Santa Fe for years," says the narrator in Wilson's commercial. Madrid has yet to fight back on television but should have the resources to do so. At the end of June she had $1.3 million in the bank. (Previous ranking: 10 | Candidate Profiles/Links | NM-01 Demographics)

10. Indiana's 8th District: This is the only district in the country where the National Republican Congressional Committee and DCCC have already been on television with ads. The main reason is the cheap cost of TV time in the Evansville market, but it also shows the import both sides put on this southern Indiana seat. Vanderburgh County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth (D) outraised Rep. John Hostettler (R) -- again -- in the second quarter, closing it with $676,000 compared with the incumbent's $195,000. (Previous ranking: 9 | Candidate Profiles/Links | IN-08 Demographics)

9. Connecticut's 4th District: Rep. Chris Shays (R) has always done things a bit differently. In 2004, he refused to allow the National Republican Congressional Committee to run ads attacking Democrat Dianne Farrell, and in the end he eked out a 52 percent to 48 percent victory. Farrell is back again and hoping to turn the race into a referendum on the Iraq war, which is increasingly less popular in the Constitution State. Shays, oddly, seems comfortable with that dynamic. He has made 13 trips to Iraq and after his most recent visit insisted that progress was being made. Farrell looks likely to be at financial parity with Shays, ending June just more than $100,000 behind the incumbent in cash on hand. (Previous ranking: 12 | Candidate Profiles/Links | CT-04 Demographics)

8. Florida's 22nd District: If you live in this district and have an aversion to negative politics, you might want to turn your television off for the next four months. Rep. Clay Shaw (R) and state Sen. Ron Klein (D) continued to rake in cash over the past three months; the incumbent closed June with $3 million on hand, Klein with better than $2.1 million. The vast majority of that cash will go into an all-out television battle between the two candidates. And that's not even counting the millions the national parties will spend here. This one is going to get ugly -- and quick. (Previous ranking: 7 | Candidate Profiles/Links | FL-22 Demographics)

7. Connecticut's 2nd District: For months we've heard that former state Rep. Joe Courtney (D) is a much better candidate than he was in 2002 when he lost to Rep. Rob Simmons (R) 54 percent to 46 percent. We've been skeptical, but Courtney's fundraising is making believers out of us. In the 2002 race he raised $1,228,000; by the end of June 2006, Courtney had raked in $1,264,000. He is still going to be outspent by Simmons, but Courtney's improved fundraising shows that he has learned some of the lessons from his last campaign, which was panned by national party strategists. Since defeating Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D) in 2000, Simmons has been on borrowed time in a district that John Kerry won by 10 points in 2004. Simmons's time may be up. (Previous ranking: 8 | Candidate Profiles/Links | CT-02 Demographics)

6. Indiana's 9th District: The biggest mover on the Line last month drops two slots this time around. We still believe Rep. Mike Sodrel (R) will struggle to recreate the electoral math he enjoyed in 2004, but at the moment he is in better shape than the two GOP incumbents ranked above him. How important is this seat to Democrats? Former President Bill Clinton stumped in the district for former Rep. Baron Hill earlier this month, the first fundraising stop Clinton has made for a candidate this cycle. Sodrel has had his own star fundraisers, including First Lady Laura Bush, who was in the district in late June. Campaign cash was at near parity at the end of June -- Sodrel had $1.1 million on hand compared with Hill's $968,000. (Previous ranking: 4 | Candidate Profiles/Links | IN-09 Demographics)

5. Pennsylvania's 6th District: Let's see here ... 2004 challenger Lois Murphy (D) ended June with more cash on hand than Rep. Jim Gerlach in a district that John Kerry won by three points in 2004 and where Gov. Ed Rendell's vaunted turnout machine will be churning full force to win him a second term. That adds up to big trouble for Gerlach. If Ohio's Bob Ney and his legal woes weren't a factor, Gerlach would be the most endangered incumbent in the country. (Previous ranking: 5 | Candidate Profiles/Links | PA-06 Demographics)

4. Ohio's 18th District: After dropping this race two slots in last month's Line, we move it right back this time around. Why? Attorney Zach Space's (D) campaign released a poll that showed him leading Ney by a 46 percent to 35 percent margin. Ney struck back with a survey of his own that showed him leading Space 45 percent to 41 percent. If a poll showing him well under 50 percent and ahead by a statistically insignificant margin is the best Ney can do, he must be in deeper trouble than we previously suspected. Not to mention that the departure of three staffers from his congressional office has sparked talk - again - that he is on the verge of being indicted in connection with the Jack Abramoff federal investigation. (Previous ranking: 6 | Candidate Profiles/Links | OH-18 Demographics)

3. Arizona's 8th District: There is a clear difference between the top two races on the Line and this one. The 8th went for President Bush by seven points in 2004 and no Democrat has represented the area since 1984. But,it is an open seat and, given the recent record of incumbents winning reelection, we simply can't vault any current member of Congress over this seat. Former state Sen. Gabrielle Giffords looks stronger and stronger in her primary race, methodically lining up establishment support, including Emily's List and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. Former state Rep. Randy Graf remains the most likely Republican nominee, but state Rep. Mike Huffman has the endorsement of Rep. Jim Kolbe (the current holder of the seat) and a huge cash advantage over Graf -- $413,000 to $51,000 at the end of June. (Previous ranking: 3 | Candidate Profiles/Links | AZ-08 Demographics)

2. Colorado's 7th District: Statewide polling continues to show Colorado as tough territory for Republicans this fall -- a trend that should spur Democrats to a pick-up of this suburban Denver seat. Former state Sen. Ed Perlmutter remains the favorite in the Aug. 8 primary, but former state Rep. Peggy Lamm has made the race surprisingly competitive. Assuming Perlmutter brings his financial advantage -- $515,000 on hand at the end of June compared with Lamm's $255,000 -- he should win. Former Higher Education Commissioner Rick O'Donnell (R) waits in the wings, but he may just have picked the wrong year to run for Congress in Colorado. (Previous ranking: 2 | Candidate Profiles/Links | CO-07 Demographics)

1. Iowa's 1st District: This race has drawn considerable national attention in recent weeks. Businessman Mike Whalen (R) hosted Vice President Dick Cheney and Arizona Sen. John McCain for fundraisers. Bruce Braley was one of a handful of Democrats to condemn a Web ad that featured images of flag-draped caskets that was created by the DCCC. Both national parties will spend heavily in this eastern Iowa district, but all things being equal the seat's Democratic lean should make this a Democratic takeover. (Previous ranking: 1 | Candidate Profiles/Links | IA-01 Demographics)

-- Chris Cillizza

See The Fix's June ranking of top House races.

By Editors  |  July 21, 2006; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  House , The Line  
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Next: Election 2006: The Bellwether Project

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