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The Friday Line: Good News For Both Parties in Latest House Rankings

As filing deadlines continue to pass in key states around the country, political pros are starting to get a better picture of the 2006 House playing field.

Democrats scored a last-minute victory in Kentucky by convincing former Rep. Ken Lucas to take on Rep. Geoff Davis (R) in the northern Kentucky 4th District, a race that enters the Line today for the first time this cycle.

Democrats looked like they were going to pull off another recruiting coup in Ohio by convincing Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett to drop his Senate candidacy in favor of a run in the 2nd District where he narrowly lost a special election last August. But Hackett opted not to seek the House seat. Meanwhile, over in Ohio's 6th District, Democrats suffered a major blow this week when their favored candidate -- state Sen. Charlie Wilson -- failed to secure enough signatures to qualify for the Democratic primary ballot (more on that gaffe below).

Republicans face their own Ohio problem in the 18th District. Some party insiders were hoping that Rep. Bob Ney would decide not to seek reelection, but Ney is running, and given his potential legal problems he will be a major target for Democrats this fall.

The battle for the House, so far, has yet to gel. At the micro level, Democratic blunders in Ohio give Republicans a reason to celebrate. At the macro level, an embattled White House and the prospect of more indictments in the ongoing lobbying scandal could create the national wave Democrats need to reclaim a majority. For now, keep close watch as filing deadlines approach; the parties' House recruiting continues until the absolute last minute, and whether or not a specific candidate decides to run can make the difference between a competitive contest and a cakewalk in the fall.

Remember, the ten races below are on this list because they are considered "in play" this fall. The no. 1 race is the one most likely to change parties. To the Line!

10. Pennsylvania's 6th District: Whether 2004 nominee Lois Murphy (D) is able to topple Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) this November looks to be largely dependent on the dynamics at the top of the ticket. Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell - a former mayor of Philadelphia - is already cranking up his turnout operation in the city and its surrounding suburbs to boost his chances of reelection against former Pittsburgh Steelers great Lynn Swann (R). Democrats believe the Rendell ground game will give Murphy the margin she needs. Republicans retort that Murphy couldn't win in the 2004 presidential cycle, when John Kerry carried the district. (Previous ranking: 9)

9. Illinois's 8th District: As Republicans continue to bash each other in advance of the March 21 primary, Rep. Melissa Bean's prospects continue to brighten. Bean has carefully crafted a voting record acceptable to voters in this GOP-friendly district, but Republicans will be watching closely in the coming months. Along with capturing Illinois's open 6th District, Bean's reelection is a top priority for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel - himself an Illinois native. (Previous ranking: 7)

8. Kentucky's 4th District: The Fix really thinks nos. 8 and 7 on this week's list should be tied in the rankings, so treat them both as "7s." Democrats scored a major victory in this northern Kentucky district by convincing former Rep. to run. Lucas remains popular in the district (a poll done for his campaign showed him with a ten-point digit edge over Rep. Geoff Davis) and he may be the only Democrat able to win the seat. But Lucas must prove he can beat a Republican incumbent in a district that strongly favors the GOP. Democrats have reason for excitement about their chances, but this is FAR from a sure thing. (Previous ranking: N/A.)

7. Indiana's 8th District: It's now or never for Democrats in this southern Indiana district. Although the seat went strongly for President Bush in 2004, Rep. John Hostettler (R) raises little money and refuses to hire professional political consultants - two decisions that make him a regular target. Vanderburgh County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth is the kind of conservative Democrat that can win in this district. Hostettler has regularly emerged victorious thanks to an army of conservative grassroots supporters, but will that formula be enough in the face of a tough political climate nationally for Republicans? (Previous ranking: 8)

6. Texas's 22nd District: Rep. Tom DeLay (R) faces his first major challenge to reelection in the March 7 GOP primary. Attorney Tom Campbell (R) has run a surprisingly aggressive campaign, but DeLay is paying attention and should make it through the primary without much trouble. What percentage of the vote DeLay receives in the four-way contest should be a telling indication of how much his support has soured over the past six months. Former Rep. Nick Lampson will be the Democratic nominee, while former Republican Rep. Steve Stockman is running as an independent - a development that further complicates DeLay's chances. (Previous ranking: 5)

5. Ohio's 18th District: Rep. Bob Ney's (R) decision to run for a seventh term makes it more difficult for Republicans to hold this seat, which - on paper - favors the GOP. Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer (D) isn't a top-tier candidate, but given Ney's demonstrated connections to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, he doesn't need to be. Ney seems oblivious to the controversy surrounding him, but national Republicans are clearly worried. While Ney has pledged to run even if he is indicted, such a development would likely end his political career. (Previous ranking: 6)

4. Arizona's 8th District - OPEN (Rep. Jim Kolbe is retiring): The fields in this southern Arizona open-seat contest continue to grow more crowded. For Democrats, the race seems likely to come down to ex-state Sen. Gabrielle Giffords and television anchor Patty Weiss. For Republicans, former state Rep. Randy Graf remains the favorite, but the candidacies of former state party chairman Mike Hellon and state Rep. Steve Huffman give national Republicans reason for optimism: Kolbe has previously said that Graf, who challenged him in the 2004 primary, is too conservative to win a general election race in this swing district. (Previous ranking: 4)

3. Iowa's 1st District - OPEN (GOP Rep. Jim Nussle is running for governor): This race drops a position on the Line solely because it remains so unformed. Businessman Mike Whalen (R) released a poll earlier this week showing him with a comfortable lead over state Rep. Bill Dix and attorney Brian Kennedy in the Republican primary - not surprising given Whalen's regular television presence in promoting his Machine Shed restaurant chain. Attorney Bruce Braley (D) has raised the most money of any candidate in the field and seems to be the frontrunner for his party's nomination. The Democratic nominee will begin the general election with an edge, as John Kerry carried the district by seven points in 2004. (Previous ranking: 2)

2. Ohio's 6th District - OPEN (Democrat Ted Strickland is running for governor): Charlie Wilson's failure to get 50 signatures in support of his bid makes this a much more difficult hold for Democrats. Wilson seems likely to run as a write-in candidate in the Democratic primary - a costly and risky proposition. Even if he does beat the two little-known candidates also seeking the nomination, his inability to master one of the most basic elements of a campaign is troubling. National Democrats insist Wilson's campaign is undergoing a staff overhaul, but it may already be too late. State Rep. Chuck Blaisdel is the likely Republican nominee. This race may drop down the Line depending on how Wilson does in the primary.(Previous ranking: 3)

1. Colorado's 7th District - OPEN (GOP Rep. Bob Beauprez is running for governor): Republicans hoping to hold this seat should be troubled by a recent Mason-Dixon poll that showed Beauprez trailing former Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter (D) 43 percent to 37 percent in a hypothetical gubernatorial matchup. If that survey is reflective of the overall political climate in the state, likely GOP nominee Rick O'Donnell will struggle to keep this suburban Denver seat in the Republican column. Democrats are staging a primary between former state Sen. Ed Perlmutter and former state Rep. Peggy Lamm. (Previous ranking: 1)

Check out the last Friday Line ranking of House races. For more on the 2006 midterms, see's interactive campaign map.

--Chris Cillizza

By Editors  |  February 24, 2006; 8:05 AM ET
Categories:  House , The Line  
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