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The House Line: Potential Surprise Wins for the GOP

In preparing for today's House Line, we came across an article written by Nathan Gonzales (a Fix friend) of the Rothenberg Political Report.

In it, Gonzales points out that in the past four "wave" elections (1994, 1980, 1966, 1958), the party that was on the losing end of massive seat losses still managed to pick up a district here or there. In 1994, Democrats lost 56 of their own seats but did manage to takeover four GOP-held seats in the process.

That's small comfort for the party on the losing end, but it's important to remember as we come ever closer to what many analysts are predicting will be a nationalized wave election for Democrats. House Democrats need a 15 seat pickup to retake control but if history is a guide, they may actually need to win 17 or 18 Republican-controlled districts to ensure a Speaker Pelosi.

Republicans have a handful of potential targets -- only two of which make our top 20 this week. But, if you are looking for places not mentioned in this Line where we might see a surprise Republican win on Nov. 7, keep an eye on Vermont's at-large open seat, Georgia's 12th district, Illinois' 8th district, West Virginia's 1st district and South Carolina's 5th district. None are prime opportunities for Republicans -- especially in the current political environment -- but each has upset potential.

Remember that the number one race on the Line is the most likely to switch parties on Nov. 7. The party that currently holds each seat is indicated in parentheses.

To the Line!

20. Iowa's 3rd District (D): Looking for an idea what state Sen. Jeff Lamberti (R) is running on? His first television ad provides a clue; he says the word "change" three times in the space of the thirty-second commercial. It's hard to believe that a Republican challenger can make a change message work in a year where GOPers are faring so dismally in generic measures, but we'll leave this race on the Line for one more week to see whether Lamberti's ads have any effect on his race against Rep. Leonard Boswell (D). (Previous ranking: 19)

Candidate Profiles/Links/Fundraising: Boswell, Lamberti | Incumbent's Voting Record | Iowa Political Profile

19. Illinois 6th District (R): The fact that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D) personally recruited Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth (D) into this race and has taken electing her to the open seat of Rep. Henry Hyde (R) as his personal project holds considerable weight with us. Unlike Duckworth, however, state Sen. Peter Roskam has a political base and has run and won elections before. He also had $1.3 million on hand compared to Duckworth's $900,000 at the end of June. (Previous ranking: N/A)

Candidate Profiles/Links/Fundraising: Duckworth, Bouchard | Incumbent's Voting Record | Illinois Political Profile

18. Georgia's 8th District (D): After a long hiatus, this race between Rep. Jim Marshall (D) and former Rep. Mac Collins (R) reappears on the Line. Why? Because President Bush would have won this redrawn district with 61 percent of the vote, and it is an extremely cheap date for the national GOP -- meaning that Republicans can make an all out push to paint Marshall as an out of touch liberal without doing much damage to their coffers. The thirty percent African-American population in the seat makes Marshall's math easier, however, and he has shown himself to be a solid campaigner. (Previous ranking: N/A)

Candidate Profiles/Links/Fundraising: Marshall, Collins | Incumbent's Voting Record | Georgia Political Profile

17. Pennsylvania's 7th District (R): We just can't shake the sense that Rep. Curt Weldon (R) is not entirely prepared for his first serious re-election race in two decades. Retired Admiral Joe Sestak (D) has blossomed into a surprisingly strong candidate and is forcing Weldon to run a real campaign. We're interested to see how Weldon's gambit to introduce legislation giving the generals on the ground full authority over deciding when American troops should leave Iraq is greeted by the district's voters. (Previous ranking: 20)

Candidate Profiles/Links/Fundraising: Sestak, Weldon | Incumbent's Voting Record | Pennsylvania Political Profile

16. Connecticut's 5th District (R): Rep. Nancy Johnson's (R) long experience in Congress -- she has held this northwestern Connecticut seat since 1982 -- has been one of her prime assets in past campaigns. In 2006, however, her tenure may be her biggest liability. In an election where every candidate wants to paint him or herself as an outsider to the political process, Johnson is entirely unable to do so. Still, Johnson is one of the best-funded Republican incumbents in the country ($2.6 million on hand as of June 30) and a recent DEMOCRATIC poll put her at 49 percent. (Previous ranking: 15)

Candidate Profiles/Links/Fundraising: Murphy, Johnson | Incumbent's Voting Record | Connecticut Political Profile

15. Connecticut's 4th District (R): 2004 nominee Dianne Farrell's (D) decision to make her first television ad of this campaign an indictment of Rep. Chris Shays's (R) long support for the war in Iraq seems a sound strategic decision. Shays drew national attention when, after returning from his 14th visit to Iraq, he called for a timetable for withdrawal of American troops. Since then, however, he has reiterated his support for U.S. involvement in Iraq and has insisted his move was not a flip-flop. One intriguing element of this race is Shays' refusal in 2004 to allow the National Republican Congressional Committee to run ads hitting Farrell. That decision allowed the Democrat to build her name recognition and position herself for this race, which may well come back to haunt Shays on Nov. 7. (Previous ranking: 17)

Candidate Profiles/Links/Fundraising: Farrell, Shays | Incumbent's Voting Record | Connecticut Political Profile

14. Kentucky's 4th District (R): The idea that former Rep. Ken Lucas (D) has a double-digit lead over Rep. Geoff Davis (R) at the moment -- as Democrats insist -- seems far-fetched. Lucas is certainly the best candidate Democrats could hope for, but NEVER forget that this northern Kentucky district voted for President Bush by 27 points in 2004. Davis also has nearly $1 million more to spend on the race -- not an insignificant factor in a district covered by four different media markets. (Previous ranking: 13)

Candidate Profiles/Links/Fundraising: Lucas, Davis | Incumbent's Voting Record | Kentucky Political Profile

13. Indiana's 9th District (R): Once considered the most vulnerable of the three targeted Indiana Republicans, Rep. Mike Sodrel (R) now appears to be in the best shape, though his re-election is far from assured. Former Rep. Baron Hill (D) seems to believe his 2004 loss to Sodrel was a fluke and is largely unwilling to admit the efficacy of any of Republican attacks on him. That seems somewhat short-sighted to us. (Previous ranking: 12)

Candidate Profiles/Links/Fundraising: Hill, Sodrel | Incumbent's Voting Record | Indiana Political Profile

12. Connecticut's 2nd District (R): A new poll conducted for the DCCC tells you everything you need to know about why Rep. Rob Simmons (R) is in trouble. In the polls Simmons trailed former state Rep. Joe Courtney (D) by a single point (41 percent to 40 percent), a remarkably strong showing given some of the other generic ratings for Republicans in the survey. Just 26 percent of the sample viewed President Bush favorably compared to 65 percent who saw him unfavorably; only 22 percent of voters believe the U.S. is on the right track, while 70 percent said it is headed in the wrong direction. That's a tough environment for a Republican (even one as moderate and politically savvy as Simmons). (Previous ranking: 11)

Candidate Profiles/Links/Fundraising: Courtney, Simmons | Incumbent's Voting Record | Connecticut Political Profile

11. Florida's 22nd District (R): Strategists of both partisan stripes admit this race between Rep. Clay Shaw (R) and state Sen. Ron Klein (D) is going to be among the closest in the country. The reason it's not ranked higher on the Line is simple: Shaw showed $2.7 million on hand as of Aug. 16, roughly $1 million more than Klein. In a media market as costly as this, Shaw has a significant advantage. (Previous ranking: 10)

Candidate Profiles/Links/Fundraising: Klein, Shaw | Incumbent's Voting Record | Florida Political Profile

10. Ohio's 15th District (R): Republicans are growing more and more pessimistic about Rep. Deborah Pryce's (R) chances of holding on to this seat. That negativity is due in large part to a lack of confidence in the Republican's campaign skills and operation -- she has not had a real race since winning the seat in 1992. Plus, Pryce's role in House leadership makes her answerable for any and all foibles committed by Republicans in the 109th Congress. Pryce has one of the best consultants in the business -- Sam Dawson -- on her team, but the race may be beyond saving. (Previous ranking: 14)

Candidate Profiles/Links/Fundraising: Kilroy, Pryce | Incumbent's Voting Record | Ohio Political Profile

9. New Mexico's 1st District (R): An independent poll released last week showed Rep. Heather Wilson (R) ahead of state Attorney General Patricia Madrid (D) 45 percent to 42 percent. That number jibes with other private data that shows this race within the margin of error. Madrid has stabilized her campaign with an attack on Wilson's support for the war in Iraq and is likely to stay on that topic from now until election day. (Previous ranking: 9)

Candidate Profiles/Links/Fundraising: Madrid, Wilson | Incumbent's Voting Record | New Mexico Political Profile

8. North Carolina's 11th District (R): Rep. Charles Taylor (R) has always been a target for Democrats, but they have never managed to close the deal in this western North Carolina district. This time around, however, things appear to be changing as former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler (D) is running a consistently good race and national Republicans remain worried about the quality of the Taylor campaign. The DCCC is on the air attacking Taylor as a tool of the oil industry; Taylor continues to cast Shuler as beholden to liberal Washington interests. (Previous ranking: 8)

Candidate Profiles/Links/Fundraising: Shuler, Taylor | Incumbent's Voting Record | North Carolina Political Profile

7. Indiana's 2nd District (R): Count us as confused as to why Rep. Chris Chocola (R) hasn't begun advertising on television. (As MANY astute readers have pointed out to us this morning, Chocola has been on TV since June. The Fix stand corrected.) The lone advantage Chocola has over his challenger (and 2004 nominee) Joe Donnelly (D) is financial ($1.5 million on hand to $435,000 on hand at the end of June). Can he exploit it over the last two months? (Previous ranking: 6)

Candidate Profiles/Links/Fundraising: Donnelly, Chocola | Incumbent's Voting Record | Indiana Political Profile

6. Pennsylvania's 6th District (R): Every time we begin to think Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) can hold off challenger Lois Murphy (Gerlach's opponent in 2004), we return to a poll released in late August by Murphy's campaign. The survey showed Murphy up 42 percent to 41 percent, but a more important indicator was the generic ballot question where 49 percent of voters preferred a Democratic candidate, while just 24 percent of voters backed a Republican. If that's even close to right, Gerlach is running into a fierce headwind. (Previous ranking: 7)

Candidate Profiles/Links/Fundraising: Murphy, Gerlach | Incumbent's Voting Record | Pennsylvania Political Profile

5. Texas's 22nd District (R): National GOPers insist that Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs's write-in campaign for the seat of former Rep. Tom DeLay (R) is doable. They note that Texas is a "voter intent" state -- meaning that as long as it is clear a voter meant to cast a vote for Sekula-Gibbs, it will be counted. However, the process of voting for a write-in on the district's electronic voting machines is far from simple. And, did we mention former Rep. Nick Lampson (D) has $2.2 million sitting in a bank account? (Previous ranking: 3)

Candidate Profiles/Links/Fundraising: Lampson | Incumbent's Voting Record | Texas Political Profile

4. Indiana's 8th District (R): Most Republicans we talk to think Rep. John Hostettler's (R) time is up. Never one to raise money or run modern campaigns, Hostettler has always gotten by on the strength of his grassroots organization in this southern Indiana district. But we hear Vanderburgh County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth has a wide lead in internal polling, and this one may be all but over. (Previous ranking: 5)

Candidate Profiles/Links/Fundraising: Ellsworth, Hostettler | Incumbent's Voting Record | Indiana Political Profile

3. Arizona's 8th District (R): Expect this race to move into the top two (or even claim the number one slot) if former state Rep. Randy Graf wins the Republican primary on Sept. 12. National Republicans held out some hope that moderate state Rep. Steve Huffman might be able to defeat Graf, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee smartly began running television ads attacking Huffman's credentials on illegal immigration -- a move that likely ended his chances. Former state Sen. Gabrielle Giffords should win the Democratic nod. (Previous ranking: 4)

2. Iowa's 1st District (R): The first two races on the Line should truly be ranked "1" and "1-A," as there is very little difference between the two. Voters in this district have elected Rep. Jim Nussle (R) for the past sixteen years. (This cycle Nussle is retiring from Congress and running for governor.) But the Democratic presidential candidate carried the district in 2000 and 2004, and it looks as if it will return to its normal voting pattern. Attorney Bruce Braley (D) is the likely beneficiary. (Previous ranking: 2)

Candidate Profiles/Links/Fundraising: Braley, Whalen | Incumbent's Voting Record | Iowa Political Profile

1. Colorado's 7th District (R): The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is already pummeling Republican Rick O'Donnell (R) over an article he wrote advocating the dissolution of Social Security. O'Donnell is hoping to gain some traction by hitting former state Sen. Ed Perlmutter (D) for his refusal to rule out a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but it's an uphill fight. (Previous ranking: 1)

By Chris Cillizza  |  September 11, 2006; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  House , The Line  
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Next: Va. Senate: We've Got a Real Race

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