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The Friday Line: Endangered House Freshmen

Welcome to the last Line of 2006!

Today The Fix takes a look at the 10 House seats most likely to change party control come November 2008.

Yes, we know it's way early to be talking about House races -- heck the winners in last month's midterms haven't even been sworn into the 110th Congress yet. But politics never stops. Like it or not, incumbents are already preparing campaigns for 2008 and challengers are getting geared up.

In that spirit, let's get to to the Line. The seats are listed alphabetically (even The Fix isn't ready to rank them numerically) and as always your thoughts are welcome in the comments section below.

* California's 11th District (Currently D): After getting just 39 percent in 2004, Rep.-elect Jerry McNerney (D) took 53 percent two years later to knock off Rep. Richard Pombo (R). McNerney benefited from the general anti-Republican mood in the country as well as the years-long assault on Pombo from national environmental groups. Pombo didn't help his cause by running a decidedly lackluster campaign. The best news for McNerney when it comes to 2008 is that Pombo is considering a return engagement. If Pombo takes a pass, this will almost certainly be a tougher race for McNerney as it will be more about him and his record in his first two years in office rather than about Pombo. The district gave President Bush 54 percent of the vote in 2004.

* Florida's 13th District (R) : At some point, Democrat Christine Jennings's unwillingness to concede this race could damage her party's chances of winning the seat in 2008. Jennings continues to pursue her legal fight about undervotes in Sarasota County. She has sued the state in hopes of being declared the winner of the race or having a re-vote scheduled. Jennings has also asked the House Administration Committee to look into the voting irregularities when the 110th Congress convenes Jan. 4. The chances of success are slim. Meanwhile, Rep.-elect Vern Buchanan (R) is moving forward to claim the seat. His 369-vote margin should ensure a serious challenge in 2008 when Florida is certain to -- again -- be a prime battleground in the presidential race.

* Florida's 16th District (D) : Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Republicans here in 2006. Rep. Mark Foley (R) resigns amid a national scandal over his relationship with House pages. Republicans are unable to replace his name on the ballot -- requiring voters to cast a vote for Foley if they wanted to elect state Rep. Joe Negron, (R) who ran in his place. Despite ALL of that, Rep.-elect Tim Mahoney (D) won narrowly, 49 percent to 48 percent. That should be worrisome to national Democratic strategists who aren't likely to enjoy that same perfect storm in 2008. It will be a very tough hold in a district where Bush won 54 percent vote in 2004.

* Georgia's 8th District (D): Until Rep. Jim Marshall (D) makes a decision on whether to run against Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) in 2008, it's hard to handicap the race for this seat. Marshall once again proved his mettle this year by defeating former Rep. Mac Collins (R) in a redrawn district that, as now drawn, gave Bush 61 percent of its vote in 2004. If Marshall decides to stay put, he is far from a sure thing for reelection given that Georgia appears to be getting more and more Republican with each passing election -- a trend likely to be heightened in a year with a presidential election at the top of the ballot.

* New York's 20th District (D): Like several other Democratic freshmen on this list, Rep.-elect Kirstin Gillibrand must prove in 2008 that she can win without the benefit of having a damaged Republican incumbent to run against. Rep. John Sweeney (R) did almost everything wrong in his reelection race this year, including making an ill-fated decision to stop attacking Gillibrand and run a series of positive commercials toward the end of the contest. Gillibrand's reelection chances are complicated by the strongly Republican nature of the district. As of Nov. 1, there were 197,473 registered Republicans to 114,736 Democrats in the 20th. Of course, Gillibrand could get a nice boost if a certain New York senator was leading the Democrats' national ticket.

* North Carolina's 8th District (Currently R): The fact that Rep. Robin Hayes (R) beat Larry Kissell (D) by just 329 votes in 2006 and that Kissell has already announced he will run again should make this seat competitive in two years. But we've been down this road before in this central North Carolina seat. In 1998, Hayes beat unheralded Democrat Mike Taylor 51 percent to 48 percent despite the fact that Taylor got almost no support from the national party. Taylor immediately began running against Hayes in 2000 -- this time with the support and financial backing of national Democrats. But the element of surprise was gone; Hayes won by a comfortable 55 percent to 44 percent margin in 2002. Kissell clearly captured lightning in a bottle in 2006. Can he recreate it in 2008?

* Ohio's 2nd District (R): Rep. Jean Schmidt's (R) demonstrated weaknesses as a candidate should counteract the Republican nature of this Cincinnati-area seat and make it a top target for Democrats in 2008. Dare we raise the possibility of a return run by Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett? Hackett ran surprisingly strongly against Schmidt in an August 2005 special election and was courted to run for the seat this past cycle after national party heavies talked him out of challenging Sen.-elect Sherrod Brown in the Democratic primary. Hackett rejected a 2006 House run but left the door open for a bid for political office down the line. Could 2008 be that next race? Vic Wulsin, who nearly beat Schmidt last month, is also mentioned as a potential challenger.

* Ohio's 18th District (D): If Rep.-elect Zack Space (D) hasn't sent a "thank you" card to former Rep. Bob Ney (R), he should. Ney's entanglement with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the congressman's decision to drag out his resignation for months made it almost impossible for Republicans to win a district that, by the numbers -- Bush won 57 percent here in 2004 -- should be theirs. Republicans didn't help their cause by nominating a replacement candidate with ethical baggage of her own in state Sen. Joy Padgett (R). With Ney likely to be just a memory in 2008, Space must prove he can win a race on his own merits.

* Pennsylvania's 10th District (D): Rep. Don Sherwood (R) spent his entire campaign against Democrat Chris Carney arguing that while he did have an extramarital affair, he did not choke his mistress. Not exactly a winning message. And yet Carney won this year by only a 53 percent to 47 percent margin -- a sign of the deep Republican nature of a district where President Bush took 60 percent of the vote in 2004. Assuming Republicans don't nominate Sherwood or someone with similar ethical problems, this seat should be one of their top targets in 2008.

* Texas's 22nd District (D): In a presidential year, Republicans would likely have kept this seat despite the resignation of former Rep. Tom DeLay (R) and the ballot problems that forced the GOP to run a write-in candidate in the general election. As it was, Rep.-elect Nick Lampson (D) beat Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula Gibbs (R) 52 percent to 42 percent. Sekula Gibbs and any number of other Republicans are eyeing the race in 2008. President Bush carried the district by 22 points in 2004, and it should perform up to its Republican roots in 2008 with the presidential race on the ballot. A very tough hold for Lampson.

The comments are open for discussion.

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 22, 2006; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  House , The Line  
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