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The Line: Ranking the House Races (and FixCam)

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It's time.

Nine months into the 2008 election cycle, the fight for control in the House remains in flux, but enough races have come into focus that we now feel comfortable ranking the top 10. Expect this ranking to change frequently as new make the list and others fall off.

So here's our shot at the top 10 House races in the country today. The contest ranked number one is the most likely to switch parties in 2008. The comments section awaits your kudos and criticisms.

To the Line!

10. Colorado's 4th District (Currently R): Every election we look at the strong Republican performance of this district and conclude that there is no way Rep. Marilyn Musgrave can lose the seat. And every election she barely manages to win. This time we won't be fooled. Democrats are heavily targeting this race and Musgrave has proven that she underperforms in this eastern Colorado seat. Angie Paccione, the Democrat who lost to Musgrave by less than 6,000 votes in 2006, is back for another race but faces a serious primary challenge from Betsy Markey, a former aide to Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) Salazar has already endorsed Markey, which could well give her a leg up in the primary. This race shouldn't be close given the district's demographics but it will be.

9. Kansas' 2nd District (Currently D): Rep. Nancy Boyda's (D) defeat of Jim Ryun (R) ranked among the biggest upsets of the 2006 election. Boyda had won just 41 percent in 2004 against Ryun but capitalized on the incumbent's inexplicable decision to take the race for granted. Ryun is back, pledging that he has learned his lesson. But, state Treasurer Lynn Jenkins is also running an active bid for the Republican nomination and could rob Ryun of the chance to avenge his loss. In a district that President Bush carried by 20 points in 2004, either Ryun or Jenkins should be in strong position as the nominee if -- and that is a big if -- the primary doesn't descend into the sort of moderate-versus-conservative battle that has riven the state GOP in recent years.

8. California's 11th District (Currently D): Rep. Jerry McNerney (D) was already going to face a very tough re-election fight before he came back from Iraq in July and offered what many anti-war activists believed was a too-optimistic assessment of the conditions on the ground. McNerney has back-tracked since but the damage with the base may well be done. Republicans are very enthusiastic about former state Assemblyman Dean Andal's (R) candidacy and believe he will have the primary field to himself. In a neutral political year, this district tends to favor Republicans. The 2008 elections are a ways off but it's hard to see how Republicans get the national environment back to neutral anytime soon. Still, McNerney has to find a way to avoid being squeezed between unhappy liberals on his left and Andal on his right.

7. Texas' 22nd District(Currently D): It's a testament to Rep. Nick Lampson's (D) political skills that this race isn't ranked higher on the Line. The 22nd is an extraordinarily Republican district, having given President Bush 64 percent in 2004 and 67 percent four years earlier. If not for the ethical cloud surrounding then Rep. Tom DeLay (R) and the ballot snafu that forced Republicans to run a write-in candidate as their nominee, Lampson would never be in Congress. But, unlike some of his fellow freshmen Democrats, Lampson is well aware of the circumstances surrounding his election and the challenge before him next November. Republicans have -- oddly -- struggled to find a top-tier candidate. Pete Olson, former chief of staff to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), is now running and could well end up as the establishment pick. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, who was Republicans' write-in candidate in 2006, is running again but few seem enthused for her candidacy.

6. Georgia's 8th District (Currently D): As most of America was moving heavily to Democrats in 2006, the Peach State was headed in the opposite direction. But Rep. Jim Marshall (D), who at one time seemed on the fast track to entrenched incumbent status, avoided defeat at the hands of former Rep. Mac Collins (R) by just 2,000 votes. Seeing an opportunity, Republicans worked hard on recruiting and wound up convincing retired General Rick Goddard to make the race. Goddard is widely seen as the strongest potential Republican candidate but may yet face a primary challenge from Collins, whose narrow loss must stick in his craw. National Republicans, however, have made clear Goddard is their guy and we're guessing Collins eventually takes a pass. If Goddard has a clear shot at Marshall, he should benefit from presidential year turnout in a district that favors Republicans.

5. Florida's 16th District (Currently D): Rep. Tim Mahoney (D) may have learned the wrong lessons from his 2006 win. That victory had almost everything to do with the scandal surrounding Rep. Mark Foley (R) and Republicans' inability to replace him on the ballot. The district, which gave President Bush 54 percent in 2004, tends to favor Republicans -- barring extenuating circumstances like those surrounding Foley. Republicans didn't get their first choice candidate in the seat -- state Rep. Joe Negron -- but the GOP now has a solid three-way field and are increasingly confident about their chances of making Mahoney a one-termer. Mahoney' isn't helping his own cause; his remark that serving in Congress "wasn't the greatest job" he has had will be used as a cudgel by Republicans next year.

4.Arizona's 1st District (Currently R): Rep. Rick Renzi's (R) retirement made it possible for his party to hold this vast northern Arizona district but it won't be easy. Former state Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who was forced to resign her legislative seat to run for Congress, is the early frontrunner for Democrats but is almost certain to face a primary. The Republican field is even less settled with state Rep. Bill Konopnicki, state Sen. Tom O'Halleran and 2002 primary candidate Sydney Hay all in and others including former state Senate President Ken Bennett weighing bids. While Renzi has held the seat since its creation in 2002, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by 23,000 and the GOP brand in the district is likely to be tarnished by the problems of Renzi.

3. Ohio's 15th District (Currently R): The retirement of Rep. Deborah Pryce (R) turns this Columbus-area seat from a good Democratic pickup opportunity into a great one. Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D), who lost to Pryce by just more than 1,000 votes in 2006, is running again and is likely to have the Democratic field to herself. Republicans insist they will have a serious candidate, but none has emerged and former state Attorney General Jim Petro (R) has removed himself from consideration. By the numbers this is one of the most closely divided districts in the country -- Bush won it by 2,000 votes in 2004 -- but the Ohio Republican Party was decimated in 2006 and will struggle to get back on its feet.

2. California's 4th District (Currently R): Given Rep. John Doolittle's (R) ethics problems and his refusal -- so far -- to retire from Congress, it's hard to rank this race anywhere outside of the top two. Doolittle eked by little-known challenger Charlie Brown (D) in 2006, despite the strong Republican nature of this northeastern California district. Brown is back again and is likely to be better funded by national Democrats this time around. But, it's hard for us to see how Doolittle makes it to the general election ballot. Several Republican leaders are holding off on an endorsement of the incumbent and he has already drawn several serious primary challengers. If Doolittle either retires or is defeated, this race will likely drop from the Line. But as long as he is on the ballot, Republicans are in serious jeopardy of losing the seat.

1. Virginia's 11th District (Currently R): Rep. Tom Davis (R) hasn't formally declared for the seat being vacated by Sen. John Warner (R) but -- trust us -- he's running. Davis' departure from this northern Virginia seat creates a terrific pickup opportunity for House Democrats. The district went narrowly for President Bush in 2004 and 2000 but the D.C. suburbs, which comprise most of the seat's population, have been trending more and more Democratic in recent elections. Add the likely candidacy of Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly (D) to the district's demographics and this race looks like a turnover.

By Chris Cillizza  |  September 7, 2007; 11:52 AM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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Next: Doolittle Says He Will Run, "Period."

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