The most important number in the midterms
Midterm elections -- particularly the first midterm of a president's first term in office -- tend to be nationalized, serving as an early referendum on how the chief executive is doing in the eyes of voters.
Given that, the most important number when trying to analyze how many seats Republicans will win this fall may well be President Barack Obama's job approval number. The better the president is doing in the eyes of voters, the less likely they will be to punish his party at the ballot box.
The most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll pegged Obama's job approval rating at 45 percent while 48 percent disapproved. It marked the first time in Obama's presidency that those disapproving of how he is handling the office outnumbered those approving of the job he is doing in the NBC/WSJ numbers.
The NBC/WSJ poll reflects a broad trend in Obama's approval numbers that has to be at least somewhat concerning for Democratic party strategists.
The history of first-term, midterm elections suggest that President Obama will almost certainly see considerable losses -- no matter where his job approval stands on November 2nd. In every election of that sort since World War II, the president's party has lost House seats with the exception of the Sept. 11-impacted 2002 election.
Where Obama's job approval rating will matter is on the margins. If he is over 50 percent on election day, it's hard to see marginal Democrats losing solely because their Republican opponent sought to tie them to the chief executive. (That is, by the way, clearly the Republican strategy heading into the fall; Democrats, meanwhile, will try to localize races.) If Obama is at 45 percent or lower, however, it's uniquely possible that GOP attacks linking Democratic candidates to him could drive up the number of seats that his party losses.
Below you'll find our ratings of the 30 races most likely to change party control in the fall. The number one race is considered the most likely to switch sides.
As always your thoughts are welcome in the comments section below.
To the Line!
30. Florida's 2nd (Democratic-controlled): Rep. Allen Boyd has a double-barreled problem: a primary challenge from his ideological left in the form of state Sen. Al Lawson and then a real general election opponent who, according to an internal GOP poll, is already beating Boyd. And, although the Democratic primary isn't until Aug. 24, it's already getting nasty. (Previous ranking: N/A)
29. New Hampshire's 2nd (D): The open seat occasioned by Rep. Paul Hodes' Senate candidacy hasn't drawn much national attention but is a concern for Democratic strategists. While the district is the more Democratic of the two Granite State seats, former Republican Rep. Charlie Bass (R) has the sort of moderate profile that could appeal to voters -- assuming he survives the Sept. 14 primary. (Previous ranking: N/A)
28. Pennsylvania's 7th (D): National GOP strategists view former U.S. Attorney -- and former gubernatorial candidate -- Pat Meehan as one of their genuine stars. State Rep. Bryan Lentz (D) should benefit from 7th district Rep. Joe Sestak as the Democratic Senate nominee. (Previous ranking: N/A)
27. Tennessee's 8th (D): State Sen. Roy Herron (D) is one of the more impressive candidates we've met this cycle: affable, reasonable and a conservative Democrat, which is the only way he could stand a chance of getting elected in this western Tennessee seat that gave Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) 56 percent in 2008. Farmer Stephen Fincher, a darling of national Republicans, now faces a real primary on Aug. 5. (Previous ranking: 22)
26. Michigan's 1st (D): By all rights, this Upper Peninsula district should be a great GOP pickup opportunity in the aftermath of Rep. Bart Stupak's (D-Mich.) surprise retirement announcement. But while state Rep. Gary McDowell has a clear path in the Democratic primary, the Republican field is muddled and could compromise things for the GOP in November. (Previous ranking: 24)
25. Florida's 24th (D): Freshman Rep. Suzanne Kosmas' (D) 16-point victory over Tom Feeney (R) in 2008 was a bit deceiving as this central Florida seat is a very competitive one. (John McCain won with by two points in 2008 even as he was losing statewide by three.) Republicans have a a crowded -- and late -- primary but former Ruth's Chris steakhouse CEO Craig Miller looks like the nominee. (Previous ranking: N/A)
24. Texas' 17th (D): Is this the cycle that Republicans finally -- really-we-mean-it-this-time -- take down Rep. Chet Edwards in his deeply conservative Waco-area district? GOP strategists are starting to think so. And they've got a poll showing GOP nominee Bill Flores leading Edwards 53 percent to 41 percent. (Previous ranking: N/A)
23. North Dakota at-large (D): Every two years, national Republicans insist that this is the election cycle that Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D) loses. And yet, since 1992, Pomeroy had held the state's at-large district. The tough environment nationally for Democrats coupled with Gov. John Hoeven's (R) expected margin in the state's Senate race and the candidacy of former state Rep. Rick Berg (R) make a compelling case that this will be Pomeroy's toughest race to date. (Previous ranking: N/A)
22. New Hampshire's 1st (D): Rep. Carol Shea Porter (D) won election and then re-election in 2006 and 2008 -- two very good years to run as a Democrat in New Hampshire (or anywhere for that matter). This November is shaping up to be a less friendly electoral climate for Shea Porter although the Republican field is quite crowded. (Previous ranking: 26)
21. New York's 24th (D): New York's filing deadline is July 15 and there is still the occasional rumor that Rep. Mike Arcuri (D) won't seek a second term. National Democrats insist that won't happen but even if Arcuri seeks a third term, he has put himself at considerable peril with his lackluster fundraising ($493,000 in the bank as of the end of March) in a swing seat. Richard Hanna, who came within 6,500 votes of beating Arcuri in 2008, is back as the likely Republican nominee. (Previous ranking: 16)
20. Virginia's 5th (D): State Sen. Robert Hurt (R) was cast as a potential victim of the tea party movement but wound up winning easily in his primary earlier this month. He will face freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) in the fall in a conservative, Southside district. But, Perriello is running a strong campaign and Jim McKelvey, who finished second behind Hurt in the primary, has declined to endorse the GOP nominee. Worth mentioning: An independent candidate is getting some love from the tea party. (Previous ranking: 25)
19. Virginia's 2nd (D): Businessman Scott Rigell withstood some well-funded primary challengers earlier this month and entered the general election with a 41 percent to 35 percent lead on freshman Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.), according to Rigell's own polling. His ability to self-fund should keep him on competitive financial footing with the incumbent. (Previous ranking: 23)
18. Indiana's 8th (D): Democrats are growing increasingly optimistic about state Rep. Trent Van Haaften, Rep. Brad Ellsworth's (D) handpicked candidate to replace him in this southern Indiana seat. (Ellsworth is running for Senate.) Still, a tough district in a good year for Republicans. (Previous ranking: 11)
17. West Virginia's 1st (D): State Sen. Mike Oliverio (D) was added to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Red to Blue" program after beating Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) in a primary. Oliverio may be harder to beat than Mollohan but the GOP emphasis on this district is evident by House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) Saturday trip to raise money for former state Del. David McKinley (R). Don't forget: this is a 57 percent McCain district. (Previous ranking: 21)
16. Ohio's 15th (D): State Sen. Steve Stivers (R), who narrowly lost to Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D) in 2008, is doing everything he can to avoid the mistakes of that campaign. To wit: he was named Ohio Right to Life's "preferred candidate", a designation that should shore up his right flank from the possibility of a third party candidate. (In 2008, anti-abortion rights candidate Don Eckhart won five percent of the vote.) (Previous ranking: 20)
15. New Mexico's 2nd (D): Former Rep. Steve Pearce (R) won the GOP nod for his old seat with 85 percent earlier this month. Meanwhile, Rep. Harry Teague (D) has had to contend with reports that his former company dropped health care coverage for its employees. Could Hispanic gubernatorial nominee Susana Martinez's (R) coattails help out Pearce in this 49 percent Hispanic district? (Previous ranking: 15)
14. Ohio's 1st (D): A recent internal poll for former Rep. Steve Chabot (R) has him up by double digits against Rep. Steve Driehaus (D). That, coupled with a national environment this year increasingly favoring Republicans and the likelihood of a decreased black turnout in this Cincinnati-area district, should help Chabot. (Previous ranking: 19)
13. Florida's 8th (D): Rep. Alan Grayson's (D-Fla.) string of controversial comments sure look like a potentially potent liability in November. But national Republicans, worried about a tough and wide-open primary here, aren't quite as bullish. Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) recently endorsed former state Sen. Dan Webster in the GOP primary, but national Republicans like businessman Bruce O'Donoghue. (Previous ranking: 9)
12. Colorado's 4th (D): State Rep. Cory Gardner (R) has taken heat from the right for his decision to cancel a fundraiser featuring Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) after King's controversial remarks about President Obama "favoring the minority." Even so, his prospects of unseating freshman Rep. Betsy Markey (D) remain bright. (Previous ranking: 12)
11. Illinois' 10th (R): Vice President Biden hosted a fundraiser for 2006, 2008 and 2010 Democratic nominee Dan Seals last week. Businessman Bob Dold gets solid reviews from national Republicans and should benefit from current 10th district Rep, Mark Kirk's (R) Senate candidacy this fall. But, it looks like the third time will be the charm for Seals. (Previous ranking: 14)
10. Maryland's 1st (D): Rep. Frank Kratovil released a poll this week showing him leading state Sen. Andy Harris (R) 44 percent to 39 percent in a rematch. The fact that he feels the need to demonstrate that he actually has a lead -- although well under 50 percent -- shows how tough this district is. But Harris faces a self-funding primary opponent that could force him to spend real money. (Previous ranking: 8)
9. Hawaii's 1st (R): Newly minted, special election-winning Rep. Charles Djou (R-Hawaii) won't have as easy a time in November as he did in a field where two serious Democrats split the vote last month. But even though former Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) has now cleared the way for state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, she is the candidate national Democrats regarded as the weaker of the two in the special election. (Previous ranking: 6)
8. Mississippi's 1st (D): State Sen. Alan Nunnelee (R) won his party nomination outright earlier this month, giving national Republicans their preferred candidate to face freshman Rep. Travis Childers in this northern Mississippi district. Still, with Childers recently picking up the endorsement of the NRA, the race won't be settled without a fight. (Previous ranking: 13)
7. New York's 29th (D): Even with the special election to replace former Rep. Eric Massa (D) set for the same day as the general election this fall, this is still a tough hold for Democrats given the swing nature of this southern tier seat. Former Corning Mayor Tom Reed (R) is the near certain Republican nominee although activist Janice Volk (R) recently jumped in the race. (Previous ranking: 10)
6. Kansas' 3rd (D): National Democrats continue to be optimistic about the candidacy of Stephene Moore (D), the wife of retiring six-term Rep. Dennis Moore (D); the DCCC last month named her one of its Red-to-Blue candidates. But Moore has found herself on defense after state Rep. Kevin Yoder (R) raised questions about her bona fides as a conservative Democrat. (Previous ranking: 5)
5. Delaware at-large (R): Wealthy businesswoman Michele Rollins (R), the GOP establishment's preferred candidate, won at the May state convention but still faces a primary fight from developer Glen Urquhart among others. Meanwhile, former Lt. Gov. John Carney (D) recently got a helping hand from Vice President Biden at a May fundraiser. (Previous ranking: 4)
4. Arkansas' 2nd (D): Democrats nominated the more liberal and less well-funded of the two candidates in this month's runoff in the form of state Sen. Joyce Elliott. Republican former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin's campaign has a poll showing him leading 50 percent to 34 percent, despite the fact that Elliott is much better known. This will be a very tough one for Democrats to hold. (Previous ranking: 7)
3. Louisiana's 2nd (R): Rep. Joseph Cao (R) has been raising his national profile with his response to the Gulf Coast oil disaster. And he may also be getting a bump thanks to the potential independent candidacies of African-American politicians who could cut into state Rep. Cedric Richmond's (D) take in this heavily black and heavily Obama district. (Previous ranking: 2)
2. Louisiana's 3rd (D): Former state House Speaker Hunt Downer's (R) entry into the race all but ensures that Republicans will pick up the seat of Rep. Charlie Melancon(D) who is leaving it to run for Senate. The bigger question: Does the district survive the 2011 redistricting process? (Previous ranking: 3)
1. Tennessee's 6th (D): The question here isn't whether a Republican will win the strongly conservative seat of former Rep. Bart Gordon (D), but which one: about a half dozen candidates will face off in the August 5 primary -- two of whom are claiming they've won the endorsement of Joe the Plumber. Not kidding. (Previous ranking: 1)
With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez
June 25, 2010; 2:05 PM ET
Categories: The Line
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