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Handicapping the House

August 25th, 2010 - 2:05 pm

So, you think President Obama had a tough week? Wait’ll you get a load of what happened to the Congressional Democrats.

By Real Clear Politics‘ poll averaging, the GOP lock has jumped up three to 206 seats and the Democrats lost three to 196. That ten-seat deficit was a 202-202 tie just two weeks ago. When you consider how few seats are really in play, and that the campaign season doesn’t really begin until Labor Day weekend, that’s a remarkable amount of action.

From last week’s polls, a total of 17 seats shifted — and 16 of them moved right. Here’s the visual, courtesy of 270 to Win‘s online tools.


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If a district is red, it moved right this week. If it’s blue, it moved left. Next week, we’ll look at intensity — but all we’re measuring today is motion.

On now to the individual races, and we’ll do this from left to right to further right.

The biggest loser this week is two-term Democrat incumbent Jim Marshall in Georgia’s Eighth District. In the space of one week, GA08 has shifted from Likely Dem to a Toss Up. And the Cook PVI is R+10, so if Marshall really has lost — for whatever reason — the advantages of incumbency, I’d feel pretty comfortable putting twenty bucks even money on GOP challenger Austin Scott.

Three races moved one step right from Likely Dem to Leans Dem. That’s GA02, IL17 and NY25. You might know GA02 from the antics of Hank “Capsizing Guam” Johnson. I got to speak to his opponent, Liz Carter, on PJTV a couple weeks ago. If anyone can “Yank Hank” in a heavily-Democratic district, she can. The other two districts might be tougher nuts to crack, since their current congressmen don’t seem to be overmedicated crazy persons. Although NY25 has a freshman Democrat, Dan Maffei, up against the credible and attractive Ann Marie Buerkle. But Buerkle has a name-recognition deficit.

Or is that an asset this year?

Next, we get to the dozen races where the Democrats need to worry — er, the most recent dozen.

Six races have narrowed from Leans Dem to Toss Up: IL14, NC11, NY20, OR05, PA10, TX23. Let’s start with TX23, because I know this race pretty well. I interviewed GOP challenger Francisco Canseco in July, and he’s everything Ciro Rodriguez isn’t — charming, fun, and he doesn’t throw temper tantrums when people ask him questions. We’ve talked before about NC11, currently held by former quarterback Heath Shuler. He’s been up and down in the polls, but this is the first time that Republican Jeff Miller has pulled even in the polls. But Miller is short on money — hint, hint.

OR05 hasn’t sent a Republican to DC since Jim Bunn rode the ’94 wave — and was promptly brought home after just one term. Nevertheless, the GOP thinks this one is winnable and is putting resources into Scott Bruun’s campaign.

IL14 is R+1, affluent, white, and has a frosh Dem. NY20 is slightly less affluent than IL14, but is R+2 and also represented by a brand new Democrat. PA10 is solidly middle class, R+8, and has a two-term Democrat — the first Dem to hold the seat since 1961. Races like these will determine the next Speaker.

The next two groups help ease the GOP’s money problem.

Four races — AR01, FL08, FL24, and WA03 — now all Lean GOP from Toss Up, accounting for the most recent of 206 seats predicted to go red by RCP.

Of those, AR01 is the most interesting, because a Republican hasn’t held that seat since Reconstruction. Congressman Marion Berry is retiring, and his would-be successor, Chad Causey, is down in one poll by 16 points to Republican Rick Crawford. Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln — set to lose in November by the widest margin of any sitting Senator, ever — has, I think, completely spoiled the D label in her state. The party might take years to recover. If I were running the DCCC, I wouldn’t waste one blue cent on Causey.

WA03 has been held by Brian Baird pretty comfortably since 1999, and the Left Coast ain’t exactly red-friendly. So what’s going on? Cook rates the Third’s PVI dead even, and Baird was a big ObamaCare supporter. A YouTube video of a 2009 Town Hall, where Baird was taken to task by a disabled Marine, has been viewed 1.3 million times. His GOP opponent, Jaime Herrera, seems to be running a smart campaign in a close district. She’s been moving up, up, up all summer long.

We have two races in Florida to look at. The 8th is 70% white, middle class, R+2, and has a freshman Dem. The 24th is 80% white, middle class, R+4, and has a freshman Dem. If Dan Webster and Craig Miller can’t win their respective races, then the GOP might as well just shut down and turn over everything to the Tea Party. Not that I’m saying it shouldn’t, anyway.

And finally, PA03, where Republican Mike Kelly moved from a Toss Up to Leans Dem — our only jump to the left all week. This should be a cakewalk. Once again we have a Republican-leaning, middle-class district with an ObamaCare-lovin’, card check-supportin’ freshman Democrat. What happened? Dunno — but Kelly’s website is done up in green, so people might not even realize he’s a Republican.

Get on that, Mike.

Two last thoughts. Democrats made big gains in 2006-08 in upstate New York, central Pennsylvania, and Appalachia. All of those areas are now trending red. NY and PA because of the economy and ObamaCare, and Appalachia because of those two issues, plus the nagging fear that the Democrats really will finally impose some sort of Cap & Tax scheme. And in the coming weeks, look for some surprises in Arizona, Colorado, Virginia, and maybe even a Michigan race or two.

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