Congressional Dem Incumbents: Who Are the Most Vulnerable?

Michigan appears to be the safest state for the Democrats of the five contests on this list. Stabenow has held a lead over former Congressman Pete Hoekstra in every poll so far, though a few surveys give her a lead in the mid-single digits. Michigan is expected to be a strong state for President Obama despite GOP success in 2010, and this should help Stabenow.

Picking the five most endangered Democratic House members is easier than doing the same for the Republicans, given the large number of first-term Republicans in the House. Larry Sabato, who has done the most systematic review of all the new districts and races, gives the GOP the edge in five open seats now held by Democrats, but in only four races with Democratic incumbents: John Barrow (Georgia 12), Leonard Boswell (Iowa 3), Larry Kissell (North Carolina 8), and Kathy Hochul (New York 27). Three other Democratic incumbents are considered to be in tossup races: Mike McIntyre (North Carolina 7), Jim Matheson (Utah 4), and David Cicilline (Rhode Island 1).

Overall, Sabato says the GOP is ahead in 235 races, the Democrats  in 187, with 13 tossups -- not a scenario seven months out from election day that would suggest Nancy Pelosi will soon be speaker again.

The Republicans controlled the redistricting process in North Carolina, and did to the Democrats what Mike Madigan and the Democrats did to sitting GOP House members in Illinois. Four of the six House seats held by the GOP that now lean to the Democrats are in Illinois. Three of the nine House seats held by the Democrats that lean to the GOP are in North Carolina, with McIntyre’s being the fourth seat in the state that is at risk of a turnover to the GOP. I think Cicilline’s seat in Rhode Island is safe (Charles Cook rates the district Dem +13).

Iowa lost a seat due to redistricting, and two incumbents, one from each party, are squaring off in Iowa 3. Leonard Boswell, age 78, survived prior challenges in his old district, but now has to deal with a new district and new incumbent Tom Latham.

John Barrow has been a target of the GOP several times already, but in a newly drawn district (by the Republicans), he appears to be more vulnerable. He will not be an easy incumbent to take down, having shown survival skills already.

That is also true of Jim Matheson in Utah, one of America’s reddest states. He is a Democrat in the most GOP-leaning district in the country. Matheson survived a tough challenge in 2010 (when his  district was rated GOP +15), winning by just 4%. Matheson chose to run in the new fourth district after passing on a run for the Senate.

Kathy Hochul won a special election for a GOP leaning district in the Buffalo area in 2011 to replace Chris Lee, who resigned after an embarrassing Craigslist sex solicitation. Hochul was aided by a barrage of “Mediscare” campaign ads attacking the Paul Ryan budget as a plan to “kill Medicare as we know it." She was also assisted by a well-funded third party candidate, who said he was running as the Tea Party candidate. The third party candidate got twice as many votes as the margin of Hochul’s victory. The incumbent will face a tougher test in 2012.

Overall, the GOP is unlikely to knock off more than a few Democratic House incumbents in 2012, because they were so successful knocking off so many in 2010.