Handicapping the House

Two weeks ago, I thought a dozen House seats shifting from left to right (and sometimes) back again was a lot to cover.  Me and my big mouth — this week we’ve got 22 races.


First, the Real Clear Politics chart I take my numbers from.  RCP’s poll averaging is a great tool for sifting out bad numbers and freaky outliers.  And here’s how it looks today.

With the election one month away, the center of the chart, the Toss Up races, should be emptying out to the left and the right, as candidates from both sides firm up their support.  Instead, the center fills as the left empties — and the right clambers, with mixed results, to take advantage.

When I started this project back in April, the Democrats had a lock on about 160 or so seats.  In addition, there were 35 Likely Democratic seats, including two pickups in Delaware and Louisiana.  Today, Dems have a lock on only 139 seats, plus 18 Likelies — and not a single pickup in the bunch.

Toss Up races have swelled to 38 from a summer low of 26.  All but one are currently held by Democrats.

Back in April, the GOP looked set to gain 18 seats and lose two for a net of 16.  As of this morning, Republicans can count on netting 30.  The magic number to take back the House is 40.  Of those 38 toss-up races, the GOP needs to net ten.

Those are the raw numbers. Or, you can read Bob Shrum for some wishful thinking, number-free, on just how the Democrats will keep the House. Your call. But please note that Shrum’s strategy is, and I quote, “It’s Rove time for Democrats. Rally the base—and save the Congress.”


That worked for Rove in 2002, with a wartime President leading a still-popular war.  How’d Rove do in the subsequent elections, Bob?

Derp, derp, derp.

OK, let’s look at where the motion is, and which way it’s going.

Overall, the GOP had a good couple of weeks.  Of the 22 races with changing fortunes, 16 moved to the right.

The one big jump was in California’s 20th District, or CA20. Incumbent Blue Dog Democrat Jim Costa’s chances have been downgraded from Likely Dem to a Toss Up against challenger Andy Vidak. Costa’s campaign site is bereft of the word “Democrat” and his Events page is empty. Now that Congress has adjourned without bothering to pass a budget, maybe Costa can be bothered to do some campaigning.

MI15 is where the Democrats Safe seats slipped under 140, as 84-year-old John Dingell suffered a bad poll or two.  This one is still almost certainly safely Democratic, however.

But the real action this week was in the Likely to Leans category. Seven races the D’s should have been able to count on, are now races where they’ll have to commit resources to defending.  IA01, IA02, LA02 (the seat freakishly won by GOPer Joseph Cao after William J. Jefferson was caught with a freezer full of cash), MS04, NC07, NM03 and WA09.What’s interesting?  The South, the Midwest, the Mountain West, and the West Coast all show signs of increasing Democratic weakness.


Four Democrats are fighting for the lives, going from Leans Dem to Toss Up.

CO03 is currently represented by John Salazar, first elected in 2005.  He’s yet another Blue Dog who voted for Porkulus, Cap & Tax, and Obamacare — and then neglects to put his party affiliation on his campaign site, and is running as “an independent voice.”  Color this one red already.

MI09, Gary Peters.  NJ03, Kathy Dahlkemper.  Two more freshman Democrats, two more yes votes for Obamacare, and two more seats in jeopardy.  In NJ03, John Adler’s Nay to O-care doesn’t seem to be providing him with much cover — and I suspect his weakness may have more to do with a Christie Up/Obama Down attitude in Jersey.

AZ05 and PA08 both slipped into the Leans GOP column. PA08’s Patrick Murphy is just out of line with his district. It’s rated by Cook as only D+2, but Murphy’s voting record is about D+1,000,006. Republican Mike Fitzpatrick has a cash disadvantage and could use your help.

AZ05 is pretty solidly Republican at R+5, but Democrat Harry Mitchell slipped in on the 2006 wave with a bare majority against would-be McCain Slayer, JD Hayworth.  Mitchell was against Porkulus but for Obamacare, and Sarah Palin has taken an interest in Republican challenger David Schweikert.  I’d be surprised if Schweikert isn’t sworn in come January.


And finally, VA05 was a Leaner, but now it’s a Likely pickup for the GOP.  Dem Tom Perriello’s Yes on Cap & Tax was almost certainly a career-ender in his Appalachian district.

Over to the left-movers, and as mentioned, only six races to look at.

NM02 and PA10 both moved left one column to Toss Ups.  Harry Teague should be a vulnerable, first-term D in an R district, but he voted against Obamacare.  And the GOP isn’t exactly exciting Tea Party voters, propping 2008 loser Steve Pearce back up.  In PA10, Chris Carney voted for the Big Three — TARP, Porkulus, Obamacare — but has maybe enough socially conservative cred to save his skin.  And challenger Tom Marino stumbled badly handling a DOJ controversy.

Slipping from Likely to Leans GOP is Republican incumbent Dan Lungren in CA03.  But this is an R+6 district, and like Dingell above, the incumbent remains safe.

Republicans had hoped to retake lost ground in Upstate New York, where they’d been hunted nearly to extinction over the last few cycles.  But with Toss Up races in NY20 and NY23 going to Leans Dem, those hopes are looking fainter.  Both districts are weak Republican (R+2 and R+1, respectively) with weak, barely incumbent Democrats. And yet the GOP can’t seem to gain any traction. There’s still room Upstate, however, for a surprise or two.


And the last race is ID01.  It’s R+18, went for Bush in ’04 by more than 2-1 and even for McCain by almost that margin.  And it’s represented by one of those “vulnerable” freshman Democrats swept in on Obama’s coattails.  So why has Walt Minnick moved from a Leans Dem to a Likely win?  Because he voted against Porkulus, Cap & Tax, and Obamacare.  Oh, and the opposition is split in three, with a weak Tea Party Republican, a strong Libertarian (that’s graded on a curve) and an Independent thrown in the mix for good measure.

So it’s true the Democratic weakness has yet to find equal and opposite Republican strength.  Voters remain properly wary of the party that campaigned as conservatives under the Bush banner, but then governed as Democrat Lite — and only barely Lite.

But, there is tremendous Tea Party enthusiasm, and an almost-unprecedented anti-incumbent fever.  Already-dispirited Democrats are even being hectored by their own President and Vice President.  You don’t combat voter apathy by calling your voters apathetic — and yet that’s precisely what Obama did just this week.

The next three weeks will prove telling.  Keep a close eye on at that middle column.  If it stays at 35+, almost entirely blue, then the question isn’t if the GOP takes the House, but whether they net more than 50 seats. If it drains into the Leans GOP column? Then fuggedaboutit.


Undecided voters typically break for the challenger.  And in the middle three columns, from Leans Dem to Leans GOP, things look stark for the ruling party.  Of those races, there are seven Republican-held seats up for grabs — and 94 Democrats.

I’ll spell it out, so you don’t think that’s a typo:  There are ninety-four incumbent Democratic seats potentially at risk, compared to seven Republicans.

And the fever is anti-incumbent.

Catch the fever.


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