With January coming to a close, silly season on retirements is hopefully also winding down, giving us a pretty clear picture of the open seats on tap for November. With that in mind, let’s do one last version of the House Vulnerability Index, accounting for the wave (wavelet? small whitecap?) of Democratic retirements.
In case you missed the previous installments, I’ve been developing an index for predicting vulnerability for House members based on a mix of Charlie Cook’s PVI and previous House election performance. (It turned out to be pretty useful, in that 2006 numbers were pretty predictive of who actually got knocked off in 2008.) Here’s a quick recap of how it works. Check out the chart of vulnerable Democrats below, which indicates that Bobby Bright is in the worst shape. Bobby Bright had the 3rd narrowest margin of victory of any Democrat (0.6%, behind only Tom Perriello at 0.2% and Scott Murphy at 0.4% in the NY-20 special), and he’s in the district with the 4th worst PVI of any Democrat (R+16, behind only Chet Edwards, Gene Taylor, and Walt Minnick). Add them up for a raw vulnerability score of 7, the worst of any Democrat. Slightly below him you might notice that LA-03 gets a margin of 0 (despite that Charlie Melancon won unopposed in 2008); that’s the tweak that I perform for all open seats. With PVI alone (R+12, 13th worst of any Dem-held seat), the raw score is 13, good for 3rd place.
You might remember that in November’s installment, I expanded the Democratic list to 50, reflecting the GOP’s success at expanding the playing field. Well, I’ve expanded it again this time, up to 75, not just to accommodate the new red open seats that previously weren’t on the list because their entrenched inhabitants had won against little or no opposition in 2008, but also to acknowledge that the danger zone is starting to seep up above 50. Again, not to say that actual losses will be above 50, just that there may be some potential losses up that high on the list. (Eagle-eyed observers will also notice that many of the numbers have shifted down 1 since the previous installment. That’s because I’m no longer counting AL-05 among Dem seats, thanks to Parker Griffith’s switch.)
As always, some of these names that are high up the list may not be in much danger: Scott Murphy and Jim Marshall, for instance, are still lacking first (or second-)tier opposition. And some of the higher-up names are, as we’ve seen, already in grave danger: Steve Driehaus and Dina Titus, up in the 40s, have seen some alarming polls. This is just a rough guide, looking at the various Reps. relative to one another.
Now let’s turn to the vulnerable GOP seats. The only change here is that PA-06 has become less vulnerable for the GOP, seeing as how Rep. Jim Gerlach came back to it. It doesn’t change much, though; given his lame performance in 2008, he’s still the (UPDATE: second) most vulnerable incumbent (although that’s largely by virtue of the Republicans having almost no other vulnerable incumbents). None of the other newly-minted GOP-held open seats comes even close to being interesting (CA-19 is closest, with a vulnerability index of 70).
You might be wondering where Parker Griffith is these days. Even if you bumped his margin rating down to 0 (since he’s basically starting from scratch), his R+12 district is #102 among Republicans, so he’s nowhere near this vulnerability list. (His vulnerability in the primary, of course, is a whole ‘nother matter, but I don’t purport to measure that.) You might also notice that I’ve shortened the list down to 10 here. Frankly, with a few possible exceptions (PA-15, MN-06), there’s really not much to see here beyond the top 10.