Thirty-nine is an important number to consider heading into this fall’s elections–it’s the net number of House seats the GOP will have to gain in order to take control of the chamber. There’s been quite a bit of prognosticating and guesswork going on as to how many seats will change hands this fall, and I’m not seeking to add to those, but to predict which seats are most likely to change hands, sort of like what Chris Cillizza does with his Friday Lines. So, without further ado, one humble SSP user’s suggested “path to 39.”
1. Tennessee’s 6th (Middle TN)–Democrats have given up on holding Bart Gordon’s district, this Thursday’s primary will determine the next Rep.
2. Louisiana’s 3rd (South)–See above. Republican Hunt Downer is likely to represent this district for its final two years of existence.
3. Arkansas’ 2nd (Central)–Joyce Elliott is an intriguing woman who would be a good candidate in many parts of the country, but not in Arkansas, and certainly not this year.
4. New York’s 29th (South Tier)–Ah, the Empire State, home to the country’s most pathetically dysfunctional state GOP (sorry, Florida, you’re a close second), as well as several freshman and sophomore Democrats in swing districts. If the House is going to flip, Republicans are going to need 3 takeovers in New York, and not even the state party should be able to screw this open-seat race up.
5. New Hampshire’s 2nd (West)–Most people have this ranked much lower, but Charlie Bass is a great candidate for this cycle and district. He’s led in every public poll of the race, and his fundraising disadvantage won’t be particularly significant in this small-market district.
6. Maryland’s 1st (Eastern Shore)–If Frank Kratovil is keeping things close here on election night, it will be a great sign for Democrats nationwide.
7. Kansas’ 3rd (KCK)–Some people are high on Stephene Moore as a candidate, but I’m just not seeing it. Again, if Republicans can’t win here, they won’t be winning many places at all.
8. Indiana’s 8th (Southwest)–Brad Ellsworth would have held this seat with little difficulty, but as an open seat it represents one of the Republicans’ easier pickups. Indiana has tacked rightward since giving its electoral votes to President Obama in 2008.
9. Virginia’s 5th (Southside)–It took Robert Hurt a while to get his campaign off the ground, but polling now indicates that he’s consolidated conservative support. Perriello is a great fundraiser but the money alone may not be enough.
10. Mississippi’s 1st (North)–The GOP fielded the best candidate it could in Alan Nunnelee, but Travis Childers hasn’t really given his constituents any reason to fire him. Should he survive, he may be in for a career like his colleague Gene Taylor’s.
Now, if Democrats curb losses at 10, that’s a great night for the President’s Party. However, given the current environment, we’ll keep going.
11. Ohio’s 1st (Cincinnati)–Steve Chabot is back for revenge after losing this seat in 2008, in large part because of unprecedented levels of minority turnout. If Driehaus loses here, watch for him to try again in 2012 with Obama atop the ballot.
12. New Mexico’s 2nd (South)–The battle of the oilmen! With fundraising not likely to be a problem for either side, the environment and the reddish nature of this district should give Steve Pearce an edge.
13. Virginia’s 2nd (VA Beach area)–Glenn Nye has done a better job of voting his district than has Tom Perriello, but there seems to be enough anger in his district to make that point irrelevant. This may come down to how much of his own money Scott Rigell is willing to spend.
14. Ohio’s 15th (Columbus)–Steve Stivers came oh-so-close to winning this open seat in 2008, and is back for another shot at now-incumbent Mary Jo Kilroy, who has been a reliable liberal vote so far. If Kilroy survives, it probably means Strickland and Fisher are on their way to victory.
15. Florida’s 8th (Orlando)–Lightning rod Alan Grayson, the Michele Bachmann of the left, is just as good as the Tea Party Queen at raising big money from national donors. The difference? Bachmann’s district is R+7, Grayson’s is a tough R+2.
16. New York’s 24th (Central Upstate)–The second GOP target in New York is the seat of sophomore Michael Arcuri, who’s been an underwhelming Congressman to this point and again faces his 2008 challenger, quirky businessman Richard Hanna. The further away from this race the state party stays, the better Hanna’s chances will be this time.
17. Pennsylvania’s 7th (Philly Suburbs)–Like New York, Pennsylvania is chock-full of one- and two-term Democrats in swing districts, the result of the 2001 GOP “dummymander.” And like New York, the Republicans will need at least 3, and probably 4 seats out of the Keystone state to retake the House. The easiest pickup is Joe Sestak’s open seat, which despite its PVI is fertile Republican turf (see Nate Silver’s excellent article on “PPI” from this week for more details on this).
18. North Dakota (the whole state)–Earl Pomeroy is a political survivor, and Republicans haven’t even bothered seriously challenging him in almost a decade. But Rick Berg is Pomeroy’s toughest opponent since the 90’s, and John Hoeven will provide some good coattails atop the ticket. If Pomeroy wins this year, this will be his seat for life.
19. Illinois’ 14th (North Central)–Yet another large state with several freshman and sophomore Democrats in swing seats (broken record, I know). Illinois looks tougher than NY or PA for Republicans, but Bill Foster is an obvious target in the 14th. He’s won twice against a less-than-perfect opponent, and now faces St. Sen. Randy Hultgren in Dennis Hastert’s old district. Full Disclaimer: I’m dating a Hultgren volunteer, and she’s ordered me to keep this race in the top 20. Interpret this ranking as you will.
20. Pennsylvania’s 11th (East Central)–Another Keystone opportunity for Republicans, this time for the seat of the embattled Paul Kanjorski. Touted small-city mayor Lou Barletta has is back for a third run at this seat after a close loss in ’08, and his signature issue of immigration has been on the forefront of everyone’s minds this year. Is this the cycle Barletta breaks through?
21. Colorado’s 4th (East)–On paper, this looks like a fairly easy pickup, but the Colorado GOP’s self destruction in the gubernatorial race gives Betsey Markey a better shot at holding her seat after flipping her HCR vote. Still, Cory Gardner is a strong challenger who will keep this one interesting regardless of how the statewide elections go.
22. New Hampshire’s 1st (East)–Here’s the other, and more conservative, Granite State seat, held by the enigmatic Carol Shea-Porter. Once again, this is an easy target on paper–an incumbent elected on a now-unimportant single issue (getting out of Iraq) who is about two clicks to the left of her district and has never fundraised well. Yet Shea-Porter has won twice against the odds, and I’ll only believe she’s beatable if January rolls around and she’s out of office.
23. Tennessee’s 8th (West)–The second open seat in Tennessee will be a much tougher takeover than the first. Republicans have three strong candidates, but need someone to survive the primary intact in order to have a shot. Well-funded Democrat Roy Herron awaits the winner in this ancestrally Democratic district.
24. Michigan’s 1st (North and Upper Peninsula)– See “Tennessee’s 8th” above. Open seat, traditionally Democratic, GOP primary, good environment, good Democrat, gubernatorial race to drive turnout………let’s just call ’em both pure tossups for now. The PVI here is a little better for Dems though.
25. Florida’s 24th (Space Coast)–Suzanne Kosmas also got herself into trouble by vacillating on HCR and this time must face a Republican who is not Tom Feeney. Sandy Adams excited the base when she entered the race but has been an unimpressive fundraiser, and the other Republicans in the field all have their flaws as well. But, if the national mood persists, might “generic R” be good enough here?
At 25 seats gained, this is the dividing line between a “good” and “very good” night for the GOP. All seats below this point are uphill battles, yet still winnable.
26. Nevada’s 3rd (South Vegas Suburbs)–Dina Titus is a tough politician who will not go down without a fight, but it’s hard to envision a Republican controlled 112th Congress that doesn’t include Joe Heck. This tossup may come down to how well the Reids are faring atop the ticket.
27. North Carolina’s 8th (South Central)–Democrat Larry Kissell narrowly lost his first bid for this seat in 2006, and then roared back to win it in 2008. The key difference? The 8th is 26% black, and Obama’s presence atop the ticket turned out the voters Kissell needed to put himself over the top. Can he validate that win this year against a rather generic Republican opponent? Stay tuned.
28. Ohio’s 16th (South of Cleveland)–This looks like a slugfest. Challenger Jim Rennacci has matched freshman Rep. John Boccieri dollar for dollar in the fundraising department each quarter so far in this slight McCain district. A pure tossup that will probably indicate the direction the other Ohio races are going in this year.
29. Michigan’s 7th (South)–Another freshman in a marginal district, Mark Schauer scored less than 50% last time and now faces a much more difficult environment. However, his saving grace may be that Republicans could nominate Tim Walberg to run for his old seat again instead of the more electable Brian Rooney. This will move up or down the list depending on who wins the primary.
30. Arizona’s 5th (Scottsdale area)–Harry Mitchell is a very lucky politician. First, he had the chance to knock out erratic Rep. JD Hayworth in 2006. Then, a brutal Republican primary seriously weakened his opponent in 2008 and Mitchell ran up a big margin. And now, with the national headwinds finally on their side, Republicans run the risk of beating themselves up again. If the primary is more civil this time, we’ll learn if Harry Mitchell is really lucky or just plain good.
31. New Mexico’s 1st (Albuquerque)–Never expected to see this on the road to retaking the House, but Jon Barela has been one of the most pleasant Republican surprises of the cycle. He’s running strong against freshman Martin Heinrich, who posted a big win here in ’08. There are other options for the GOP if Heinrich recovers before Election Day, but a loss here would make the math a lot harder for Democrats.
32. New York’s 19th (Hudson Valley)–I promised you 3 New York seats, and here’s the third and final. In the 19th, we find 70’s crooner John Hall seeking a third term against moderate Republican Dr. Nan Hayworth. The grandmotherly challenger has been a fundraising machine, and was one of the few non-Democratic beneficiaries of the NYGOP’s dysfunction, as her too-conservative primary challenger Greg Ball unexpectedly quit the race. Hall has a tough race on his hands, but will be helped out by Cuomo, Schumer, and Gillibrand’s big margins atop the ticket.
33. South Dakota (the whole thing)–Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is another incumbent who has done nothing to deserve a pink slip, aside perhaps from voting Pelosi for speaker, and seems to fit South Dakota well. However, she faces a strong challenge from young State Rep. Kristi Noem, and could become a casualty if it’s a big national night for Republicans.
34. Pennsylvania’s 3rd (Northwest)–Freshman Kathy Dahlkemper outran Obama by 2 points as she ousted Rep. Phil English, and now faces the underfunded Mike Kelley. However, the district remains fundamentally Republican, and the GOP needs a few wins in Pennsylvania if their pickups are going to be in the mid-30’s or higher.
If 25 seats is a very good night, 35 seats is a national wave, and most waves are marked by the fall of an entrenched titan of the opposing party. If the Republicans get to that point in 2010, the fall guy is likely to be……..
35. South Carolina’s 5th (Midlands)– John Spratt, the stately Southern gentleman whose district has not elected a Republican since Reconstruction. Mick Mulvaney is seeking to break that streak, and his fundraising has been good enough to keep him in the race–which is all he needs to do at this point. If DeMint and Haley can fire up some grassroots anger and seats across the country are flipping, the Budget Chairman will be in trouble.
36. Washington’s 3rd (Southwest)–It’s hard to get a good read on Washington, and particularly on this open-seat race. On the one hand, the district voted for Bush twice and Republicans have an intriguing candidate in Jamie Herrera. On the other, the Democrats in the race are winning the fundraising war and the Pacific Northwest seems to slip further to the left every year. I only see this one flipping if the GOP is close to retaking the House. In fact, given that this is the Pacific time zone, this may be the race that everyone will be up watching on election night.
37. West Virginia’s 1st (North)-This one was much higher on the list until two very favorable bounces for the Democrats. First, they replaced scandal-plagued Alan Mollohan with the cleaner Mike Oliverio, who is just the type of ConservaDem that can win in this district. Then, the Senate special got moved to this year and Joe Manchin will be leading the ticket. However, Appalachia continues to move away from the Democrats and David McKinley is the best candidate the GOP has fielded here in a lo-o-ong time.
38. Pennsylvania’s 8th (NE Philly Suburbs)-The fourth and final Pennsylvania district on this list is an Irish O’Rematch of one of the closest races of the 2006 cycle. Incumbent Patrick Murphy, a rising Democratic star, again faces former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, who has fundraised well since his late entry into the race. Fitzpatrick came very close to holding this in a tough environment four years ago, and now must dismantle the goodwill Murphy has built up while in office.
Which brings us to (drum roll, please)……..
39. Florida’s 22nd (North of Miami)-There’s some big money being raised here. In fact, the $5 million combined that Rep. Ron Klein and challenger Alan West have amassed is probably the highest in the country for a competitive race without a lightning rod (Bachmann, Grayson.) This is an old, white, Jewish district gerrymandered to be a partisan battleground, and Klein beat West by 10 two years ago. A West win would be monumental for the GOP-not only he be a rare black Republican in Congress, he would also be the 218th vote, by my math, for Speaker Boehner.
But wait, there’s more!
As I’m sure you’ve realized, Democrats are looking to play some offense this year as well. And while they’ve won most of the marginal seats over the past two cycles, there are four obvious Democratic pickups on the horizons this year:
Illinois’ 10th, where Dan Seals should win on his third try
Delaware, although Michelle Rollins and her money will keep this interesting
Hawaii’s 1st, where Colleen Hanabusa gets Charles Djou to herself this time
Louisiana’s 2nd, where barring another miracle Joseph Cao will go down
Democrats are targeting about a dozen other seats, but since we’re envisioning an environment where the GOP is in position to take over the House, let’s assume their gains are limited to those four. Which would necessitate:
40. Iowa’s 3rd (Central)-Is this heaven? No, this is the 3rd, and the Field of Dreams is in the 1st. I originally had this higher, but user desmoinesdem has provided consistent good news for Leonard Boswell, and as our resident expert on Iowa politics, I’ll take his/her word here. Still, the road to a Republican majority probably has to run through Iowa, and Brad Zaun will have to find a way to eke one out over Boswell.
41. Illinois’ 11th (Exurban Chicago)-Debbie Halvorson, a strong recruit in ’08, ran up the score in this open swing district. Her first challenger is Iraq Vet Adam Kinzinger, who offers an intriguing, non-generic R, candidacy. If he’s to beat Halvorson, however, he’ll need strong performances from Brady and Kirk to drive Republican turnout here.
42. Alabama’s 2nd (Southeast)-Yep, I have Bobby Bright this low because the man can vote his district, and there’s a good chance that he hangs around even if the GOP takes over the house. But this race remains enticing if only because of the PVI and the fact that Bright barely won two years ago with Obama driving black turnout. The 2nd is unlike some other Southern districts in that it has elected Republicans since reconstruction, so challenger Martha Roby has a shot at knocking off the House’s most conservative Democrat.
And finally, that leaves……(second drum roll)
43. Wisconsin’s 8th (Northeast)-No one is talking about this swing district, where sophomore Steve Kagan has maintained a pretty low profile. Yet this race jumps out at me for a couple of reasons. First, Kagan ran about even with Obama, and has yet to run in anything but a favorable environment for his party. Second, Wisconsin is a good grassroots state, and Scott Walker and Ron Johnson will both be campaigning heavily here. Finally, Kagan’s principle challenger is an outsider with one of the best names in politics: Reid Ribble. It’s nothing overwhelming, but all the small factors are telling me that Green Bay Packer country could be the region that upon which control of the House pivots.
And there you have it. Forty-three possible Republican pickups, countered by four likely Democratic gains, leaves the House with a 218-217 Republican majority. Chet Edwards and Walt Minnick survive, and Dave Reichert becomes the swing vote under this scenario. I’ll leave it to you to draw the cutoff line in my list as to where you think the gains will stop (personally, I have it around 30), and will update as the races begin to take shape this fall.