The 2010 cycle is heating up, top-tier congressional candidates are jumping in the race and the national parties are thinking about the seats they should target in the midterm elections. In short, the time has come for new House ratings! I have put together a detailed, race-by-race look at 62 GOP-held seats that we could be hearing about next year. (A look at vulnerable Democratic seats will come later.)
Over the past two cycles, Democrats picked up a net 54 seats, which means that most of the obviously vulnerable GOP-held districts have already fallen in Democratic hands. Only 6 districts currently held by Republicans voted for John Kerry in 2004: LA-02 (Rep. Cao), DE-AL (Rep. Castle), IL-10 (Rep. Kirk), PA-06 (Rep. Gerlach), WA-08 (Rep. Reichert) and PA-15 (Rep. Dent). Unsurprisingly, 5 of these 6 districts are currently rated as toss-up - a distinction shared by only one other GOP-held district: AK-AL, which will remain on the list as long as Don Young remains the Republican candidate.
With few low-hanging fruits left for Democrats to go after, what other districts should the party focus on? The answer is obvious: Now that the Kerry districts have nearly all been won over, the DCCC can concentrate on the 34 GOP-held districts that voted for Barack Obama. Of particular interest to Democrats are the 8 traditionally Republican California districts that took wild swings in 2008. Similar districts exist in VA, NE, IL and MI - which means that many Republicans who probably did not expect to ever face much danger now find themselves with a target on their back.
Yet, this could prove somewhat tricky to navigate as Democrats are unlikely to benefit from as expanded a field as they did last year. Which of these 34 districts, then, will remain open to voting for a Democrat in a less friendly environment? Which experienced a short-term fluke and which experienced a long-term political transformation?
The final list of competitive districts will depend on the quality of Democratic recruitment. Many of these districts are so historically Republican that Democrats have a thin bench and no obvious challenger, which could mean that certain of these races disappear from the ratings in the months ahead. Other once-safe Republicans have already drawn credible challengers, like in CA-45 and in CA-48. All in all, the Democrats’ ideal scenario is a wave of retirements by frightened incumbents, creating such an open seat headache for the NRCC that the GOP will be unable to focus on attacking Democratic incumbents.
I have tried to build as exhaustive a list as possible and include any district that could potentially be competitive next year; in particular, I have included many first-term lawmakers, even those who sit in relatively safe districts, as freshmen often make the most vulnerable incumbents. Many of these races could drop out of the ratings in the months ahead, but for now it is worth keeping an open eye and monitoring recruitment activities in as many districts as possible.
The rather detailed race-by-race analysis is available here.