2010 House ratings, part 1: GOP-held seats

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.

3 Responses to “2010 House ratings, part 1: GOP-held seats”

  1. 1 Jaxx Raxor

    Very good rating you have made. You may want to fix the link you put at the end of the post: it goes to the last 2008 House rankings instead of the 2010 one I’m really looking foward to your Democratic House rankings, as the GOP in 2010 finally has the opportunity to make a net gain of seats (I would guess in the range of 5-8 seats unless the Democrats utterly collaspe in which the GOP could make double digit gains).

    I do have some disagreement with your toss-up seats (all the other levels seem fine for now, it’s still early in the cycle and we will get a better idea on what is truly competive later in the campaign season).

    For starters, I think you are being too generous in saying that Cao’s seat is a toss-up. His district isn’t just overwhelmingly Democratic, but overwhelming African American. As we all known, African Americans tend to prefer their own if they make up a majority in a district. All the grief that white Democrat Steven Cohen of TN-09, despite his excellent service for African Americans, gets is indicative of that. And African Americans are certainly not going to stand for a non-black Republican if they have trouble with a liberal white Democrat.

    In my opinion, LA-02 should be likely takeover, and if the Democrats nominate a well respected and ethical African American, a guaranteed take over because Cao to my mind is an accidental Congressman and he has been voting with the GOP leadership on all of the most contentious issues. Interestingly I think that if Cao made himself more as a social conservative (especially on Gay Marriage) he wouldn’t be hurting himself as much. It’s his positions as a ecnomic conservative per his vote against Obama’s stimulas and Budget which has doomed, and as blacks (especially older ones) tend to be more socially conservative than White Democrats but much more econicmally liberal Cao has no chance. The only way Cao would be in a toss-up would be if the Democrats nominated a white Democrat in a racially charged primary and if this white Democrat had some ethical problems. The national enviroment is meaningless in a district as black dominanted and as Democratic as LA-02. Obama could become more unpopular than George Bush in 2010 and Cao would still be an significant underdog.

    For alot of your other tossups I think you are being a little optimisic on Democratic chances if the incumbent runs. Don Young proved that Alaskans like senority and getting bacon, and it is without a doubt that if Ted Stevens was not under federal conviction then he would have easily beaten Begich. If the ethical probe around Don Young is simularity dismissd, then he is safe for reelection no matter which Democrat runs against him, and even if it isn’t he will still be in a strong position. Sarah Palin very well could still have coattails as she has to run for reelection in 2010. I still think that Young is vulernable to Parnell in a primary, but Parnell winning would simply make it easier for the GOP to hold the seat. Alaska should be lean retention.

    In Deleware Mike Castle is very popular, although it is true he get’s non name opposition all the time. Carney will be a strong opponent but I think Castle would still have a strong edge if he is running for reelection: he would have senority on his side as well as the typical incumbent advantage. Although if Castle does retire or run for the Senate Carney’s chances of winning the House seat are second only to LA-02. This should be lean retention.

    Similarly in Il-10 Kirk has proved his ability to win in a strong Democratic district. It is also lean retention in my book. In fact, if Kirk decides to say in the House he will probably have an easier time running for reelection than in 2006 and 2008. Most of the prospective Dem candidates, including Dan Seals, are mainly looking into jumping in if Kirk vacates the seat. If Kirk stays the Democrats will almost certainly not get a top tier challanger.

    In WA-06 Reichert has the thing going for him. It is clear through his victories over Darcy Burner two times in a row that not just any Democrat can beat him. Unfortuantely I don’t see Suzane DelBene as a credable contenter, she is too similar to Darcy Burner. Maybe she can come close but I don’t see her actually winning. If the Democrats really want to beat Reichert they need a person with experience in elected politics, if an elected (or former elected) offical doesn’t step up to challange Reichert, then he will win again. Another lean retention to me.

    Only in PA-06 do I feel that the toss-up is warrented. Jim Gerlach struggles to win even against no-name Democratic opposition as happened in 2008, so perhaps it would be a wise move for him to move on to the governor’s race. If his district keeps on voting as it does for Democrats, he will probably lose eventually unlike he starts making a hard move to the left, which Republicans in general don’t seem to like to do.

  2. 2 Taniel

    Jaxx, great points and I agree that I might have been a bit too favorable to Democrats on some races - particularly WA-08. A few responses, however:

    (1) LA-02: Yes, the odds of Cao winning re-election are low, and the race will probably move to a take-over category very soon. But I thought that rating a race “take-over” before a single Democratic opponent materializes would be too much, so I’ll wait for Cao to draw a challenger.

    (2) DE-AL: Castle’s recent comments that he is more likely to run for Senate or to retire than to run for re-election are enough to push this seat in the toss-up category given how likely Democrats would be to pick up the seat if it is open. But I agree that if Carney decides to run again, he will start with a slight edge over Carney.

    (3) IL-10: There’s a case to be made that another Democrat than Seals (one with experience in elected office, for instance) might have been a stronger candidate in 2006 and 2008 - and that Kirk could be in for as tough a race if such a challenger emerges in 2010. State Sen. Bond, for instance, has signaled that he might run even if Kirk stays in the race. Here again, however, I agree that Kirk will start with the upper-hand if he does run. We shall see soon.

  3. 3 Jaxx Raxor


    In terms of LA-02, your cautiousness is understandable, but at the very least I think that it should be a lean takeover category. It is true that Cao doesn’t have any offical challangers yet. But LA-02 is so Democratic that you could probably just pull any random person from New Orleans and if that person was a Democrat, s/he would be favored over Cao. Cao got an immensise amount of anger when he voted against Obama’s stimulas package, with some African American leaders expressing the desire to recall him. LA-02 is nearly 2/3 black, and unfortunately for Cao I just don’t see him recovering from that vote, even if Obama becomes extremly unpopular nationwide. In addition, prospective Democratic candiates don’t need to rush into the race: an early start isn’t really needed in a district that overwhelmingly favors Democrats. Any fundraising will primarly be for the Democratic primary, and Cao’s own fundraising has been pretty pathetic in a district where everything is going against him. Perhaps if Cao had voted for the stimulus a toss-up status (with as of yet no declared Dem opponent) would be warrented, but African Americans are very unlikely to support Cao now, and there is no way they will not turn out to vote to do so unlike the December 2008 election. As I said in my first post, if Cao wanted to prove himself as a Republican he should have stuck with social issues, voting with the GOP leadership on economic issues will only doom him.

    On Castle your reasoning makes sense. Although if I was doing my own rankings, I would err on the side of Castle running again unless he made a definite announcement. While Carney is indeed a formidable foe, Castle is an institution in Deleware and especially with the benefits of senority and incumbency he would have a strong edge, unlike the Senate race, which would be much more important in terms of the balance of power, and the Dems would vigoriously challange him. Also if Castle did leave the House, Carney would almost certainly take the seat because of his status as a recent former statewide offical and Deleware’s Democratic lean. In terms of averaging a lean retention with Castle and a likely takeover with Carney in an open seat, a lean Dem would probably be best, although again I would side on Castle running for reelection (and being somewhat favored) unless he says otherwise.

    On Il-10, I agree that if Kirk had faced an elected offical instead of man who wnated to be Barack Obama look alike in 2006 or 2008 Kirk very well may have lost. However he helped himself do wonders by wining reelection at the lowest points for Republicans in recent history, and 2010 will be a much better enviroment for him, even if Obama is popular (anger at Bush is a much stronger motivater for Democrats than glee with Obama when it comes to Congressional races in my opinion). The combination of entrenchment and less wind for Democrats probably makes Kirk a little safer. A elected offical like Bond will probably be as strong against Kirk in 2010 as Dan Seals was in 2006 and 2008: close but not close enough. Of course, Kirk is very likely to run for either the Senate or the Governor in Illinois, in which Democrats would be favored for the seat, although the Republicans have enough of a bench to force the Democrats to work for it.

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