2010 House ratings, part 2: Dem-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! Two weeks ago, I took a race-by-race look at 62 GOP-held seats that we could be hearing about next year. Now, it’s time to move on to the vulnerable seats that Democrats will need to defend: I have identified a list of 68 seats that could host competitive races.

The overall numbers suggest the two parties must defend a comparable number of seats, but the detailed breakdown favors Republicans: 28 Dem-held seats are rated “toss-up” or “lean retention,” categories that indicate that these races are already competitive. By contrast, I have given these most-vulnerable ratings to only 18 GOP-held seats.

This differential is not surprising. Over the past two cycles, Democrats picked up a net 54 seats. Many of these were blue-leaning districts like IA-02 and NM-01 that Republicans wil be hard-pressed to recovered, but the vast majority were either swing districts or red-leaning districts that the GOP has an obvious shot at contesting. Add to that the fact that incumbents are typically most vulnerable in their first re-election race and it becomes clear that the NRCC has a wealth of Democrats it can target.

Yet, Republicans should be careful not to let themselves be distracted by marginally vulnerable seats. Unless Barack Obama’s approval rating declines so much that his party face a toxic environment, not all of these recently elected Democrats will be vulnerable enough to be defeated. Thus, the NRCC needs to carefully consider which districts should be targeted in priority.

The obvious answer is the Dem-held districts that gave John McCain clear majorities - and there are a lot. Districts like AL-02, AL-05, ID-01 and MD-01, MS-01 are heavily conservative districts represented by freshmen Democrats; they will be at the top of the GOP’s list. To this list, the NRCC would love to add heavily conservative seats held by Democratic veterans (AR-01, AR-02 and TX-17).

A second group of targets include districts that were close in 2008 but that gave George W. Bush a large victory - a sign that they are in conservative territory that Obama did not manage to swing enough to turn decisively blue: Districts like CO-04, NC-08, NY-29, OH-01, VA-02 and VA-05 are all likely to be contested next year.

Beyond those obvious targets, where should the GOP turn? The answer will largely depend on the quality of Republican recruitment. Districts like AZ-01, CT-05, IL-14, NJ-03, NV-03, OH-16 and WI-08 all have the potential to be competitive, but only if the GOP can field the type of top-tier challengers it often failed to recruit in 2006 and in 2008. And that gets us to the most important question mark of the upcoming cycle: How much of the Democrats’ recent gains were due to the very favorable political environment? Which of the dozens of districts the party conquered experienced a short-term fluke and which experienced a long-term political transformation?

Republicans insist that many districts such as FL-08, OH-01 and PA-03 would not have switched over had their nominees not been weighed down by Bush. While that might be true, it does not negate the Democrats’ response that in each of these districts they had landed top recruits that will make for strong incumbents with no obvious vulnerability. But will they survive their first re-election race, when independent voters who were behaving like Democrats in 2006 and in 2008 might no longer be as sour towards the GOP?


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.

12 Responses to “2010 House ratings, part 2: Dem-held seats”

  1. 1 Vadranor

    First name corrctions: Foster (IL14) should be Bill, not David and Kanjorski (PA11) should be Paul, not John.

  2. 2 Jaxx Raxor

    A very good analaysis. In terms of vulernablity, I would say that Minnick and Bright are the most vulernable Democrats. The Republicans won’t get their absolute best challanger to Minnick, but as long as he GOP primary isn’t too Chaotic (or Sali isn’t the nominee) then a GOP challanger will probably be the slight favorite over Minnick. However Minnick is doing very well expresing himself as a ecnomic conservative seeing as how he has voted no on all of Obama’s economic proposals, but it may not be enough. Bobby Bright’s problem is that alot of liberal Democrats despise him, and while it really shouldn’t matter because a liberal or even a moderate Dem would have trouble winning. However AL-02 has a 30% black population, which like blacks everywhere turned out in unprecedented numbers and overwhemling voted Democratic down the line. Bright won’t have the luxury of Obama on the ballot and he can’t exactly ask Obama to campaign for him considering how poorly he fared against McCain in the district. A lack of Black turnout will probably be Bright’s undoing, because he only barely won in 2008 with that support and there are plenty of GOP candiates that will likely make Bright an underdog.

    On MD-01 (I know more about this district than any other because it’s in my home state), it is definitly a swing state for now, but the GOP bench is pretty weak in Maryland, even for a conservative district like MD-01. Harris would be a solid opponnet seeing as how he lost by less than 1%, but I doubt that anger against him for outing Gilcrhist will have subsided much, plus Kratovil now has the advantage of incumbancy. Republicans would be better served getting a offical from one of the counties of the Eastrn Shore rather than someone from the Baltimore County (or Anne Arundel or Harford County) part of the district, because Kratovil’s base is in the Eastern Shore (he is the former state attorney for Queen Anne’s county, part of the Eastern Shore). Splitting Kratovil’s base then rely on the other parts of the district (especally the very conservative Baltimore County suburbs that make up part of MD-01) is the surest way to victory. Why the GOP hasn’t talked about anyone from the Eastern Shore to challange Kratovil I have no idea….

    Also I have a major disagreement about Chet Edwards being in the lean takeover category. Yes, he represents the most Republican district as a Democrat, and he is actually a bit to the left then what his district could allow, but he is a very saavy politican who is able to work his constients and get elected for it. He does have a good amount of senority (first elected in 1990) so that helps him alot. The strong GOP lean means that even no name Republicans can do decently in Presidential elections. In 2004, after his district was changed by Delay, he won by 3.8% (a close but actually quite decent margin) while popular Texan Bush won the district in 2004. He did do much better in 2006, but a large factor was the lack of Presidential race to bring GOP voters to the polls, not just the pro Democratic enviroment. His 2008 margin pails in comparision to his 18 point win in 2006, but there was a GOP presidential eleciton. In the 2010 midterms, there will again be no GOP presidential candidate to help downballot, so unless the national enviroment becomes extremly toxic to the Democratics nationally or he makes some personal gaffes, Edwards should have an easier time in 2010 then in 2008. If he gets weak opposition then he is safe, if he gets a credible opponent he only be potentially competive in my mind.

  3. 3 Guy

    So the GOP may take upto 5 seats - hardly a great success for them. I am sure the Democrats and Obama will be happy if come next November they lose 5 house seats and make a net gain of 2 senate seats. Sets Obama up for 2012.

  4. 4 MSW

    Too early to tell on what the landscape will be like in November 2010. Taniel has identified several districts that could be competitive, and there may be a few others that will be identified as “races to watch”. I doubt if the Dems will lose more than a dozen of these seats, but these loses will be balanced by the GOP loses. On a larger scale, the GOP leadership is in disarray, and there is no sign that it will change anytime soon. The GOP lost big in November 2008, and in the last 6 months they have only made their predicament worse. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dems actually netted a handful of seats to their majority. If some GOP leadership emerges, the pendulum could swing back to the republicans.

  5. 5 Jaxx Raxor

    I seriously doubt that Democrats will be able to get a net gain of seats in the House even if Obama is still popular. There are alot more vulurnable Democrats in conservative districts then the other way around, and the fact remains is that Obama had a good amount of coattails, and that without him on the ballot, support (especially from African Americans) will be down by alot, which could cost some support. Not to mention the traditional theme in which the party in control of the white house loses House seats in midterm electons. Although I do think that net losses for Democrats will be minimal.

  6. 6 Ron

    Overall a good analysis, but I have a few disagreements. One is OH-01. Steve Chabot is WAY, WAY to the right of a district that gave Obama a 55%-44% margin and George W. Bush only a 50%-49% margin in 2004. It would be like Dennis Kucinich representing a district like IN-02. Another disagreement is GA-12. The district is almost half black and Barrow won there by a stunning 67%-33% margin in 2008. I would be shocked if he was held under 60% in 2010.

  7. 7 Jaxx Raxor

    I agree with you about OH-01, but Barrow will not get a large African American turnout like in 2008 because Obama will not be on the ballot. On the other hand, Barrow is not a weak opponent and his large victory has more than strenghened him with 2010 even without Obama. Although I do think there is a chance he could go under 60%, I’m not quite sure yet that it would be to the point of being an single digit race.

  8. 8 desmoinesdem

    I noticed that you did not include IA-03, which was competitive for several cycles in a row but not seriously contested in 2008.

    I would tend to agree that Leonard Boswell is not vulnerable in 2010, but for whatever reason the DCCC is still calling him a “frontline Democrat.” I think that’s bogus–let him pay his DCCC like most of the others.

    By the way, many Iowa Democrats believe IA-03 will be vulnerable in 2012, especially if Boswell doesn’t retire and Latham is thrown into this district. I don’t like our chances with a Boswell/Latham matchup. Ideally, Boswell would retire and let someone new get some experience, but he seems determined to run for re-election in 2010 and beyond.

  9. 9 Ron

    2010 is exactly the kind of year where we dont want a seat like IA-03 open. From my previous experiences of elections in swing open districts in midterms where there is a Democratic President, I would say that a Republicans would have at least a 50/50 shot of picking up an open seat here.

  10. 10 desmoinesdem

    Well, Boswell should have retired in 2008 so a new Democrat would have two terms under his or her belt before having to face Latham in a redrawn IA-03 in 2012. I don’t like the idea of running someone brand-new in 2012, and I think Boswell would lose to Latham in 2012 (and I am not alone).

    The Republican Party of Iowa is in shambles and Democrats have made huge registration gains in Polk County, which is the population center for IA-03. I think we would have much better than a 50/50 chance of holding the seat with a good candidate. The Republicans have a very thin bench in central Iowa.

  11. 11 MSW

    To add to Desmoinesdem, there are a lot of state GOP parties that are in shambles. Unless the National GOP party changes it’s message, they will be a minority party for a long time. In the last 6 months, the GOP has done nothing to improve its image. I just don’t see the GOP having a net gain in seats this year unless McConnell/Boehner et al get their act straight. Steele has been a major disappointment for the Republicans, and the GOP has failed to attract a lot of stellar candidates in the last few cycles to compete with the Dems. If the GOP gets its voice back, and if they actually try to make some good faith efforts to work with Obama, they will be very disappointed in 2010.

  12. 12 Taniel

    About the discussion on net House seats: It would be a huge - and in my opinion quite unlikely - victory for Dems if they manage not to lose seats in 2010. Not only is this the midterms of a Democratic President, but they also have so many seats to defend. As we saw in 2008, some freshmen Democrats are bound to lose even in the most favorable of circumstances - so more than 5 should be expected to lose next year.

    Jaxx, I agree that the GOP has more to worry about recruitment-wise in MD-01 than in AL-02 and ID-01. As for TX-17, I would agree with you if it wasn’t for Edwards’s quite weak 2008 showing; a 7% victory when no one was paying much attention to your district is not the way to look solid.

    About OH-01: Obama’s 11% victory contributed to my decision to rate this “lean retention” rather than toss-up, but it is certainly not enough for me to push this into “likely retention.” OH-01 is a swing district won by Bush in both 2000 and 2004, and the boost in minority turnout played an important role in Driehaus’s victory. Chabot might be more conservative than you’d expect from such a district, but he also survived a number of competitive runs so he should not be dismissed.

    desmoinesdem, I had my eye on IA-03 but I decided to leave it out for now. That might have been a bit unfair given that other seats in the likely retention category are at least as competitive, and I agree that Dems should definitely keep an eye on the district. At the very least, we’re certain to hear a lot about it in some cycle soon.

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