New House ratings show brutally unbalanced map

House Projected Composition February 2010

When I first put together this cycle’s House ratings last spring, I found the landscape to be remarkably balanced: 62 GOP-held seats and 68 Dem-held seats were on the map, with both parties defending a relatively comparable number of seats in the most competitive categories - 18 for Republicans, 28 for Democrats. The eight months that have passed since then have been rough for the DCCC, and it will surprise nobody that my new House ratings look radically different.

The number of Republicans seats that are worth keeping an eye on has plummeted to 34, while many more Democratic seats are on the map today than there were in the spring: 89.

This disparity is as stark when we only consider the most vulnerable categories (lean retention and above): At the moment, the GOP has to worry about just 13 of its seats compared to 43 for Democrats - just above the magic number of 41 seats Republicans need to pick-up to regain a majority, though the DCCC has somewhat of a lifeline with the three GOP-held seats it has a great shot at picking-up (DE-AL, IL-10 and LA-02).

Some of Democrats’ troubles have come from the retirements that have befell the party since November: Had they not been open, AR-01, KS-03, NH-02, TN-06 or WA-03 would either not have been on the map at all or they would have hovered in the potentially competitive column. Instead, they have become some of the DCCC’s biggest headaches. That said, it does appear that Democrats did manage to keep the floodgates closed. But while the GOP does not have as many retirements to exploit as it would like, they have pulled many remarkable recruitment coups in districts that had been uncontested for years, sometimes for decades. As the cycle started, who could have expected that AR-02, MO-04, ND-AL, PA-08, PA-17, SC-05 or WV-01 would find themselves on our radar screen?

Republicans should not expect to sweep all vulnerable seats. For one, a red wave wil not make itself felt equally in all the states, e.g. NY Democrats could be in better form since they’ll probably be helped by Cuomo’s coattails. Second, a number of incumbents who have prepared themselves for a tough run since the cycle started should survive - just as Reps. Gerlach, Kirk, Reichert or Shays managed to win one or both of their 06/08 contests. This is why I have for now maintained all Democratic incumbents in the toss-up category; I fully expect the party to lose many, perhaps most, of its vulnerable districts (AL-02, CO-04, FL-24, ID-01, MD-01, NM-02, NV-03, OH-01, VA-02, VA-05), but for now we have little evidence but the national environment, which makes it all but impossible to differentiate between them.

Conversely, a number of Democrats who at the moment appear to be keeping their head above the water could easily find themselves submerged if the environment is as toxic as the GOP is hoping; this includes incumbents like Reps. Altmire (PA-04), Dahlkemper (PA-03), Pomeroy (ND-AL), Salazar (CO-03), Matheson (UT-02), Boucher (VA-09), Kirkpatrick (AZ-01), Davis (TN-04) and others. While many of these districts are likely to rise to the more competitive categories by the time all is said and done, it goes without saying that efforts to expand the map often fail (see Democrats’ utter failures in IN-03 and ME-Sen in the past cycle), and it is simply too early to differentiate between the Democrats’ marginally vulnerable seats.

Besides the prospect of getting at least get something to campaign if they manage to pass some major legislation or the hope that the economic recovery will make itself felt by the fall, Democrats are banking on two additional wild cards. The first is the possibility that Republican primaries complicate the party’s chances in some districts. Doug Hoffman is for instance threatening to mount yet another third-party bid in NY-23 if he loses the GOP nomination; other primaries could produce a weaker candidate because of crowded fields in which anything is possible, which is arguably what happened to the GOP in last week’s IL-Gov and IL-10 primaries. (Look no further than what happened in 2008 to Democrats in LA-06 and NY-26 or what happened to Republicans in MD-01 to see how perfect opportunities can be ruined by brutal primaries.)

The second major wild card is the GOP’s financial limitation: The NRCC does not have a lot of money, especially when compared to the millions the DCCC relied on to bankroll the blue waves in 2006 and in 2008. That means a number of promising challengers could find themselves swamped come the fall, when well-financed incumbents and the DCCC go all-out to attack them while national Republicans has to prioritize some districts over others in a way that was less problematic for Democrats in the past two cycles. Might they still be rescued by independent groups, which will no longer have to abide by spending restrictions?

Without further delay, here are my rating charts. There is unfortunately no district-by-district explanation (while I have done that in the past, I would have no more time to do any other blogging work if I attempted to pull it off again), but you will find a handy graphic showing the projected balance of power.

House Ratings February 2010

House Detailed Projected Composition February 2010

22 Responses to “New House ratings show brutally unbalanced map”


  1. 1 Jaxx Raxor

    I understand why it would be incredibly time consuming to explain all the races. I hope you do put some specific race anyalsis when you put your Senate Rankings update which is over due.

    I do have some slight disagreements. While LA-02 is definitly likely Dem (even if the GOP got a 1994 result and 50+ seats, a heavily black district in which the Dem nominee will almost certainly be a African American will not vote for Repbulican) I think that DE-AL should be only lean Dem if only because Castle’s coattails in the Senate race can be of great help to whoever the GOP nominee is for the House seat and unlike in LA-02, a really bad Dem enviroment could see Carney actually lose, but right now he is favored. Also LA-06 should be likely Republican because while the Dem bench is strong, none wants to run in a House seat that will likely be gone in two years. I wouldn’t be totally suprised if a Democrats fail to get any nominee in at all, I know that a handful of low profile buisnessmen are running on the GOP side, who would heavily favored against an equally low profile Dem in this cycle.

    Also I think IL-10 should be Lean Dem because while both parties nominated the weaker candidate, Seals is a much stronger candidate candidate than Dold, at least as of right now. Dold could still win but his politcal ideology is ill suited for a district that is historically Republican but moderate.

    I think KS-03 should be moved to lean GOP unless the Dems get a strong candidate in. The fact that thier strongest prospects have either declined or haven’t delcared yet is a very bad sign, espcially with the GOP likely to sweep in Kansas this year.

    Lean Dem is too harsh for Skelton in MO-04. He is a long time incumbent and his main GOP opponnet is nothing special. Likely Dem is fair unless there is polling showing Skelton in danger or losing to one or more the three Republicans running against him.

    SD should be lean dem instead of likely Dem because Hearsth-Sandlin strongest GOP opponent, secretary of State Chris Nelson, is only 7 points behind in the latest PPP poll and she is under 50%. She still has the definite edge however.

    Pretty much agree with your other ratings.

  2. 2 Taniel

    Jaxx,

    30 of the Senate races have been written-up, so the full rankings are coming up soon! Sorry about the long overdue.

    I agree that most of the districts you cite were in-between, and thus could be argued either way, though I disagree with you on DE-AL: Castle is favored not because the environment is favorable but because he has won double-digit statewide victories for almost 30 years. Delaware voters have always voted for him despite his party affiliation, so I doubt his candidacy can suddenly help GOP candidates down-ballot. Also, unless the Republican is a very wealthy self-funder, I doubt the national party will put in any effort.

    KS-03 was the open Dem district I was the closest to moving to the lean GOP column, but the Democratic Kansas City Mayor would certainly make the race competitive - and the district did vote for Obama. I also went back-and-forth on IL-10, but I ultimately decided that I could not move it to the lean takeover category if I left seats like KS-03 and AR-02 as toss-up. I do expect some of these seats to move in the coming months, however, as we shall be able to get a clearer idea of the district-by-district situation.

    My rationale for SD-AL: Small states are traditionally reluctant to vote out their incumbents, and Johnson and Dashle did stay very competitive in tough environments against Thune. But I’d certainly buy an argument that it should be ranked lean.

  3. 3 kewgardens

    With respect to SD-AL: I suspect that small states are most reluctant to vote out LONG-TERM incumbents, who have accumulated a lot of seniority. Sandlin does not really fit in that category.

  4. 4 gerard

    With the just announced passing of John Murtha of Pa, I assume his district goes into the tossup category.

    I see Carney doing really well in Delaware. I also see Castle losing. What is his rationale for what he will do in the next four years? He is from the party of “no”, versus Coons, who knows he has to win it this year if he wants it and thus will be a “hungrier” candidate. I’ll leave more for when we are discussing the Senate.

    I also agree that Melancon’s LA-6 is a goner for the Dems. Kansas Dems running for US House seats are in for a very rough year, with the GOP running far and away in both the governor’s and US Senator’s races.

    The Illinois races will be impacted by the governor’s and US Senator’s races, and by the trial of the former governor, which will be going on or just concluded at election time. With the departure of the Dems lt. gov. candidate, they have a golden opportunity to put someone on the ticket to help Quinn. His primary opponent, Hynes, would make the public happy, but the race was hard fought and bitter. The Dems also have some huge potential problems with their US Senate nominee. This could all help the GOP House races, such as Kirk’s open seat. Of course, the GOP still has to finish their ticket, but they have the wind at their backs as the party out of power this year.

  5. 5 Taniel

    PA-12 will obviously move up, more on this later today. (Though I’m going to leave these charts as is for now because it takes time to prepare/upload them.)

    Also, Melancon’s seat is not LA-03, not LA-06.

    As we discussed earlier, Illinois is not likely to be Democrats’ graveyard, at least at the House level. I left IL-08 and IL-11 on the map for now (and I am just realizing I should have removed the former given what I wrote after the primary results on Tuesday), but they are more likely to move to the safe category in the coming months than anything else. I expect IL-14 to be the state’s only Dem-held seat we talk about by the fall, while the GOP could be helped in IL-10 by Kirk’s presence on the ticket.

  6. 6 Anonymous

    Great graphics and article. Interesting to see even in the depths ofa great recession that the Democrats will most likley retain the house. Given that a lot of those losing Democratic congressmen are blue dogs it makes their caucus more ideologically cohesive and may in some ways make it easier to pass legislation.
    Talk about phyric victory for the GOP.

  7. 7 kewgardens

    Taniel —

    I know a lot of these classifications are “loose” but aren’t you being s bit optimistic?

    Assuming that toss-ups go 50-50% and the favorites all win, your predictions would result in an eight seat pick-up for the GOP.

    When you say “lean retention,” what kind of odds are you giving the underdog party?

  8. 8 Taniel

    kewgardens, these ratings assume we will have a wave election, so we should not read them by considering the probability seats flip depending on what categories they belong to but we should be taking a more general view based on how probable it is a seat succumbs to a red wave. As such, I am not assuming toss-ups will go 50-50. For one, one party tends to win most of the closest toss-up races in a cycle with even a slight breeze and I expect many (probably most) of the Democrats’ toss-up seats to be won by the GOP.

    Yet, it’s next to impossible to figure which ones lean in what direction since we have very little district-by-district evidence to base ourselves on at the moment. Once we start getting more of a sense as to which Democratic incumbents might have a better shot at surviving the red wave, I’ll start moving some districts to the “lean takeover” column.

    Let me put it another way: The likeliest scenario at the moment is for the GOP to win a majority of the toss-ups, perhaps go 50-50 among the districts I’ve listed as lean retention, and win a few of the likely retention seats. But this is based on a national analysis that we cannot yet translate in local terms other than by showing just how expanded the map has become.

  9. 9 Cliff

    Democratic Kansas City Mayor would certainly make the race competitive

    Yah, but he ain’t runnin.

    http://primebuzz.kcstar.com/?q=node/21277

  10. 10 Taniel

    Indeed Cliff, I came across the news less than an hour after writing that in response to Jaxx’s comment. Well, KS-03 certainly becomes the third best GOP opportunity at this point.

  11. 11 Jaxx Raxor

    As I said in my first post, the fact that probable dem nominees are eitiher refusing to run or saying nothing in KS-03 is a strong indication that the Dems will only get a weak candidate. I thought that the Kansas city mayor was unlikely to run so I didn’t metion him and vola he comfirms my suspicions.

    Its very probably that Kansas Dems are just too afraid of the cycle and are willing to let the GOP take over Kansas in 2010, and maybe in 2012 with Obama on the ballot they will try to take back KS-03 (Obama did win it narrowly). Don’t know if that would actually work but as the GOP is hoping that lower turnout will help them get swing disticts, its not unfatonable for some Dems to be waiting for Obama on the ticket in 2012 plus redistricting.

  12. 12 Cicero

    The Obama/Reid/Pelosi arrogance is going to cost the Democrats a lot of seats in the House and Senate. People are suffering. The change that has happened under this administration’s watch has backfired. Unemployment is up, and so is the American public’s skepticism about our government.

    What’s helping the Democrats is that the Republicans are void of leadership. Who is the leader of the Republican party? Most normal Americans don’t know Boehner or McConnell. Michael Steele comes across as a weak idiot ever since Rush had him lick his shoes. A lack of leadership will prevent the Republicans from taking power of the House for now.

    Obama needs to read the numbers. He needs to hire some advisors to help him find some common-sense solutions. Obama needs to start thinking of a better foreign policy besides “the apology”. Obama needs to realize that Americans do not approve of socialism.

  13. 13 Ron

    Cicero, Obama isnt even passing any Socialism. He is a strongly centrist President.

  14. 14 Cicero

    Ron, I totally disagree. Obama is not even close to being a centrist. If you want a centrist, look at George H.W. Bush or Bill Clinton.

    Obama is about expanding government, providing corporate bailouts to Wall Street, getting government to take over our health care industry. There is nothing centrist about Obama. Obama is to the left of the Nation.

  15. 15 Cliff

    He is a strongly centrist President.

    If you think that, you have a very warped version of what the center of American politics is.

    America is a center-right country. You move to the middle left and you’re at the far left of America. And Obama is, at best, middle left on the grand scale. He’s certainly nowhere near the “center” on anything but a Mao-Carter scale.

    As I said in my first post, the fact that probable dem nominees are eitiher refusing to run or saying nothing in KS-03 is a strong indication that the Dems will only get a weak candidate. I thought that the Kansas city mayor was unlikely to run so I didn’t metion him and vola he comfirms my suspicions.

    The seat is virtually unwinnable for them this cycle, and they know it. Sure, Obama took the district, barely, but Bush took it easily both times and this time, BOTH of the top of the ticket races are essentially uncontested. In essense, Brownback and Moran (most likely) will have nothing better to do then to spend tons of money “getting out the vote” in KS-03, and this is during a bad year for D’s anyway. That’s on top of the fact that the R candidate is likely to be stronger then the D candidate in a generic election.

    It’s better for them to cut their losses on this one. Actually, I’d rather Reardon had run. He couldn’t have won but he might have been able to force the D’s to spend money trying to get a victory. But they aren’t stupid. They’d be better off trying to keep, say, Sestak’s seat.

  16. 16 deleted

    Cliff, you make me laugh. So Obama is middle left. Lets see what he has done (not his supposed inclinations since they are subject to debate).

    The bailout for banks, which Cicero mentioned, was signed into law by George Bush Jr and a large number of Republican senators voted for it. I suppose if expanding Government is a sign of the left then Bush Jr must have been to the left since he enacted (with a GOP congress) entitlement expansion (Carter, Clinton and Obama have not done that), federal expansion into education, Government funding for private companies (AIG, GM etc).

    Ron is completely correct that Obama is not a socialist. Please explain what he has done that is socialist - by that I mean not socialist in the fevered imaginations of Sean Hannity but in the menaing of Eastern European countires of old (aka communist).

  17. 17 Anonymous

    Cicero, yes unemployment has gone up since last January. It was actually increasing throughout 2008 as well. As any sensible economist will tell you unemployment is a lagging indicator and the countries GDP has increased in Q3 and Q4 2009. Unemployment will therefore start to fall during this year (already some evidence that, that will happen).

    You are not helpful when you throw around words like “socialist”, marxist etc without using them properly.

    I would add that Congress is actually the body that makes and enacts policy.

  18. 18 MSW

    Calling Obama a “socialist” is not fair and is inaccurate. Referring him as a “centrist” is not totally accurate, either. I gather that Obama is fairly liberal, but is willing to negotiate within the Democratic caucus and specifically the Blue Dogs, giving him the appearance of being somewhat moderate. I think the Health Care debate has shown that. Obama wanted Health Care reform, and the House passed a bill with the government-option, while the Senate passed a bill without the government option. Overall, the progressives were unsatisfied with the Senate version, but Obama was fine with it since it was an overall improvement.

  19. 19 Cliff

    Please explain what he has done that is socialist

    Yet again, someone on this cite is making $#!t up that I never said and then asking me to justify it.

    I’m not playing this game.

  20. 20 deleted

    Cliff,

    First your compatriot Cicero called him a socialist and second you wrote “He’s certainly nowhere near the “center” on anything but a Mao-Carter scale.” So between Carter and a communist, maybe that is a socialist.

    You can play word games buy infering something but not actually saying it and then complaining when people use the inference and call you out on it.

    OK so you didn`t explictly say socialist, my question still stands what has Obama DONE that is in the middle of the Carter-Mao scale?

  21. 21 dem

    I agree about much races, but i disagree about some others. I would change:

    AL-03 from Safe R? to Leans R.

    CA-50 from Likely R to Leans R.
    SC-02 from Likely R to Leans R.

    KS-03 from Toss-Up to Leans R.

    LA-03 from Leans R to Toss-Up.
    WA-08 from Leans R to Toss-Up.

    NV-03 from Toss-Up to Leans-D.
    WA-03 from Toss-Up to Leans D.
    FL-08 from Toss-Up to Leans D.

    ND-AL from Likely D to Leans D.
    SD-AL from Likely D to Leans D.
    AZ-08 from Likely D to Leans D.
    NC-08 from Likely D to Leans D.
    KY-06 from Likely D to Leans D.

    HI-01 from Leans D to Likely D.
    NJ-03 from Leans D to Likely D.
    PA-10 from Leans D to Likely D.
    WV-01 from Leans D to Likely D.

    NY-13 from Safe D? to Leans D.

  22. 22 Cicero

    deleted, it’s that your name or is that just some sort of description? Just curious.

    I don’t care if you or anyone wants to caste stones, but Obama is promoting GOVERNMENT GROWTH at the cost of the free markets. He thinks big brother can control things better than Joe the Plumber.

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