House landscape: An ever-expanding and uncertain field

The (very) bad news for Democrats: Just when we thought the map couldn’t possibly expand any more, still more of their incumbents find themselves on the GOP’s ever-expanding target list. Solomon Ortiz, Carolyn McCarthy, Peter DeFazio - these Democrats were considered vulnerable as the month began, but confident Republicans are now setting their sights on scoring upsets against such longtime incumbents.

The most emblematic district of the GOP’s success at expanding the map is undoubtedly AZ-7, however, where¬† the DCCC has now been forced to rush to Rep. Raul Grijalva. And while DeFazio, Ortiz or even Barney Frank remain elusive targets for Republicans, other districts that weren’t anywhere in the top-tier of GOP targets are looking increasingly vulnerable - districts like OH-6 and TN-4, for instance.

Let’s be clear on what this means: Even the most optimistic Republicans don’t expect to unseat all these powerful Democrats. But in a volatile election like this one in which many districts have never been the subject of a public poll and are barely covered by the press, there are bound to be a number of major surprises on Election Night. I now have 34 Dem-held districts in the “likely Democratic” column. While I have restrained that category enough that a GOP win in any of these districts would be considered a huge upset, I firmly expect at least a couple of these to fall in Republican hands on November 2nd.

And that doesn’t get us to the massively large pool of 83 Democratic seats that are truly in play (listed no better than “lean Dem”)!

Now, the better news for Democrats: With 2 weeks to go, 24 of their seats are leaning towards Republicans - a large number, but one that is not quite as catastrophic as you might think. Furthermore, this is no longer simply a fact of us lacking sufficient information about toss-up districts to know what to do with them. In fact, at-times extensive polling information and party spending patterns suggests that Democrats have a solid chance of winning many of the districts that I have listed as “toss-up.” NH-2, in particular, was long considered lost for Democrats but progressive blogosphere favorite Ann Kuster is mounting a strong campaign.

The same goes for districts listed as “lean Dem.” All of them are clearly in play, but polling in many of them shows that the bottom has not fallen out for Democratic incumbents - I’m for instance thinking of recent polls in CA-18, IA-3, NY-1.

The other piece of good news for Democrats is that a few opportunities are popping up for them to pick-up Republican seats: I long thought capturing 5 seats would be a good accomplishment, but new developments open the door to a larger number. For one, IL-10 finally looks like it is leaning towards Democrats. Second, to the pool of 5 races we have been looking for months (DE-AL, LA-2, IL-10, HI-1 and FL-25) should now be added 3 districts.

The first is CA-3, where the GOP is growing worried enough that Karl Rove’s American Crossroads is spending about $700,000 to help Rep. Lungren. I have moved the other two based on polling information: WA-8, where 2 public polls find a competitive race, and AZ-3, where a PPP survey just found the Democrat leading Ben Quayle by 2%. And we cannot entirely rule out a surprise upset in one of the 8 GOP districts I have listed as “likely GOP,” and from which we generally have very little information.

Likely Dem
(34D, 2R)

Lean Dem
(34D, 2R)

(25D, 1R)
Lean GOP
(15D, 3R)
Likely GOP
(8D, 10R)






GOP seats DE-AL
FL-25 AZ-3


I have changed the ratings of 19 districts:

AR-1, toss-up to lean Republican: While this race is still in play, defending an open seat in a district that gave John McCain 59% was always a tough proposition for Democrats. Chad Causey has mounted a stronger than expected campaign and Democrats have released a number of internal polls showing a dead heat. However, two independent polls recently showed Rick Crawford up by 8% and 12% - what you would expect given the district’s conservative lean and Arkansas’s shift towards the GOP this year.

AZ-1, toss-up to lean Republican: Democrats long insisted that Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick would be saved by what is certain to be high-turnout among Native-Americans (Navajo Nation is also hosting elections on the same day), but add up Democrats’ pronounced Arizona pains, public polls finding Paul Gosar ahead, and the DCCC’s September decision to downscale their investment in the race - and Kirkpatrick has become an underdog. The race remains competitive, however.

AZ-3, likely Republican to lean Republican: The district might be clearly Republican, but voters don’t seem eager to embrace GOP nominee Ben Quayle, son of the former vice-president who won the primary with just 23% of the vote. Due to his lack of public record, much of the attention has been devoted to Quayle’s denials of having participated in the creation of the website under the pseudonym Brock Landers. Still, the year seemed too tough for Arizona Democrats for John Hulburd to have a chance - until a PPP poll found Hulburd leading 46% to 44% and showed Quayle’s favorability rating at a rough 34/52.

AZ-7, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: Few developments capture the GOP’s success at expanding the map as well as the precipitous collapse in Rep. Raul Grijalva’s fortunes. While it was still possible to doubt the race’s competitiveness after the GOP released two polls indicating a dead heat, the DCCC chose to get involved this week - which probably means they went in the field and confirmed that this had become a headache. The main reason I am not moving this to the toss-up column is that Democrats might have identified the problem just in time to boost Grijalva and focus on turning out district voters; but national Republican stars have rallied around Ruth McClung.

CA-18 and CA-20, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: While Democrats remain favored to keep both districts, Rep. Costa and Rep. Cardoza are both sweating more than their party would like. The DCCC has had to get involved to boost Costa in CA-20, while Cardoza is getting substantial help from the National Association of Realtors in CA-18. A recent SUSA poll found Cardoza up 50% to 44%, to which the incumbent replied with an internal showing him up double-digits.

FL-24, lean Republican to likely Republican: Rep. Suzanne Kosmas was always near the top of the GOP’s target list, but there was a point over the summer at which it looked like the Republicans vying to challenge her were so weak she could still pull it out. But that looks to be a thing of the past: Kosmas was among the first 3 incumbents to be abandoned by the DCCC earlier this month - and while we haven’t seen many polls that seems a clear indication that internal Democratic numbers have Adams in a strong position.

IL-10, toss-up to lean Democratic: After twice failing to win this blue-leaning district in very favorable years, can Dan Seals pull it off in a cycle far more hostile to his party? The race is still very much in play, but he appears to have opened up lead against an opponent who is more conservative than was advisable for the GOP to nominate.

ID-1, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: I am not sure why I had Rep. Walt Minnick quite as strong as “likely Democratic,” so this move should not be interpreted as a sign of momentum for GOP state Rep. Labrador, who has proven one of the cycle’s weakest Republican candidates. But it would be foolish to rule out the possibility he might ride a GOP wave in a district that voted for Bush by 39%.

MA-04, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Not only is this a district that voted for Barack Obama by 29%, but Barney Frank is one of the most powerful House Democrats. But the GOP is now feeling emboldened enough to dream of ousting Frank, who was reduced to releasing an internal poll showing him up double-digits.

MN-1, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: Just like in CA-20, the bad news for Democrats is that recent polling vindicates the GOP’s hope that the wave is endangering Rep. Tim Walz. The better news is that it finds Walz is still ahead; still, we can’t forget that Walz himself in an upset after a late surge in 2006.

NY-4 and NY-22, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Andrew Cuomo might be heading towards a landslide victory, but that should not be enough to insulate down-ballot Democrats. Given the GOP’s unexpected victories in local elections in 2009, it would not be surprising if a Democratic incumbent somewhere in the state was safer than thought - and Reps. Hinchey and McCarthy are obvious candidates. The GOP released a poll showing McCarthy leading by only 1%, and there is reason to believe Long Island could be rough for her party.

OH-06, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: This is one of those districts that was not expected to be competitive until this fall. But as Ohio became a disaster zone for Democrats, Bill Johnson’s odds of scoring an upset increased. GOP internal polls show a tight race, and the NRCC got involved in early October.

OR-04, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Rep. Peter DeFazio caught a break in 2009 when highly-touted NRCC recruit Sid Leiken’s campaign imploded, but his race against the little-known Art Robinson has suddenly gotten very heated. After the GOP released an internal poll with DeFazio leading by 6%, the incumbent replied with a 14% lead in his own internal - a healthy margin, but not one large enough to rule out that Robinson’s late entry in the news will not lead to a stunning upset.

TN-4, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: Democrats were long hoping that Lincoln Davis would survive easily, but that was probably too much to ask for in a district that gave John McCain 64% of the vote. Republicans have released polling finding Davis in a tied race.

TN-8, lean Republican to likely Republican: While holding either of Tennessee’s open seats was always a tough proposition for Democrats, they at least managed to recruit a strong candidate in TN-8 - which is much more than can be said of TN-6. But there is so much that Roy Herron could do in a district that has been shifting Republican in federal races - Al Gore by 3% in 2000, George Bush by 6% in 2004 and John McCain by 13% in 2008. TN-8 became one of the first races the DCCC abandoned in early October.

TX-27, safe Democratic to likely RepublicanDemocratic: One of the most unexpected races to end up on the chart is TX-27, where Rep. Solomon Ortiz is suddenly attracting attention after a GOP internal showed him trailing little-known Blake Farenthold. The DCCC quickly went on the offensive - but the closely divided TX-27 could very one of those districts in which an unconcerned incumbent falls in a stunning upset.

WA-8, likely Republican to lean Republican: After surviving the Democratic waves of 2006 and 2008, GOP Rep. Dave Reichert looked like he should be fine in 2010. But recent bad press, concerns about his brain surgery and the Seattle Times’s surprising decision to turn against a politician they had praised for years have combined to make the race unexpectedly competitive: PPP and SUSA both recently found Suzan DelBene in striking distance.

I’ll end this post with a note on the Senate: Joe Miller’s bodyguard’ handcuffing a journalist at a public event is one of the most chilling events of the year.

5 Responses to “House landscape: An ever-expanding and uncertain field”

  1. 1 Ron

    Democrats really should have been able to do a better job holding down retirements. They could have convinced Charlie Melancon and Brad Ellsworth to run for reelection rather than make kamikazee Senate runs that I warned about over a year ago.

    They could have begged Marion Berry, John Tanner, Brian Baird, and David Obey to run for reelection.

    This would have given Democrats an extra six seats in the House that they wouldnt have had to have worried about.

  2. 2 Taniel

    Ron,Democrats might not have lost all 6 of these districts had the incumbents you mention chosen to run for re-election, but it’s unlikely they would have won all 6: Melancon would probably have been a target, for one, and Republicans were certainly eying Ellsworth and Berry. Given Rep. Larsen’s unexpected troubles in WA-2, it’s certainly not a stretch to imagine Baird would have found himself in a very tough race in WA-3.

  3. 3 Gerard

    Interesting points Ron, but, if you were Melancon and your opponent was caught wearing diapers and having sex with prostitutes, it would be hard to resist. It is too bad Evan Bayh wimped out, now he is saving his 10 million dollars so he can run for the governorship again in 2 years, after having previously served in the 1990’s, not exactly a profile in courage when you sit out a tough election and plan on coming back in only 2 short years.

    I have been wondering all along if this is more of a dump the incumbents election versus dump the Democrats election. I know the pundits see it as the latter, but Dems will have some surprises on election night. Obviously, there are many more Dems in the US House and in the various state legislatures, so they have more to lose, but, seeing the contest in Arizona, where Quayle is running behind in a solid GOP district gives me a little hope and perhaps a few more seats will open up.

    What is really upsetting about all of this is that the Dems had so much warning, they aren’t being caught off guard as they were in 1994, yet, what are they doing to confront this reality? Remember the slew of retirements even into early this year, that was a sign of things to come, as was the election of GOP Sen. Brown in Massachusets, but, nothing changed. I realize Obama can’t just fix everything over night and that the GOP in the Senate has been obnoxiously obstinate, but, if people are freaked out about the out of control government spending, start cutting. Don’t wait until after the election to give the results of a deficit reduction commission, take action now. Unfortunately, it is too late. When I see Obama and Biden campaigning this week in Minnesota, Washington, Delaware, and California, all reliably blue states, I know we are in deep trouble. Perhaps we will find Osama Bin Laden in the next week or so, although even that might not be enough.

    I realize that Team Obama might be figuring that having a tea party controlled GOP Congress for the next two years can work to his benefit, it will certainly make him look like the voice of reason and sanity, but it is beyond sad at how many new legislators are going to be tossed out in two weeks and thus are probably at the ends of their careers.

  4. 4 Ron

    Gerard, Democrats almost certainly would have been better off had McCain won in 2008. 2008-2012 was always going to be tough for any party in the White House and by late 2008, we all should have known. I would rather have had McCain(or any other Republican) in there during the “Great Deleveraging” than Obama.

  1. 1 auto insurance

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