Once again, House ratings shift in the GOP’s direction. With four days to go before Election Day, 28 Democratic-held seats are in the “lean Republican” or “likely Republican” columns - up from 23 ten days ago. Another 32 are rated toss-ups, 2930 are rated “lean Democratic” and 30 are rated “likely Democratic” - which amounts to a staggering number of vulnerable Democratic seats and points to just how disastrous Tuesday could be for the party.
Just over the past ten days, Republicans removed any doubts they were mounting serious challenge to Gene Taylor in MS-4 ; they’ve managed to put Barney Frank, Oberstar and Ron Kind on the defensive in MA-4, MN-8 and WI-3; they’ve grabbed a clear advantage in Jim Marshall’s GA-8; they’ve put still new districts like NJ-6 and TN-5 on the map; and they’ve scared the DCCC into pouring an unexpected $1 million in a single week in once-safe-looking VA-11. New polls in places like CA-20, NC-2, NY-20 and NY-22 that were considered probable Democratic holds just a month ago point to a dire situation for Democratic incumbents, though we should obviously guard ourselves from drawing definite conclusions from a single House survey.
Many of these races feature very conservative Republicans who would have had trouble winning in normal circumstances (say NC-2’s Renee Ellmers, who first went up on air with this ad) but they are coming under the spotlight way too late to give Democrats any hope of preparing a valiant response. In short, many Democratic incumbents are in the same predicament Republicans found themselves in the fall of 2006: They are taken by surprise. Think Gene Taylor, Phil Hare, Raul Grijalva, Solomon Ortiz, Barney Frank.
Given that the political environment looked so brutal for Democrats after Scott Brown’s victory last January, it is puzzling how so many reproduced the same errors that got so many of their former colleagues ousted four years ago.
As such, we are facing the same puzzling situation as 2006: Incumbents who were at the very top of the GOP’s target list from the very beginning (say Tom Perriello in VA-5, Frank Kratovil in MD-1 or Paul Kanjorski in PA-11) might still pull it off even as Democrats who were on no one’s list as of Labor Day could very well lose. It would sure be stunning for Perriello to survive while Hare doesn’t, or Kratovil to survive while Ortiz doesn’t - or for any of the Indiana Democrats to survive if any of the Massachusetts Democrats lose, but we will see such results.
And this is ultimately what makes the House landscape so difficult to decipher - and why the range of plausible outcomes is so large.
While both parties are spending heavily in districts no one expected would be, they are also spending heavily in districts we would have expected to be the fist to go. In other words: the DCCC has in no way given up on races that offer the GOP their 15th through 25th best pick-up chances, a sign of confidence, but they are also clearly panicking over districts that you wouldn’t expect to fall unless Republicans are north of a 60 seat gain.
The former list of seats includes most of the district that are now listed as “lean GOP,” most notably AR-1, VA-2, MD-1, VA-2, VA-5 and WA-3. Republicans have been favored to win all of these seats all year, but Democrats are seeing something that’s convincing them the races are truly winnable. For instance, Barack Obama is campaigning for Perriello today. And look at spending numbers. The DCCC just dropped more than $500,000 in AR-1, bringing its total to $1,7 million; about $350,000 in MD-1, bringing its total to $1,4 million.
On the other hand, the DCCC is also spending more than $160,000 in IA-1, nearly $500,000 in MI-9, $240,000 in OH-6 - all districts that Democrats would be in rough shape if they lost. Another sign: Barney Frank and Solomon Ortiz just loaned themselves money.
And then there the many districts that were expected to be competitive - and are competitive. AZ-5, CA-11, FL-22, MI-7, NV-3, OH-16, PA-8 have been the site of huge spending and they are some of the clearest toss-ups heading into Tuesday. Another major toss-up is FL-25, an open seat currently held by Republicans in which party strategies have been difficult to decipher: While the NRCC has not spent any money in the district, the DCCC has poured in more than $1.3 million on Joe Garcia’s behalf - $775,000 of which was spent just in the final week. If Democrats manage to capture FL-25 and unseat the remarkably resilient Charles Djou in HI-1, they would at least get some crowing rights of their own. And an upset Democratic victory in AZ-3, CA-3, FL-12 or WA-8 cannot be ruled out, even if the party is tanking elsewhere.
Many of these races might not get as much attention as Senate contests, but going into the final week-end there is a wide enough range of plausible outcomes that Democrats can still hope to avoid a cataclysmic night - and merely suffer though a terrible one. In 2008, Republicans lost a net of 21 seats - but that was substantially better than what they had come to fear; Democrats are sure to lose more than that, but merely exceeding expectations would surely relieve them - and set them up to try and undo the damage starting in 2012.
I have changed the ratings in 31 districts:
- FL-2, toss-up to likely GOP
- FL-8, toss-up to lean GOP: This is one of the marquee races of the cycle due to Alan Grayson’s persona and politics. Grayson is not out of the race just yet, but polling data gives a clear edge to Dan Webster.
- FL-22, lean Dem to toss-up: This is another emblematic race, given the arch-conservative and arch-controversial profile of Republican challenger Allen West. Democrats have deployed a lot of efforts to raise his negatives, but
- GA-8, toss-up to lean GOP:
- IA-3, lean Dem to likely Dem: A rare move towards Democrats - and a somewhat surprising one. Rep. Boswell has long underperformed, but he now looks arguably less vulnerable than his colleagues from IA-1 and IA-2.
- IL-17, lean Dem to toss-up: Phil Hare’s emergence as one of the most vulnerable House Democrats has been one of the year’s more surprising developments, though it has gotten lost lately given the sea of other Democrats
- HI-1, lean Dem to toss-up
- KY-6, likely Dem to lean Dem
- IN-8, lean GOP to likely GOP
- KS-3, lean GOP to likely GOP
- MA-10, lean Democratic to toss-up: Scott Brown received about 60% of the vote in this district last year, and Republicans got confident as soon as the seat opened up. Two public polls this week showed a narrow edge for Democratic candidate Keating.
- ME-1, safe Democratic to likely Democratic
- MI-1, lean GOP to toss-up: While the Republican still has a slight advantage in this race (just as the Democrat does in MA-10), polls have shown that the race remains highly competitive; the DCCC has spent more than $1 million in this district, including $200,000 in the final week, so they must also think this is worth it.
- MN-8, likely Democratic to lean Democratic
- MO-4, lean Dem to toss-up:
- MS-4, lean Dem to toss-up: While Gene Taylor represents a heavily Republican district, he was expected to hold on as he usually does. But things have gotten so sour for him he recently revealed having voted for John McCain in the 2008 presidential election in a transparently desperate move.
- NC-2, likely Democratic to lean Democratic
- NH-1, toss-up to lean GOP: Democrats thought they had enough ammunition against Frank Guinta to weaken his candidacy but they have barely tried going after him over the past month. After spending more than $1 million in the district in 2008, the DCCC has not gotten involved this time. But Carol Shea-Porter pulled 2006’s biggest upset victory, and she beat the odds again in 2008.
- NM-2, toss-up to lean GOP: Harry Teague has held better than he had been expected to, but New Mexico has taken a clear shift to the right up-and-down the ballot.
- NJ-3, lean Dem to toss-up
- NJ-6, safe Democratic to likely Democratic
- NY-22, likely Dem to lean Dem
- NY-20, lean Dem to toss-up: Scott Murphy looked like a bright spot insofar as freshmen Democrats went until Siena found his lead collapse into a 9% deficit this week; Murphy retaliated by releasing an internal showing him leading by 3%, but that itself was closer than the race had looked through the fall.
- OH-15, lean GOP to likely GOP
- OR-5, lean Dem to toss-up: The situation in this race is confusing, with public polls showing widely contradictory information.
- PA-11, lean Republican to toss-up: The outlook has slightly improved for Pennsylvania Democrats in recent weeks, and one beneficiary might be Rep. Kanjorski. He pulled off an upset victory in 2008, and while the odds are still against his repeating that feat there are signs he very well might. For one, a public poll this week showed him leading for the first time, and while my inclination was to disregard it the NRCC released an internal poll showing challenger Lou Barletta up just 2%. This looks like a race after all.
- RI-1, likely Democratic to lean Democratic
- TN-4, lean Democratic to toss-up
- TN-5, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Democrats are headed towards a tough loss in the open Governor’s Mansion and near-certain losses in two House districts they currently hold. It’s no longer possible to consider Rep. Cooper is safe from an upset.
- VA-9, likely Democratic to lean Democratic
- VA-11, likely Dem to lean Dem: Even though Fairfax County erased a decade of leftward shift in the 2009 Governor’s race, Rep. Connolly long did not look like he would have that much to worry given how many other state Democrats the GOP is tied up targeting. But the DCCC’s stunning last-minute $1 million spending in the district this week was an eye-opener.
- WI-3, safe Democratic to lean Democratic
- WI-8, toss-up to lean Republican