Friday, October 19, 2007

October Ratings: Democrats feel better as GOP faces worrisome retirements

Plenty of action in House races since our first ratings came out in mid-September. This is recruitment and retirement season in the House, and Ohio has been the center of it all, with three Republicans retiring, two of them in very competitive districts (OH-15 and OH-16). Democrats have had better news on the recruitment front as well (look at AK-AL, FL-24, IL-11 and MN-06), but Republicans reply that they are very satisfied with their newest candidates in NM-01 and OH-07...

A lot will still happen in the next few weeks. Republicans are afraid that many more Republicans will announce their retirement, for that has really been to bottom line so far: Whatever chance the GOP had of reclaiming a majority next year (and it was already a slim chance) has been erased by the number of competitive open seats the party will have to defend, some of them completely unexpectedly. Two good news the Republicans did get recently were from unexpected places. The first is from VA-11, a blue-trending district held by Republican Tom Davis. It appeared certain that Davis would run for Senate -- offering the seat to Dems, but it now seems he will stay where he is.

The second good news came from MA-05, where the GOP got a "moral victory" this week in the special election that the Democrat won by only 5% in a very Democratic district. Moral victories might not be much, but Hackett's near-win in very red OH-02 in 2005 certainly prefigured larger gains in 2006.

I have only written full descriptions of seats that have made news over the past month. For detailed descriptions of the other races, check last month's rankings. Only a few seats saw their rating change in the past month. I indicated upgraded or downgraded next to them to indicate whether they became more vulnerable or less vulnerable for the incumbent party. Here is the quick run-down:
  • Less competitive: OH-02, VA-11
  • More competitive: AK-AL, IN-09, IL-11, KS-03, NM-11, NJ-03, OH-07, OH-14
  • Taken out of the rankings: MA-05
Outlook: Democrats pick-up a net 7-10 seats.

The September ratings are available here.

Republican seats, Lean take-over (4)

  • AZ-1 (Open)
  • CA-4 (Rep. Doolittle): Nothing much has changed since last month. Doolittle is under heavy investigation for his ties with Abramoff, and he is refusing to retire, drawing fire from his own party. Democrats are running 2006 nominee Brown, and if Doolittle stays the GOP candidate, they seem assured of carrying the seat. But if the RNCC is successful in getting Doolittle to retire, the race will drop down and strongly favor Republican. It is a red district and is rated so high only because of Doolittle's troubles.
  • NM-1 (Open, upgraded): Heather Wilson is running for Senate, and this swing district finally opened up. Republicans got the candidate they white when Sheriff White jumped in the race, but the seat slightly leans Democratic and that should play help the Democratic nominee (right now probably Heinrich, but 2006 nominee Patricia Madrid could jump in) cross the finish line. White released a poll showing him ahead in a general election, but it was an internal poll. We will downgrade the race is that is confirmed by independent pollsters
  • OH-15 (Open): Republicans have pretty much given up on this seat since Rep. Pryce announced she was retiring. A whole line-up of Republicans passed up on the race one after the other, most notably former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro. Democrat Kilroy (the 2006 nominee) seems to have the Dem nomination wrapped up, and should sail to victory. With so many other seats to worry about in Ohio, the GOP will likely not spend that much time defending this one.

Democratic seats, Lean take-over (1)
  • FL-16 (Rep. Mahoney)

Republican seats, Toss-up (12)
  • CO-4 (Rep. Musgrave): Angie Paccione, the 2006 nominee, was preparing for a rematch against Musgrave, but announced she was dropping out in late September. This leaves Betsy Markey, a businesswoman as well as a former aide to Senator Salazar, as the likely Democratic nominee.
  • CT-4 (Rep. Shays)
  • IL-10 (Rep. Kirk): Democrats are in the midst of a tight primary fight between Jay Footlik and 2006 nominee Daniel Seals.
  • IL-11 (Open, upgraded): Rep. Weller's decision to call it quits in this competitive district made it a top target for Democrats overnight. Their hand strengthened when they unexpectedly convinced Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson to jump in, while the leading Republican declined to run. Depending on where GOP recruitment ends up, this race could soon move up to "Lean Takeover."
  • MN-03 (Open): Rep. Ramstad's retirement made this race an instant toss-up, but the GOP is reportedly pressuring him to reconsider his decision, arguing that conditions are too bad this cycle and Ramstad should wait one more to open his seat. That about tells you how vulnerable this seat is.
  • NC-8 (Rep. Hayes)
  • NJ-03 (Rep. Saxton, upgraded): Republicans think they finally have the candidate in this swing district that Bush narrowly carried in 2004 but that Gore won by 10 points in 2000. State Senator John Adler is running, 18 years after a first run against Saxton at age 31. Depending on who tops the presidential ticket, this race could go either way.
  • OH-1 (Rep. Chabot)
  • OH-16 (Open): Rep. Regula announced he would retire in mid-October, after years of speculation that his time had come. Democrats are running a strong candidate in the form of state Senator John Boccieri, but it might very well be that they would have had an easier time defeating the aging Regula than competing for an open seat in a district that is marginally Republican.
  • NY-25 (Rep. Walsh)
  • PA-6 (Rep. Gerlach)
  • VA-11 (Rep. Davis, possibly open; downgraded): In the last rankings, this seat was ranked "lean takeover" because Tom Davis looked sure to jump in the Senate seat and open up this northern Virginia district in a region that has beentrending Democratic. But it now looks like Davis might not retire after all. Democrats are certain to challenge him more than they did in 2006, but Davis would start up as the favorite if he runs.
  • WA-8 (Rep. Reichert)

Democratic seats, Toss-up (11)
  • CA-11 (Rep. McNerney)
  • GA-8 (Rep. Marshall)
  • IL-8 (Rep. Bean)
  • IN-09 (Rep. Hill, upgraded): Republican Mike Sodrel announced earlier this month that he would run for the seat for the fourth competitive time against Democrat Baron Hill. The Democrat won in 2002, Sodrel in 2004, then Hill again in 2006! The GOP contends that the presidential race should give Sodrel the necessary turn-out boost among conservatives, while Democrats contend Hill is prepared for Sodrel this time. If Sodrel had taken a pass, this seat would have been far less competitive -- but a third rematch guarantees that it will go down the wire.
  • KS-2 (Rep. Boyda)
  • NH-1 (Rep. Shea-Porter)
  • NY-19 (Rep. Hall)
  • OH-18 (Rep. Space)
  • PA-4 (Rep. Altmire)
  • PA-10 (Rep. Carney): This seat is very Republican, and the GOP has plenty of candidates (for example Chris Hackett and Don Meuser) who want to take on Carney. The netroots are unlikely to provide him with great help, as Carney has been very conservative since his election -- saying for example that he would like to see Republican Chuck Hagel be president. Though that's probably the way to survive in this district.
  • TX-22 (Rep. Lampson)

Republican seats, Lean retention (14)

  • AK-AL (Rep. Young, upgraded): Don Young was certainly not supposed to be in a tight re-election race. But ethical trouble has gotten him in a tough contest, especially when Democrats recruited popular state senator Ethan Berkowitz to run against him. A poll of the race released in mid-October has Berkowitz up on the incumbent, which led us to upgrade the race. But Alaska is Alaska, and it did not look good for Dems in 2004 and 2006 -- so not yet a toss-up.
  • FL-13 (Rep. Buchanan)
  • FL-24 (Rep. Feeney): Democrats are excited about their new candidate, state Senator Suzanne Kozmas. Feeney faced some speculation that he might retire, but he has been raising a lot of money in anticipation of a competitive race, so it looks like that is not going to happen. Democrats are confident they can carry this seat, and that they can do so with Kozmas.
  • IL-18 (Open)
  • MI-07 (Rep. Walberg): Democrats are running Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer against very conservative Republican Walberg, and they are convinced they can win here because Walberg is a bad match for the district.
  • MI-09 (Rep. Knollenberg)
  • MO-06 (Rep. Graves)
  • MN-06 (Rep. Bachmann): MN-06 is one of their open seats that the GOP carried most easily in 2006, and Democrats want to make sure they better challenge socially conservative Bachmann this time around. Elwyn Tinklenberg, the state's former Transportation Commissioner, announced he was running earlier this month, and Democrats believe he has the ideal profile to carry the district. This race will definitely be close.
  • NJ-07 (Rep. Ferguson)
  • NV-03 (Rep. Porter)
  • NY-29 (Rep. Kuhl)
  • OH-2 (Rep. Schmidt, downgraded): Nothing new happened in this race, but I did realize it was unfair of me to rate this a toss-up. Schmidt survived extremely close calls in 2005 and 2006 on the basis of the district's very Republican nature alone. She is clearly not a match for the district, and she has considerably messed up since she got to the House. But if she managed to ride the seat's Republican nature in an off-year election, a presidential year should make that even easier.
  • VA-2 (Rep. Drake)
  • WY-AL (Rep. Cubin): Speculation rises that Rep. Cubin will retire. She keeps underperforming in arguably the most Republican state of the country, and she barely survived in 2006 against Democrat Gary Trauer, who is running again. This is one of those races Democrats hope will not open up, as they would have a harder time competing in an open race.

Democratic seats, Lean retention (12)

  • AZ-5 (Rep. Mitchell)
  • AZ-8 (Rep. Giffords)
  • CT-2 (Rep. Courtney)
  • CT-5 (Rep. Murphy)
  • GA-12 (Rep. Barrow)
  • KS-3 (Rep. Moore, upgraded): Dennis Moore sits on a very Republican district, yet he has been elected time and time again. Usually, his races are very close, but he sailed to re-election in 2006. This time, the GOP vows that it will put everything it has against Nick Jordan, a recruit the party is touting. But Moore has survived many times already, so he starts off as the favorite.
  • NY-20 (Rep. Gillbrand): Gillbrand is proving to be one of the biggest freshmen Democrat fundraisers, which should dissuade any major Republican to challenge her.
  • IN-2 (Rep. Donnelly)
  • IN-7 (Rep. Carson): Democrats are playing with fire by letting Carson run again. She repeatedly underperforms in this district, as health problems have left her unable to work as much as she should on Capitol Hill for a while.
  • IN-8 (Rep. Ellsworth)
  • MN-1 (Rep. Walz)
  • WI-8 (Rep. Kagen)

Republican seats, potentially competitive (15)

  • CA-52 (Open)
  • DE-AL (Rep. Castle): Leans Dem if Castle retires; safe GOP if he does not.
  • FL-8 (Rep. Keller)
  • FL-10 (Rep. Young): Speculation has arisen that Young might be eyeing retirement, given his inexistant third quarter fundraising. That would make this race move up dramatically, given that it leans slightly Democratic (Kerry carried it in 2004).
  • FL-21 (Rep. Diaz-Balart): The district is very Republican and dominated by Cuban-Americans, but Democrats believe that Raul Martinez, 25-year mayor of Hilaeah (the fifth largest Florida city) could give Diaz-Balart a competitive race.
  • IL-6 (Rep. Roskam)
  • IL-14 (Open): Dennis Hastert will resign before his term is over, but he is refusing to say when. He has explicitly stated he will try to resign at such a time as to avoid a special election -- clearly worried that Dems would have a better chance then than in November 2008.
  • NM-02 (Open): Steve Pearce is running for the open Senate seat, which means that New Mexico's two Republican-held seats will be open in 2008. This is much more Republican than NM-01, but Democrats are nonetheless hoping they can make this race competitive. That Democrats are having a competitive primary (Teague versus McCamley) is indicative that they see some hope.
  • NY-03 (Rep. King)
  • OH-07 (Open, upgraded): Rep. Hobson announced his retirement mid-October, the third Ohio Republican to call it quits. OH-07 is much more Republican than the state's other open seats, however. The Democrat's main hope, Sheriff Gene Kelly, passed on the race last week saying it was unwinnable and that Republican Steve Austria was too strong a contender. An open seat is an open seat, but the GOP starts off favored.
  • OH-14 (Rep. LaTourette): Yet another potentially competitive Ohio seat. Bush only won here with 52% in 2004, but LaTourette had an easy time winning re-election in 2006. Democrats are hoping to put this in play, perhaps with former Judge William O'Neill.
  • PA-03 (Rep. English)
  • PA-15 (Rep. Dent)
  • PA-18 (Rep. Murphy)
  • WV-02 (Rep. Capito)

Democratic seats, potentially competitive (5)
  • KY-03 (Rep. Yarmuth)
  • NH-02 (Rep. Hodes)
  • PA-07 (Rep. Sestak): Sestak has been intensely fundraising, making sure to scare off a potentially strong contender.
  • PA-8 (Rep. Murphy): Republican Mike Fitzpatrick, the previous incumbent defeated in 2006, has announced he will not challenge Rep. Murphy in his first re-election race. The 2006 race had been extremely close (50-50), so this is a huge relief for the Democrat. Republicans are unlikely to mount as strong a challenge in this blue trending district.
  • TX-23 (Rep. Rodriguez)


  • Perhaps you should update the MA-05 seat to indicate that Tsongas won.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At October 19, 2007 at 11:42 AM  

  • Yeah, the Tsongas seat should actually be taken off of here all together. If Republicans still lost to her by seven points in a low turnout special election with the 72 Hour Program, she will win with at least 60% in 2008.

    I would actually move CT-02 to potentially competitve and NJ-03 to lean Republican retention.

    Also, for now I would leave Dennis Moore where he is, but KS-03 is the one Kansas district that is trending Democratic. The largest county in the district, Johnson county was once a Republican stronghold, but it continues to grow and get less Republican. The part of Douglas and Wyandotte county in this district are also heavily Democratic and getting more so.

    By Blogger Mr. Phips, At October 19, 2007 at 6:46 PM  

  • I'd take the two Dem CT seats off the list- Courtney seems to be safe with Rob Simmons passing on the race, and Chris Murphy raises money like crazy in a 50/50 district that gets more democratic by the hour.

    Shays is in big trouble again, especially with the measly ONE GOP state officeholder (Gov. Rell) finally facing criticism for her actions (actually inactions) in office.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At October 20, 2007 at 9:44 PM  

  • Whatever happened to Patrick McHenry(R-NC)? I thought his close association with the gay murder/suicide and his"wide stance" would make him vulnerable. Anything?

    By Blogger moondancer, At October 28, 2007 at 1:58 PM  

  • Moondancer, Patrick McHenry's district is so Republican that the only place he would be vulnerable is in the Republican primary.

    By Blogger Mr. Phips, At October 31, 2007 at 5:58 PM  

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