Friday, November 23, 2007

November rankings: How many more Republican retirements?

Just when the GOP is starting to catch some small breaks in the Senate, the situation in the House is rapidly deteriorating. As many had predicted, a growing number of Republican representatives do not find the prospect of life in the minority appealing and are calling it quits. Unfortunately for Republicans, a large majority of them represent competitive districts. The latest retirement were particularly shocking because they were completely unexpected -- especially Rep. Ferguson's in NJ-07. Democrats have golden opportunities to pick-up all of these seats, especially if the environment continues to favor them. But this also means Republicans will be forced to play defense and will not be able to contest that many Democratic-held seats, no matter how vulnerable they might be.

The situation is made much worse for Republicans by the awful financial situation they are in. As of the end of October, the NRCC is still a million in debt, while the DCCC has 27 million dollars. That's nearly a 30 million dollar gap, which will have a significant impact on next year's results. The RNC will have to concentrate on the presidential elections and will have a limited ability to help the NRCC out. This means that the DCCC has the ability to play offense in many seats, expand the map, and protect its own seats -- while the Republicans will probably end up having to concede some of their open seat and choose which select Democratic seats they are going after.

As a result, many of the freshmen Democrats who looked very vulnerable last year are likely to survive, though the GOP will no doubt be able to claim some of its very conservative seats back, starting with FL-16 and TX-22; they also got some good news this month when the Democratic challenger in MT-AL withdrew, as unpopular Rep. Cubin retired in Wyoming, and as they made Indiana's 7th district much more competitive. But six of the seven race that are rated more vulnerable this month are Republican, underscoring the steady stream of bad news for the GOP.

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 vulnerable: CT-2, NY-19, WY-AL
  • More vulnerable: AK-AL, IL-06, IL-11, IN-07, KY-02, NJ-07, OH-05
Outlook: Democrats pick-up 7-12 seats.

The October ratings are available here.

Republican seats, Lean take-over (5)

  • AZ-1 (Open)
  • CA-4 (Rep. Doolittle): Republicans might finally be getting what they want here, as some rumors are starting to circulate that ethically (very) challenged Doolittle might be finally ready to announce his retirement. If he does, this race will significantly drop down the rankings; but if Doolittle stays in the race, this is a sure a pick-up for the Democrats' Brown.
  • IL-11 (Open, upgraded): The filing deadline has already passed in Illinois (it's the first in the country), and Republicans did not manage to recruit a top-tier candidate. They are fielding the Mayor of New Lenox and an ex-Bush White House official; both could be good candidates and make the race competitive, but Democrats have to be considered slightly favored since they convinced a reluctant Debbie Halvorson, the State Majority Leader, to run.
  • NM-1 (Open): 2006 nominee Patricia Madrid announced she would not run again, making Albuquerque councilman Heinrich the likely Democratic nominee. Republicans are confident that their nominee, sheriff White, is strong and will run much stronger than other Republicans would. If that is confirmed by independent indicators and polls, the race will be downgraded, but the fact that the district is naturally competitive (it narrowly went for Kerry in 2004) combined with the sour national environment for Republicans makes Heinrich the early favorite.
  • OH-15 (Open): The GOP finally got some much needed good news in this race. Democrats had united behind their 2006 nominee Mary Jo Kilroy, but all Republicans who might have made this race competitive declined to run one after another, making this the top pick-up opportunity in the country for Democrats. But the GOP finally convinced a strong candidate who had initially passed on the race to get in: state Senator Steve Strivers. They ensured that the race remains competitive; but given that OH-15 is very tight in the first place, that the environment is toxic for the GOP and that Kilroy came within a few thousand votes of unsitting an entranced incumbent in 2006, Democrats are still favored.

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

Republican seats, Toss-up (14)
  • AK-AL (Rep. Young, upgraded): A new poll shows just how disastrous Young's approval rating has become as he is involved in a corruption probe that has claimed many other Republican congressmen. Democrats have a few candidates, and an October poll showed former state Senator Ethan Berkowitz leading Young.
  • CO-4 (Rep. Musgrave)
  • CT-4 (Rep. Shays)
  • IL-10 (Rep. Kirk): A recent primary poll has Dan Seals crushing Footlik in the Democratic primary for the right to take on Republican Kirk, who sits on a very competitive district. Seals got 47% in 2006 with the national party paying little attention, but he will receive lots of help from the DCCC this time.
  • MN-03 (Open):
  • NC-8 (Rep. Hayes)
  • NJ-03 (open): In the first New Jersey surprise, Rep. Saxton announced he would not run for re-election in early November giving a major opening to Democrats in a district that Bush won by only 3% in 2004. Democrats were already excited about this race before Saxton's retirement, and they believe that state Senator John Adler is a very strong candidate who will carry the district. Republicans do have a solid bench here though, and are looking to get state Senator Diane Allen in.
  • NJ-07 (open): Rep. Ferguson's retirement was perhaps the biggest surprise of this year's House cycle. He opens up a very competitive district that Bush won with 49% in 2000 and 53% in 2004. Democrats appear united behind state Assemblywoman Linda Stender who came within a point of beating Ferguson in 2006. The GOP is having a harder time at recruitment, as its three top choices (especially Tom Kean Jr.) announced they would not run within a few days of Ferguson's retirement. Republicans better find a good candidate fast, or they will be looking at a certain Democratic pick-up.
  • OH-1 (Rep. Chabot)
  • OH-16 (Open):
  • NY-25 (Rep. Walsh)
  • PA-6 (Rep. Gerlach)
  • VA-11 (Rep. Davis): Whether or not Tom Davis retires, this race is sure to be very competitive. Davis's wife Jeannemarie massively lost a re-election race to the state Senate last month in a contest that cost millions of dollars, proving that Davis will have a very tough fight on his hand next year if he runs again in a region that has been rapidly trending their way. If Davis retires (and he was supposed to run for Senate and leave the seat open until about a month ago), this will automatically jump up to the top of the Democratic pick-up list. Does his wife's loss make him more or less likely to run again?
  • WA-8 (Rep. Reichert): Democrats are clearly confident they can take Reichert down in a rematch of the 2006 race against Demcorat Burner. They recently filed an FEC complaint over Reichert's fundraising, hoping to get the incumbent in ethical trouble. They did not manage to tie him quite enough with the GOP brand in 2006.

Democratic seats, Toss-up (11)
  • CA-11 (Rep. McNerney)
  • GA-8 (Rep. Marshall)
  • IL-8 (Rep. Bean)
  • IN-7 (Rep. Carson, upgraded): This is a very Democratic district, that Kerry carried with 58%. But Rep. Carson has had health problems and has rarely been in the House in the past few years -- nor has she campaigned very actively. Her 2006 re-election was surprisingly narrow, and Republicans have recruited state Rep. Jon Elrod, who they believe will be the ideal candidate to take down Carson. This race could be an unlikely pick-up for the GOP if Carson runs for re-election; if she retires, it could be easier for Democrats to hold.
  • IN-09 (Rep. Hill): Rep. Hill and Republican Sodrel are running against each other for the fourth straight time. Voters know both of them at this point, and there is little they can do this early to change the dynamics.
  • KS-2 (Rep. Boyda)
  • NH-1 (Rep. Shea-Porter): Republicans are preparing for a primary between ousted 2006 congressman Bradley and the former HHS commissioner; but if Shea-Porter won last year with no money and no national attention, how vulnerable could she be now as an incumbent.
  • OH-18 (Rep. Space)
  • PA-4 (Rep. Altmire)
  • PA-10 (Rep. Carney)
  • TX-22 (Rep. Lampson): This race is deemed by many the most vulnerable seat held by a Democrat. But the strongest Republicans passed on the race, giving at least some pause to those who have long predicted Lampson is a one-timer. They might very well be right, but we shall wait until the GOP field yields its nominee to reassess the situation.

Republican seats, Lean retention (13)
  • FL-13 (Rep. Buchanan)
  • FL-24 (Rep. Feeney)
  • IL-06 (Rep. Roskam, upgraded): The DCCC angered many local activists here by fielding Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth against a popular grassroots leader in 2006. Today, they are fielding another veter, Jill Morgenthaler, who was the Army's press contact during the Abu Graib scandal. They are hoping to make this race top-tier, but they will first have to find a way to reconcile themselves with the local party.
  • IL-18 (Open)
  • KY-02 (Rep. Lewis, upgraded): Rep. Lewis had a surprisingly close re-election in 2006, and Democrats are hoping to challenge him even more strongly this time by running state Senator Boswell against him. Kentucky is looking very bad for Republicans right now, so the district's natural GOP-lean might be offset by the party's vulnerability.
  • MI-07 (Rep. Walberg):
  • MI-09 (Rep. Knollenberg): Democrats are getting more confident about this race, with a recent internal poll showing Knollenberg way under 50% against former state Senator Peters.
  • MO-06 (Rep. Graves)
  • MN-06 (Rep. Bachmann)
  • NV-03 (Rep. Porter): Democrats are confident prosecutor Robert Daskas will be a strong challenge to Porter, especially since the incumbent barely won against an aide to Sen. Reid last year.
  • NY-29 (Rep. Kuhl)
  • OH-2 (Rep. Schmidt)
  • VA-2 (Rep. Drake)

Democratic seats, Lean retention (10)
  • AZ-5 (Rep. Mitchell): Republicans now have three candidates in this GOP-leaning district, a sign they see Mitchell as particularly vulnerable. The fate of this race could very well depend on how strong an advantage Republicans have on immigration. Mitchell defeated one of the most anti-immigration representatives last year, so he clearly has some credibility on the issue.
  • AZ-8 (Rep. Giffords)
  • CT-5 (Rep. Murphy)
  • GA-12 (Rep. Barrow)
  • KS-3 (Rep. Moore)
  • NY-19 (Rep. Hall, downgraded): Republicans were very excited about their candidate Andrew Saul... until Saul dropped out last week. Now, the GOP is left without a candidate in a red-leaning district they lost in 2006 and that they had put at the top of their priorities list.
  • NY-20 (Rep. Gillbrand)
  • IN-8 (Rep. Ellsworth)
  • MN-1 (Rep. Walz)
  • WI-8 (Rep. Kagen): 2006 GOP nominee John Gard is running again for a rematch. But if Kagen defeated him in an open race last year, does Gard really have an opening to take down Kagen now that he has become an incumbent?

Republican seats, potentially competitive (17)

  • CA-52 (open)
  • DE-AL (Rep. Castle): Only if Castle retires.
  • FL-8 (Rep. Keller): Unions are attacking Keller for his vote against SCHIP, which could soften him up enough to make him vulnerable.
  • FL-10 (Rep. Young): We're waiting to find out if Young will be retiring; if he does, Democrats will have an amazing opening in a blue-trending district with state Senator Charlie Justice. If he runs again, he will start off favored.
  • FL-21 (Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart)
  • FL-25 (Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart)
  • IL-14 (Open): Dennis Hastert finally announced he would retire, and it looks likely that the special election will be some time in March or April, depriving Democrats of the turn-out boost they would have had if it had been on February 5th, the day of the presidential primary. The Republican candidates (Oberweis and state Senator Lauzen) start off favored, but special elections tend to be closer than they would otherwise be, and the DCCC has plenty of money to exploit any Republican vulnerability.
  • NM-02 (Open): Testifying to the fact that New Mexico is one of the hottest political states next year, the primary field here is completely unsettled. Republicans are favored in this GOP-voting district, but we won't have a clearer idea of how competitive the race might be before the fields settle down a bit.
  • NY-03 (Rep. King)
  • NY-26 (Rep. Reynolds, upgraded): Some rumors that Rep. Reynolds might retire have put this on the list, though the Reynolds camp is insisting that he will run again.
  • OH-05 (open, upgraded): Republicans selected Bob Latta in a very competitive contest, and Democrats are hoping that the ugliness of the primary has left Latta bruised and has given their candidate (Robin Weirauch) an opening. An internal Latta poll has him up 50% to 36% on the Democrat, who will only be able to contest this very Republican district if the DCCC makes a serious play.
  • OH-07 (Open)
  • OH-14 (Rep. LaTourette)
  • PA-03 (Rep. English)
  • PA-15 (Rep. Dent)
  • PA-18 (Rep. Murphy)
  • WV-02 (Rep. Capito)
  • WY-AL (open, downgraded): Rep. Cubin announced she would not run again, and made the seat much safer for the GOP -- a rare case in which an open seat will be easier to hold. Wyoming is a very conservative state, and the only reason this was on the list of vulnerable districts was that Cubin was a very unpopular incumbent who barely surived in 2006. In an open race, the state's Republican roots should kick in, especially in a presidential year.

Democratic seats, potentially competitive (7)
  • CT-2 (Rep. Courtney, downgraded): Republicans were very excited about Navy Veteran Sean Sullivan, but have since been so disappointed by weak fundraising that they appear to have written Sullivan off their list of good recruits. This probably means they won't seriously compete here, especially given that the national party has little money with which to help out local candidates.
  • IN-2 (Rep. Donnelly, downgraded): The GOP made a lot of noise early about finding challengers to Rep. Donnelly in his red-leaning district, but it is getting late in the game and there is no solid Republican stepping up.
  • KY-03 (Rep. Yarmuth)
  • NH-02 (Rep. Hodes)
  • PA-07 (Rep. Sestak):
  • PA-8 (Rep. Murphy):
  • TX-23 (Rep. Rodriguez)


  • As usual, a really good and helpful analysis! MANY thanks! I would love to see comments about some of the less-publicized races in which both candidates are already known or likely: CO 04, FL 13, FL 24, MN 06, MO 06, NC 08, and NV 03.

    Also,has there been any polling in CT 04?

    Boston Raven

    By Blogger boston raven, At November 23, 2007 at 6:49 PM  

  • Republicans have as much of a chance of defeating Julia Carson as Democrats do of defeating Ron Lewis. Not much.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At November 24, 2007 at 5:01 PM  

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