If House seats now held by Democrats switch to Republicans in 2010, it will not be because of a seismic change in the country’s ideology.
Many House members who won in 2006 and 2008 are conservative Democrats who appealed to traditional but disgruntled Republican voters in GOP-leaning districts, some of which went for Republican John McCain over Democrat Barack Obama in last year’s presidential election.
Political landscaper Charlie Cook sucked Democrats’ oxygen out of the room at August’s Netroots convention in Pittsburgh when he said the climate for Democrats has slipped completely out of control.
The problem is their victorious slogan in consecutive national
elections: "Change." It sounded good in the last Bush years, but there has been just too much of it.
The leap Democrats have taken since January — bailouts, stimulus and an unclear military strategy — has left voters exhausted and skeptical.
Republicans are tied or leading in generic-ballot polls, something unseen since 2005. Republicans also have more enthusiasm, with most polls showing they possess stronger opinions on policy issues than Democrats.
It all means that GOP congressional candidates may do very well in 2010.
Democrats had phenomenal cycles in ’06 and ’08, picking off seats they frankly had no business winning, such as those of congressmen Parker Griffith and Bobby Bright in Alabama.
"Those will be very difficult seats to hold onto," concedes one Beltway Democrat strategist.
Historically, a president’s party loses a significant number of House seats in a midterm election.
"There are, of course, important midterm years that resulted in much-larger-than-normal turnover," says Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. His examples: post-Watergate 1974, 1994’s GOP revolution and the 2006 Democrat takeover.
"So much rides … on the health care reform debate," he says. "If Obama gets a health care bill out, even a substantially compromised one, he moves on to other issues, and we don’t have anything like a repeat of 1994."
Yet if Obama loses that battle, it is hard to imagine him controlling the agenda and national debate in any other policy arena before the midterms.
Some congressional races that show what kind of year both parties have
• Ohio’s District 1 — Rep. Steve Driehaus, a Democrat, and former Rep.
Steve Chabot, a Republican, will go at it in this Republican-leaning district, which contains Cincinnati and borders Kentucky and Indiana.
Chabot wasn’t a flawed incumbent; he was swept out in the 2008 wave. But Driehaus has done a good job. This one goes to the wire and will be a bellwether.
• Colorado’s District 4 — Incumbent Democrat Betsy Markey is politically talented and good at raising money, but it is a Republican district. If the GOP can’t knock her off, strong Democrats elsewhere likely will weather the midterm storm — and the Dems’ gold strike in the Rocky Mountain West wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
• Illinois’ District 10 — Rep. Mark Kirk, a Republican, will run for the U.S. Senate. This is a swing seat, a true toss-up, with good candidates on both sides. If a GOP wave hits, a Republican should win.
Yet look for a Democrat to be victorious here (and maybe, too, in Pennsylvania’s District 6, where Rep. Jim Gerlach is seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination), thus reducing Dems’ net losses.
• California’s District 3 — This Sacramento seat held by Republican Dan Lungren is one of the few where Democrats have an opportunity. They’ll play hard here to offset losses elsewhere.
• New Hampshire’s Districts 1 and 2 — Look for Republicans to start a comeback in the Northeast by winning one of these likely toss-up seats.
New Hampshire is the friendliest New England state to a Republican gain.
Next June the odds-makers will have a much better sense of Democrats’
likely losses. Until then, all we really know is that more Democrats than Republicans are vulnerable.
Some 30 Democrats — compared to 17 Republicans — are in "toss-up" or "leaning" districts, according to today’s polls.
"If the Republicans recruit well and those challengers raise money, you could even see Democratic incumbents like Rep. Perriello (Virginia’s District 5) and Rep. Altmire (Pennsylvania’s District 4) lose," says Villanova University political scientist Lara Brown.
Much, of course, depends on whether Obama’s opponents stay activated.
Their energy level is quite high — and defeating his major policy initiative would embolden them.