With President Bush’s popularity at an all-time low, hovering in the mid-30s in most national surveys, and the conservative base of the Republican Party increasingly dismayed with the President’s performance on issues such as runaway government spending and immigration "reform," chances are increasing that the Democrats could eke out a majority in the House of Representatives in the elections this fall.
Four months ago, I concluded that there were 20 Republican House seats that were vulnerable to Democratic takeover, now I believe that there are 30. To achieve a majority, the Democrats would need to win a net gain of 15.
(The present makeup of the House is 232 Republicans, 200 Democrats, and one independent who votes with Democrats for control. There are also two vacancies — the seat of former Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California who was convicted of bribery and that of former New Jersey Democratic Rep. Robert Menendez, who was named to a U.S. Senate vacancy.)
"If the President’s job rating is above 50%, his party tends to suffer only narrow losses or even, as in 1934 and 1998 — and almost in 1962 — makes gains," wrote veteran political prognosticator Michael Barone last week of midterm elections. "If the President’s job rating is significantly under 50%, his party tends to lose lots of seats."
Bernadette Budde, who has been monitoring elections for the Business and Industry Political Action Committee for more than 30 years, told me two months ago that in the current political climate "the fickle finger of fate could point to upsets in a lot of districts the so-called experts are writing off as ‘safe.’" At a breakfast two weeks ago, when I asked Budde whether the situation had gotten better or worse, she quickly replied: "Worse. The fickle finger of fate is now attached to a palsied brain."
Here is a summary of the 30 Republican House districts that have at least a fair chance of going Democratic in November:
Arizona’s 5th and 8th: Republican former State House Whip Randy Graf, who drew 43% against veteran Rep. Jim Kolbe (R.-Ariz.) in the 2004 primary, is the likely GOP nominee for the Tucson-area 8th District seat Kolbe is relinquishing. But Graf’s pro-life and anti-illegal immigration views do not sit well with old foe Kolbe and his allies, so the chances of Democratic State Sen. Gabriel Gifford’s picking up the seat have improved. In the 5th District, the Democratic candidate, former Tempe Mayor Harry Mitchell, may give a tough fight to Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth, who has broken with the Bush Administration on immigration.
California’s 4th and 50th: Heightened publicity about the ties between Republican Rep. John Doolittle and his wife and convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff has put Doolittle’s re-election to the 4th District seat in jeopardy. In the disgraced Cunningham’s 50th District, Democrat Francine Busby topped the all-candidate field with 44% of the vote in the first voting round and is even money to win the special election over moderate former GOP Rep. Brian Bilbray in June.
Colorado’s 7th: Republican Rep. Bob Beauprez narrowly won this suburban Denver district in the last two cycles. But with Beauprez running for governor, Democrats feel confident of picking up a district carried by Al Gore and John Kerry.
Connecticut’s 2nd, 4th and 5th: Republican Rep. Rob Simmons has had difficult reelection runs since he won the 2nd District in the closest House race in the nation in 2000. Democrats scored well in recruiting former Westport First Selectman Diane Farrell to take on GOP Rep. Chris Shays in the 4th and State Sen. Christopher Murphy to oppose veteran Rep. Nancy Johnson in the 5th.
Florida’s 22nd: Long-time Republican Rep. Clay Shaw, who beat lung cancer, has had stiff challenges in his last three campaigns and now faces Democratic State Sen. Ron Klein.
Illinois’ 6th: With Republican Rep. Henry Hyde retiring from this suburban Chicago District, Democrats are waging a well-funded race against his protégé, State Sen. Pete Roskam. The candidacy of Iraqi War veteran Tammy Duckworth is generating nationwide Democratic funding and publicity.
Indiana’s 2nd, 8th and 9th: Hoosier Democrats have major league contenders against GOP Representatives John Hostettler (8th) and Mike Sodrel (9th) in Vanderburgh County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth (8th) and former Rep. Baron Hill (9th). Two-term Republican Rep. Chris Chocola is still on the GOP "watch list" for the GOP in the South Bend-area 2nd District.
Iowa’s 1st: Republicans in the Waterloo-Davenport district are increasingly worried that heated competition for nomination to succeed Rep. Jim Nussle (now the likely GOP candidate for governor) will benefit the probable Democratic candidate, 2004 nominee Bill Gluba.
Kentucky’s 3rd: After 12 years in office, Republican Anne Northup is still a regular Democratic target in her Louisville district. This year, Democrats have an unusually strong nominee in Iraqi veteran Andrew Horne.
Minnesota’s 6th: Democrat Patty Wetterling, who drew 45% of the vote against Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy here in 2004, has recently dropped from the Senate race for another run in the 6th, which Kennedy is leaving to run for the Senate himself. A districtwide convention next month will choose among four GOPers running to succeed Kennedy.
Nevada’s 3rd: Two-term GOP Rep. Jon Porter is still a top Democratic target in his Las Vegas-area district and faces a strong challenge from former staffer for Sen. Harry Reid (D.) Tessa Haffen.
New Hampshire’s 2nd: Democrats recruited well-known prosecutor Paul Hodes to oppose moderate GOP Rep. Charles Bass in this Concord-area district.
New Mexico’s 1st and 2nd: Republican Representatives Heather Wilson in the1st District (Albuquerque) and Steve Pearce in the 2nd District (Roswell) are still major Democratic targets. Wilson, who always has tight races, faces an especially strong foe in State Atty. Gen. Patricia Madrid.
New York’s 24th: With veteran liberal Republican Rep. Sherwood Boehlert retiring after 24 years, the GOP is likely to nominate conservative State Sen. Raymond Meier. Democrats smell victory in this now open district. Their first heavyweight nominee in recent years is likely to be Utica District Attorney Michael Arcuri.
North Carolina’s 11th: National Democrats recruited onetime Washington Redskins quarterback Heath Shuler to take on GOP Rep. Charles Taylor.
Ohio’s 1st, 15th and 18th: With major scandal surrounding statehouse Republicans, Democrats anticipate a bonanza year in the state that clinched re-election for George W. Bush. Democrats recruited top opponents to face Republican Representatives Steve Chabot (1st), Deborah Pryce (15th), and Bob Ney (18th). Ney is the most high-profile lawmaker linked to Jack Abramoff.
Pennsylvania’s 6th, 8th and 10th: With GOP Sen. Rick Santorum trailing for re-election and Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell headed for a big re-election, Democrats have recruited strong contenders in marginal districts held by Republicans: Law Professor Lois Murphy against Rep. Jim Gerlach (6th) and Iraqi veteran Patrick Murphy against Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (8th). The fate of GOP Rep. Don Sherwood (10th), who has admitted an extramarital affair, is uncertain.
Virginia’s 2nd: Democratic Virginia Beach Commissioner of Revenue Phil Kellam, scion of one of his hometown’s best-known families, is locked in a tight race with freshman GOP Rep. Thelma Drake.
Washington’s 8th: In winning his first term in 2004, Republican Rep. David Reichert had an unusually close race in this suburban Seattle-based district. Democrats now have a well-funded candidate in former Microsoft executive Darcy Burner.