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Rothenberg overview of U.S. House races: Grim for Dems

Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report -- one of those Washington tipsheets that tries to follow every significant race in the country and constantly adjust its judgment on which ones might close -- did a recent update on the U.S. House races and, although Rothenberg hasn't joined those who believe the Repubs might take over the majority, his analysis is very grim for Dems, very promising for Repubs.

Repubs would need to make a net gain of 40 seats to take majority control of the House. That's a big but not unprecedented number. They start with a big, almost unbreakable historical pattern on their side, which is that the party that controls the White House almost always loses seats at the midterm.

To cut to the chase, Rothenberg believes there are 79 House seats (of the 435 total) that are currently in play. These are not all toss-ups, but seats in which the incumbent or the incumbent's party is less than fully safe.

Of those 79 seats in play, 68 are currently held by Democrats, just 11 by Republicans.

You could say that that creates the possibility of a Repub pickup of 68 seats, if they swept everything that's in play.

Local Angle Alert

Allow me to interrupt the rundown here to note that not a single Minnesota seat is on any of the lists. All eight House incumbents from Minnesota are seeking reelection and, according to Rothenberg, all eight are safe. Dems have ideas about knocking off Michele Bachmann; Repubs have similar thoughts about Tim Walz. But Rothenberg has not bought into either of those ideas.

Two of the other most-cited such ranking publications -- the Cook Political Report and Congressional Quarterly -- have bought into it. CQ says that Bachmann's seat is in play and only "leans Republican," which in CQ's nomenclature is just one titch better than being in the dreaded "toss-up" category in which the incumbent party holds no advantage at all. CQ calls Walz' seat "likely Democratic," which is another titch closer to safe (not safe, but only one category away from safe)

Cook also has Walz' seat on his in-play list, but as "likely" Dem. He also has Bachmann's seat at "likely" Repub. So they are both two categories away from "toss-up."

Back to Rothenberg/National

But to return to the main plan, which is to focus on Rothenberg in order to describe the depth of danger faced by the Dems (or opportunity by the Repubs), the idea of a 68-seat Repub pickup is based on the fairly far-fetched idea that the Repubs hold all 11 of their vulnerable incumbents and take all 68 of the Dem seats that are in play.

We're so far from November that it's not inconceivable that things just keep moving in the Repubs' direction, more seats come into play and a pickup that large becomes believable, but that's not where we are now.

In fact, of the 68 Dems seats that Rothenberg believes are in play, 18 of them are rated at "Democrat favored;" 16 of them are rated as "Leans Democratic," and three more are in a category that Rothenberg has (unlike CQ and Cook) called "Toss-up/Tilt Democratic." As you suspect, there are seats that not quite pure 50-50 toss-ups in Rothenberg's view, but in which the incumbent's edge is so small that it can't even be called a "lean" but only a "tilt."

So, if the Dems were to hold every seat in which Rothenberg says they are favored or hold a favorable lean or tilt, and the Repubs took everything else, the Repubs would pick up a net 31 seats, and the House would be close to even but the Dems would still have a slim majority.

When you cross the categories into the pure toss-ups and the ones in which Rothenberg believes the Repubs has a slight but not commanding advantage, they are almost all seats now held by Democrats. These are the seats that make up the Republican opportunity for big gains.

To be exact, Rothenberg rates 15 seats as pure "toss-ups," and 14 of them are now held by Dems. You could speculate that if they are really toss-ups, the parties are likely to split them, but historically, there is a tendency for whichever party has the late momentum to pick up far more than a 50 percent share of the toss-ups. (Of course, that could work to either party's advantage, since we don't know anything yet about the late momentum.)

Rothenberg rates nine seats as "toss-up/tilt Republican" and all nine of them are currently Dem-held seats.

In the next category, seats that Rothenberg rates as "leans repub," seven out of ten are currently Dem-held seats.

Well, enough of this. Suffice it to say that everything points to big Repub gains in November. This is only May. The ratings will continue to change, but no one knows in which direction.

Rothenberg's own cautious summary of his latest rankings goes like this:

"Our bottom line in the House remains the same. Substantial Republican gains are inevitable, with net Democratic losses now looking to be at least two dozen. At this point, GOP gains of 25-30 seats seem likely, though considerably larger gains in excess of 40 seats certainly seem possible."

The full Rothenberg House rankings are continued below the first few paragraphs of this.

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Comments (7)

Dewey defeats Truman

I, apparently like Time Walker, am skeptical. The likes of Rothenberg, Cook & relative newcomer Nate Silver at, are looking at polls, which I'm not convinced give us the whole story. Two things I'm watching are: 1) the economy and 2) the TEA party movement. As the economy continues to recover, Dems will likely benefit as the party in power; particularly because the Repubs are casting themselves primarily as obstructionists. Also, as the TEA party movement continues to make inroads with the GOP (see the endorsement of Rep Emmer for governor), they are driving moderates from the party & alienating large swaths of voters. For this to be an effective strategy, they will have to maintain enthusiasm for six more months and drive down turnout for Dems. While the Dems certainly aren't arousing much passion among their supporters or swing voters, I suspect that as the election approaches, voters will start paying attention & come to conclusion that the TEA party movement is one worth stopping.

Agreed, Brian.

But the Dems are so bad at PR. I haven't detected any leveraging in MN of the Arizona profiling law, for example. That should have been the flavor of the week for the last few weeks, showing non-white voters where the GOP is headed. But....nothing.

I think it's teed up, but no one is swinging.

Once again, the Democrats snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Oh well, we'll see, maybe they'll learn from Franken and grow some cojones.

If the Dems don't arouse enough passion, the Repubs and the TPers will do it for them.
With enemies like that, you don't need friends ;-).

Shorter Roman: Why isn't the Democrat party deploying it's teams of race baiting propagandists?

In off years incumbent presidents lose congressional seats. But I think I'll wait for November before counting chickens.

Nice to see from the comments above that the dems keep whistling in the dark. That helps.