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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Mark Gersh and Ed Kilgore

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Mark Gersh and Ed Kilgore

Last Build Date: Mon, 20 Feb 2006 08:39:12 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Target Rich House Republicans

Mon, 20 Feb 2006 08:39:12 -0600

But at the beginning of 2006, the trend arrows have turned in a very different direction. With Republicans mired in a never-ending series of ethics scandals, approval ratings for President Bush and the GOP-controlled Congress are abysmal. House GOP leaders are particularly embattled. They have steadily lost control of their own membership, and with it, their ability to promote an agenda. Republicans' extreme partisanship and take-no-prisoners tactics have also helped keep House Democrats united. Meanwhile, they've been running out of ways to pad their numbers: The harvesting of conservative districts in red states, especially in the South, has reached the point of diminishing returns. For the first time in more than a decade, the "lay of the land," as measured by vulnerable incumbents, open seats, and candidate recruitment, seems to be favoring Democrats. Moreover, Democrats need a net pickup of just 15 out of 435 seats in order to regain control of the House -- a relatively modest number by historical standards, and one achieved by the minority party in four of the last eight midterm elections. With all this wind at their backs, Democrats may now be able to expand the number of competitive races and overwhelm vulnerable Republican incumbents who have survived by narrow margins in the past. Also in their favor will be an emerging Democratic advantage in candidate recruitment and retirement decisions, and a dwindling Republican margin in fundraising. The Democrats' momentum is perhaps best illustrated by recent polls showing them ahead by unusually large margins (ranging from the high single digits to double digits) in generic congressional match-ups. If that trend holds -- and is reinforced by the historic tendency of voters to frown on a president's party halfway through a second term -- then Democrats simply have to be smart about projecting a popular national message that features a sharp critique of Republican misgovernment and a clear alternative agenda. The greatest concentration of vulnerable House Republican incumbents is in the Northeast, where many of them represent districts recently carried by Democratic presidential candidates. In Connecticut, Republican Reps. Rob Simmons and Christopher Shays, both re-elected by less than 10 percentage points in 2004, face rematches against strong Democratic challengers. Democrats have also recruited a formidable candidate to oppose Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson in a district carried by both John Kerry and Al Gore. New Hampshire Rep. Jeb Bradley is also quite vulnerable, and his Granite State colleague Rep. Charles Bass could become so. Democrats could pick up several House seats in Pennsylvania, where, higher up on the ticket, Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and the Democratic challenger to Sen. Rick Santorum, State Treasurer Bob Casey, were both leading in recent polls. Most notably, in a suburban Philadelphia district where Kerry beat Bush, Democrat Lois Murphy may be the favorite against Republican Rep. Jim Gerlach. The race is a rematch of their very close 2004 race. Meanwhile, also in the Philadelphia suburbs, Republican freshman Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick faces a tough race. Elsewhere in the state, Republican Reps. Curt Weldon (whose Delaware County district was won by both Gore and Kerry) and Melissa Hart (whose western Pennsylvania district was recently represented by a Democrat) are likely to face serious challenges. In the 7th District of New Jersey -- a state where the recent Democratic trend was underlined by former Sen. Jon Corzine's double-digit win in the 2005 gubernatorial race -- the recruitment by Democrats of experienced State Assemblywoman Linda Stender has made incumbent Republican Rep. Michael Ferguson look vulnerable. Next door in New York, likely landslide wins for Democrats Eliot Spitzer (in the governor's race) and Hillary Clinton (in her bid for reelection to the U.S. Senate) could sweep out several House Republican incumbents. The bottom line is that the Northeastern region could provide more than half of the net gains required to produce a Democ[...]