The Campaign Spot

House Democrats, Whistling Past the Graveyard

I chuckled when I read this by Moe Lane, because I’ve had similar thoughts:

At the end of July 2006, I remember being . . . fairly optimistic about the Congressional elections. Oh, I knew that there were going to be problems. It was year Six of a Presidential administration, and the Other Side was kind of fired up. And, sure, the economy was slowing down a bit — we were all the way down to 5% growth that quarter! — but at least unemployment was ticking along at less than 5%. It would have been better if it had been at 4%, but we were still dealing with the remains of the 9/11 disruption. And, yes, the problems down in the Gulf were going to have an impact, and there were scandals in Congress. You had to expect losses in an off year. Still, the idea that we were going to lose both Houses? Maybe we’d come close to losing one — but the national election committees were flush with cash, they were on top of the situation, and it was their jobs on the line. Surely we wouldn’t lose either branch of Congress; no way we could lose both.

Does all of this sound familiar?

I’m looking at the latest, “Hey, things won’t be so bad” argument offered by senior Democrats over at Greg Sargent’s blog. Breaking down some of the arguments:

Republicans will need to win 39 seats to take back the House. Democrats will win at least four Republican seats (the best opportunities include: LA-02, HI-01, IL-10, DE-AL, FL-25).

I would have put Joseph Cao, that Republican representing that New Orleans district, on the extremely endangered list, but “Cao led state Rep. Cedric Richmond (D) by a 51%-26% margin, according to a survey conducted May 27-June 2 by LA pollster Verne Kennedy.” That poll doesn’t guarantee Cao survives, but it suggests the race is not the slam dunk the DCCC thinks it is. Obviously, Hawaii’s Charles Djou won’t have an easy campaign, but observers aren’t putting his seat in even the top ten seats most likely to switch. In Illinois’s 10th district, Republican Bob Dold and Democrat Dan Seals are even in fundraising and a poll back in March put Seals up by only 3. It’s a similar story in the open-seat race in Florida, which is an R+5 district, by the way.

Holding Delaware’s lone House seat will indeed be tough for the GOP, but none of these races are the gimmees for the Democrats that this memo pretends.

This cycle, there are only 20 Democratic open seats, including several that are in safe districts. If Republicans have a great election night, they would still only win 50 percent of the Democratic open seats.

Er, no. Right now there are 10 open-seat races on friendly territory for the GOP: NH-2, NY-29, TN-6, TN-8, IN-8, PA-7, AR-1, AR-2, KS-3, LA-3. I’d say if this is any kind of a wave, Republicans can win in MA-10, WA-3, MI-1 and WI-7, and if there’s a really big GOP wave they can win RI-1.

As a result, the real number of seats Republicans will have to pick up to win a majority is at least 43. To win 43 seats, the NRCC would need to put 70 to 80 seats in play. The NRCC have simply not put that many Republicans seats in play and do not have the resources or caliber of candidates to do so.

Really? Where does it say you only win roughly half the seats in play? If this is indeed a nationalized wave election, the competitive races won’t be breaking down 50-50. (Besides that, I found 99 House races that I would classify as potentially competitive. Even if you think my bar is too low, you can take out one quarter of those races and still be in the DCCC’s danger zone.)

Put another way, if 13 House Democrats — many members of the classes of 2006 and 2008, with no major scandal or personality defect — trail their challengers at this moment, then where will most Democratic incumbents in swing districts be after another few months of high unemployment? Michael Barone, in a piece that generously mentions me, wonders how many House Democrats know they currently trail and are keeping the evidence hidden:

Today, a lot more Democratic incumbents seem to be trailing Republican challengers in polls. Jim Geraghty of National Review Online has compiled a list of 13 Democratic incumbents trailing in polls released over the last seven weeks.

They’re from all over the country: one each from Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota; two from Virginia; three from Pennsylvania. Most if not all of these incumbents are personally attractive, hardworking and ethically unsullied.

Some of these poll numbers are mind-boggling. Tom Perriello, a 727-vote winner in Virginia 5 in 2008, has been running two weeks of humorous ads showing what a hard worker he is. A poll shows him trailing Republican state Sen. Robert Hurt 58 percent to 35 percent.

In industrial Ohio 13, which Barack Obama carried 57 to 42, a poll shows incumbent Betty Sutton trailing free-spending Republican Tom Ganley 44 percent to 31 percent.

As Geraghty notes, we haven’t seen polls released by many other Democrats on Republican target lists. Most are conducting polls; many have reason to release favorable results if they’re available. This looks like a case where the absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

I find myself in agreement with Nate Silver.

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