GOP eyes Dems’ House weak spots for 2010

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DON­ALD LAM­BRO

Demo­cratic re­tire­ments are fu­el­ing a Repub­li­can resur­gence, but that still may not be enough for Congress to change hands next year.

The re­cent de­ci­sion by four vet­eran House Democrats to call it quits is rais­ing ques­tions about whether more will soon fol­low as the 2010 po­lit­i­cal cli­mate grows more threat­en­ing in the midterm con­gres­sional elec­tions, a year when gov­ern­ment and busi­ness fore­cast­ers are pre­dict­ing high un­em­ploy­ment and a slow eco­nomic re­cov­ery.

House Demo­cratic cam­paign of­fi­cials ac­knowl­edge that there may be some more re­tire­ments among their ranks, but they say spec­u­la­tion of a much larger num­ber is noth­ing but “wish­ful think­ing by the Repub­li­cans.”

“Repub­li­cans have been try­ing to pre­dict a tidal wave of Demo­cratic re­tire­ments all year, and they have been com­pletely wrong,” said Ryan Ru­dominer, the Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee spokesman. Still, he added, “There could be some more Demo­cratic re­tire­ments,” though he de­clined to say how many.

Some Democrats even have ac­cused Repub­li­cans of float­ing spec­u­la­tive lists of other en­dan­gered mem­bers who may not seek re-elec­tion next year, in hopes of in­creas­ing the pres­sure on wa­ver­ing mem­bers.

But in­de­pen­dent elec­tion an­a­lysts say the num­ber of Demo­cratic re­tire­ments alone has not reached the point — so far — where it can se­ri­ously threaten the party’s 258-seat ma­jor­ity. That num­ber would have to climb much higher be­fore that could hap­pen, they say.

“Democrats aren’t yet at the panic point in this process. Keep in mind that Democrats lost 22 open seats in 1994. Right now, they only have seven po­ten­tially open vul­ner­a­ble seats, in­clud­ing the four re­cent re­tire­ments,” said David Wasser­man, se­nior House elec­tions an­a­lyst at the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port.

“I would say that if the Democrats can keep their re­tire­ments among vul­ner­a­ble seats to be­tween 10 and 15, then I think they are in rea­son­ably good shape. But if that num­ber bal­loons past 15, then I think that Democrats are in trou­ble,” Mr. Wasser­man said.

The four new House Demo­cratic re­tirees in the past few weeks are Reps. Den­nis Moore of Kansas, John Tan­ner and Bart Gor­don of Ten­nessee, and Brian Baird of Wash­ing­ton state. Three more Democrats are leav­ing to run for Se­nate seats: Reps. Char­lie Me­lan­con of Louisiana, Paul Hodes of New Hamp­shire and Joseph Ses­tak of Penn­syl­va­nia.

Con­gres­sional elec­tion gains tend to oc­cur more fre­quently in open-seat con­tests, and the seats held by House Democrats who are leav­ing are con­sid­ered tossups at best, elec­tion fore­cast­ers say. Among the four re­cent re­tire­ments, Repub­li­can Sen. John McCain car­ried both dis­tricts in Ten­nessee in the 2008 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush car­ried all four dis­tricts in his 2004 re-elec­tion race.

“Democrats have one open seat that might pretty much be a goner,” said elec­tion hand­i­cap­per Char­lie Cook, cit­ing Mr. Me­lan­con’s district in an anal­y­sis for the Na­tional Jour­nal.

Some of the re­tirees con­ceded that next year’s tougher po­lit­i­cal ter­rain was a fac­tor in their de­ci­sions. “My shelf life was start­ing to run out. Our district clearly is a more dif­fi­cult en­vi­ron­ment,” Mr. Gor­don said in his re­tire­ment an­nounce­ment.

Ac­tu­ally, the hand­ful of re­tire­ments to date may be the least of the Democrats’ trou­bles in an elec­tion cy­cle in which the party in power his­tor­i­cally loses cials say the lat­est re­tire­ments rep­re­sent a grow­ing recog­ni­tion by Democrats that their party will suf­fer sig­nif­i­cant losses in 2010.

“What a dif­fer­ence a year makes,” said Rep. Pete Ses­sions of Texas, chair­man of the Na­tional Repub­li­can Con­gres­sional Com­mit­tee, in a memo two

“Democrats aren’t yet at the panic point in this process. Keep in mind that Democrats lost 22 open seats in 1994. Right now, they only have seven po­ten­tially open vul­ner­a­ble seats, in­clud­ing the four re­cent re­tire­ments,” said David Wasser­man, se­nior House elec­tions an­a­lyst at the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port. “I would say that if the Democrats can keep their re­tire­ments among vul­ner­a­ble seats to be­tween 10 and 15, then I think they are in rea­son­ably good shape. But if that num­ber bal­loons past 15, then I think that Democrats are in trou­ble.”

seats in Congress.

A num­ber of is­sues have rocked the po­lit­i­cal land­scape, in­clud­ing the econ­omy and dou­ble-digit un­em­ploy­ment; the bit­ter bat­tle over health care re­form; and un­prece­dented lev­els of fed­eral spending, bud­get deficits and gov­ern­ment debt.

Repub­li­can cam­paign offi- weeks ago to Repub­li­can House mem­bers.

“Democrats were at the peak of their po­lit­i­cal power fol­low­ing a sweep­ing and his­toric elec­tion. Since then, Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi has suc­cess­fully steered her party into a po­lit­i­cal abyss so daunt­ing that se­nior mem­bers of her cau­cus would rather throw in the towel than face a dis­grun­tled elec­torate back home.”

Though in­de­pen­dent elec­tion an­a­lysts do not think the Democrats are in dan­ger of los­ing their ma­jor­ity, they are pre­dict­ing that Repub­li­cans will make siz­able gains.

“I think there is a good chance that Repub­li­cans can gain back the num­ber of seats they lost in 2008, 21 seats, which is about half of what they need to get con­trol of the House again,” Mr. Wasser­man said. “Our cur­rent out­look is a Demo­cratic loss of 20 to 30 House seats.”

When asked about this fore­cast, Mr. Ru­dominer said, “We’ve known that we face a head­wind in this elec­tion cy­cle.” But he added, “We are in­cred­i­bly pre­pared in a rough cy­cle, we have a three-to-one cash on hand ad­van­tage over them, and we have a record of suc­cess.”

How­ever, Mr. Wasser­man, who closely tracks the House races for the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port, notes, “Repub­li­can re­cruit­ment right now and Repub­li­can en­thu­si­asm may be even stronger than it was at this point in 1993,” just be­fore the party went on to win back the House in 1994, end­ing 40 years of Demo­cratic rule.

Still, he adds, “that doesn’t mean they will be able to sus­tain that for an­other year.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Rep. Neil Aber­crom­bie, Hawaii Demo­crat, is run­ning for gov­er­nor, Rep. Adam Put­nam (be­low left), Florida Repub­li­can, is run­ning for state agri­cul­ture com­mis­sioner, and Rep. Roy Blunt, Mis­souri Repub­li­can, is run­ning for the Se­nate.

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