Monday, October 29, 2007

Rothenberg Highlights Dangerous Not Quite Dozen Open Seats

By Stuart Rothenberg

For a number of cycles now, I’ve periodically focused on open House seats as a way of evaluating the direction of the overall cycle. No, there still aren’t a dozen open seats that could possibly flip party control. But there are enough open seats worth rating. The list below starts with the seats most likely to change party control. I’ll revisit these opens — and others that will develop — throughout the cycle.

Ohio’s 15th: Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce barely held on last time, defeating Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy by half a percentage point in a come-from-behind win. Kilroy is back for a rematch, but Pryce has decided to call it quits. Two obvious potential Republican candidates quickly indicated no interest in the seat, and the GOP is still looking for someone who can keep it in the party’s column next year. While George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) were in a virtual dead heat three years ago, Franklin County (Columbus) has been moving toward the Democrats. Given that, this district looks like the top takeover possibility in the nation so far.

Minnesota’s 3rd: Rep. Jim Ramstad’s retirement adds to Republican woes given the competitiveness of the suburban district that takes in a chunk of Hennepin County, west of Minneapolis. The district went for Bush by 3 points in 2004. State Sen. Terri Bonoff is a credible Democratic candidate, while state Rep. Erik Paulsen is expected to carry the banner for the GOP. A tossup.

New Mexico’s 1st: Republican Rep. Heather Wilson’s run for the Senate opens up a seat that she has held, though with significant difficulty, since a June 1998 special election. Last year, she was re-elected by 861 votes. The open seat has Democrats salivating, figuring that the combination of the vacancy and the public mood should put the seat into the Democratic column. So far, two Democrats are in the race, Albuquerque Councilman Martin Heinrich, whose Web site describes him as a “natural leader,” and former state Health Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham. But Republicans are upbeat about their chances, with Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White already in the race and others looking. Kerry carried the district with 51 percent in 2004. A tossup.

Illinois’ 11th: Bush carried the district by 7 points (53 percent to 46 percent) in 2004, and Republicans can’t take an open seat for granted. State Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson (D) already is in the race, while the GOP field isn’t yet settled.

Arizona’s 1st: GOP strategists breathed a sigh of relief when embattled Rep. Rick Renzi (R) announced he wouldn’t seek re- election, but that still means this district is in play. Former state Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick probably will carry the Democratic banner, while the Republican field is still taking shape. Bush won the district by 8 points, 54 percent to 46 percent, in 2004.

Ohio’s 16th: Republican Rep. Ralph Regula’s retirement was expected, and it isn’t clear whether it helps or hurts Democratic takeover chances. State Sen. John Boccieri should be a strong Democratic nominee, but Bush won the district by 8 points in 2004 (54 percent to 46 percent), and Republicans are likely to have a strong nominee. State Sen. Kirk Schuring and Ashland County Commissioner Matt Miller are competing for the Republican nomination.

New Mexico’s 2nd: Rep. Steve Pearce’s district is more reliably Republican than Wilson’s, and the race in this district is only starting to form. Bush carried the district 58 percent to 41 percent over Kerry, so any Democrat would have an uphill, though not impossible, fight.

Illinois’ 18th: Democrats insist that they’ll have a shot at winning Republican Rep. Ray LaHood’s district, but the odds are long. Two Republicans, state Rep. Aaron Schock and former Peoria City Councilman John Morris, will battle it out for their party’s nomination. Democrats think former basketball coach Dick Versace will surprise in a district Bush won 58 percent to 42 percent in 2004.

Aren’t there other opens? Sure, but when the chances of a partisan takeover start to approach zero, they don’t belong on this list.

Democrats haven’t given up hope about competing in retiring Rep. Terry Everett’s very Republican Alabama Congressional seat (if they can recruit the mayor of Montgomery into the race), but they probably should. Former Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) seat will be open, but it is likely to be filled in a late winter/early spring special election.

Republicans dearly would like to snatch away a Democratic open seat, but the two current prospects, Maine’s 1st district, currently represented by Tom Allen, and Rep. Mark Udall’s 2nd district in Colorado, don’t look very promising right now.

Finally, where is Rep. Tom Davis’s Virginia district? The seven-term Republican has been readying for a Senate race for years, so why isn’t his 11th district seat on the list?

It now appears certain that Davis will not run for the Senate. But will the Congressman run for re-election or walk away from Congress? He hasn’t announced his decision yet, but the odds are he’ll run again. So I’m not treating Davis’s seat as open unless and until he says that it is.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on October 25, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.