Thursday, July 17, 2008

Where, Oh Where Are the Top House GOP Opportunities?

By Stuart Rothenberg

Not a single Democratic House seat switched to the GOP in 2006 while Republicans were losing 30 Congressional seats.

Could Democrats pitch another shut-out this year? It’s possible, though unlikely, even given the poor Republican poll numbers, the desire for change and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s financial advantage over the National Republican Congressional Committee.

After all, Democrats won a handful of reliably Republican districts in 2006 that they will struggle to retain, and no party has been shut out of taking over seats from the opposition in consecutive elections, at least since World War II.

So where are the best GOP chances?

Tier 1 Opportunities

Texas’ 22nd District, Nick Lampson (D). If only one Democratic seat switches to the Republicans, it’s likely to be Lampson’s. Lampson, of course, was defeated for re-election in 2004 (in a different district) only to come back and win Republican Tom DeLay’s open seat in 2006.

Although DeLay dropped his bid for re-election, the Republican nominee was unable to get her name on the ballot and was forced to run as a write-in candidate. Even then, Shelley Sekula Gibbs drew 42 percent of the vote.

Sekula Gibbs almost won her party’s nomination again this time, but she was defeated handily in the runoff by Pete Olson, a former aide to Sen. John Cornyn (R), who was generally regarded as the stronger general election candidate.

Lampson’s district gave President Bush 64 percent in 2004, a reflection of its Republican bent. While Lampson has built a much less liberal record than he did during his first service in the House, he is still a Democrat in a very Republican district. And that makes him the most vulnerable House Democrat in 2008.

Louisiana’s 6th District, Don Cazayoux (D). Cazayoux, a relatively conservative Democrat, is a reasonably good fit for his northeast Louisiana district. Despite that assessment, the reality is that he owes his seat in Congress to Woody Jenkins, the unelectable GOP nominee in the special election held earlier this year.

Cazayoux has a reasonable chance to win a full term in November, but if the Republicans nominate state Sen. Bill Cassidy, who has announced his candidacy, the freshman Democrat will have his hands full. The district definitely leans Republican, and a strong GOP nominee automatically becomes formidable. Republicans caught a rare break when Jenkins decided not to run again.

Tier 2 Opportunities

Kansas’ 2nd District, Nancy Boyda (D). Boyda upset then-Rep. Jim Ryun (R) last time, and the Republican nature of the district (Bush won it by 20 points in 2004) guarantees a serious contest. Ryun faces state Treasurer Lynn Jenkins for the Republican nomination.

Alabama’s 5th District, open seat. Rep. Bud Cramer’s (D) retirement opens up a conservative Southern district that will see stiff competition and should be a GOP target. But the likely Democratic nominee, state Sen. Parker Griffith, looks strong, while the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, Wayne Parker, lost to Cramer twice.

California’s 11th District, Jerry McNerney (D). Freshman McNerney rode the Democratic wave and help from the environmental community to beat Republican Rep. Richard Pombo two years ago, but he isn’t an ideal fit for his Republican- leaning district. The GOP nominee, former state Assemblyman Dean Andal, looks to be a serious threat.

Pennsylvania’s 10th District, Christopher Carney (D). Carney beat a scandal-plagued Republican in a solidly Republican district, and the question is how long he can hold onto the seat. His GOP challenger, businessman Chris Hackett, hasn’t united Republicans following a nasty primary. Still, Carney is in the kind of district that he can never take for granted.

Florida’s 16th District, Tim Mahoney (D). Much like others on the list, Mahoney would not have won last time except for a GOP scandal, but he has been a strong fundraiser and won’t be an easy target for Republicans, who won’t pick a nominee until late August. Still, the GOP is likely to have a credible nominee in this Republican-leaning district.

Other Districts to Watch

Pennsylvania’s 11th district, Paul Kanjorski (D). Democrats are nervous about veteran Kanjorski, who has received his share of negative publicity. The early campaign of Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta (R) has been underwhelming, but that may not matter by the time November arrives. Polling suggests that this may well be a top-tier GOP takeover opportunity by November.

New York’s 20th district, Kirsten Gillibrand (D). Freshman Gillibrand is a fundraising phenom, and she will be very hard to beat in 2008. But former state GOP Chairman Sandy Treadwell has plenty of personal resources and is running in a reliably Republican district that a flawed Republican lost two years ago. The district’s fundamentals alone make this a Republican opportunity.

Wisconsin’s 8th district, Steve Kagen (D). Republican John Gard narrowly lost this Republican open seat last time, but the presidential year should bring out more voters and freshman Kagen hasn’t had the smoothest term.

A handful of other Democratic seats could also produce GOP upsets, including two in Arizona (Rep. Harry Mitchell’s and Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s), Rep. Carol Shea-Porter’s in New Hampshire and Rep. Jim Marshall’s in Georgia.

No matter what happens, Democratic losses will be few and the party can expect a substantial net gain in November.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on July 14, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.