Thursday, December 03, 2009

Rothenberg’s Dangerous Dozen House Seats for 2010

By Stuart Rothenberg

Regular readers of this column know that I’ve been rating the most vulnerable House seats — open and incumbent — for years. It’s that time again, and since there aren’t yet enough competitive open seats to rate by themselves, this list includes the dozen most vulnerable seats in the House.

There are two caveats that go with the list. First, there are strong arguments for including at least half a dozen other districts on the list. So, not being on this list doesn’t mean a contest is not extremely competitive. Second, since the midterm elections are still almost a year off, this list is likely to change significantly before November.

Louisiana’s 2nd: Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao, the only Republican to vote for the House’s health care reform bill, had no business winning this majority-black district. He won only because of the timing of the 2008 elections and the unique problems of then-Rep. William Jefferson (D). This time, Democrats are likely to have an unindicted nominee, which should end Cao’s service in Congress at one term. Two state Representatives have already announced they are running. Expect a turnover.

Delaware’s At-Large: Rep. Mike Castle’s decision to run for Senate was great news for the National Republican Senatorial Committee but bad news for House Republicans. Former Lt. Gov. John Carney (D) was already running when Castle made his announcement, so Democrats have a serious candidate in the race. Since the state leans Democratic, Republicans will need to find a formidable nominee even to contest the seat seriously.

Louisiana’s 3rd: With Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) running for Senate, this open seat gives the GOP an excellent takeover opportunity. The district gave President Barack Obama only 37 percent of the vote in 2008, so the Republican nominee should benefit from normal midterm dynamics. Of course, with a late August primary, the race won’t shake out for months.

Virginia’s 5th: Freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (D) seems more interested in doing what he thinks is right than getting re-elected. That’s the only way to explain his votes supporting House Democrats’ cap-and-trade and health care reform bills. State Sen. Robert Hurt (R) is expected to challenge Perriello, and the Congressman is in deep, deep trouble. Obama’s 48 percent showing last year in this district understates Perriello’s challenge next year.

Maryland’s 1st: Unlike Perriello, Rep. Frank Kratovil (D) has voted as if he is trying to be re-elected. But he barely scraped by Republican Andy Harris in an open-seat contest last time, and the midterm electorate will make his re-election bid more difficult. He has a chance to win another term, but the odds aren’t in his favor. Obama drew only 40 percent of the vote in the 1st in 2008.

Kansas’ 3rd: When Rep. Dennis Moore announced his retirement last week, Democratic prospects tanked. While Obama won this district with 51 percent, it generally leans Republican, and the open seat during a midterm election looks like a juicy GOP target.

Ohio’s 1st: Rep. Steve Driehaus (D) knocked off then-Rep. Steve Chabot (R) last year, and now Chabot is trying to return the favor. Expected lower turnout among Democratic core groups, especially younger voters and blacks, places this district at great risk even though Obama won it with 55 percent.

Ohio’s 15th: Freshman Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D) has many of the same problems — and the same challenges — that confront Driehaus in the state’s 1st district. Unlike Driehaus, Kilroy faces a rematch against an opponent who has never won district-wide. But former state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) should be a formidable foe.

Florida’s 8th: Rep. Alan Grayson (D), another freshman, has gone out of his way to be partisan and inflammatory. That’s a good way to raise money and attract the fawning admiration of liberal activists, but it isn’t the best way to get re-elected in this Republican-leaning district that went for Obama with 52 percent. The GOP doesn’t yet have a “name” challenger, and the party may never get one. But given Grayson’s recent behavior, they may not need one to take back this district after a single term.

New Mexico’s 2nd: Rep. Harry Teague faces former Rep. Steve Pearce (R), who gave up his seat in 2008 to run for Senate. Teague has tried to vote his district, but he isn’t being helped by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Obama, who drew 49 percent of the district’s vote in 2008. Definitely a midterm problem for Democrats.

New Hampshire’s 2nd: The Granite State has swung strongly Democratic of late — probably too strongly considering the state’s fundamentals. This open seat, and the likely candidacy of former Rep. Charles Bass (R), should give Republicans at least an even money chance of winning back the district during the midterm elections. But attorney Ann McLane Kuster, the early favorite for the Democratic nomination and the daughter of a former liberal Republican state legislator, should be a formidable standard-bearer for her party.

New York’s 23rd: Special election winner Rep. Bill Owens won his seat with less than 50 percent of the vote, and if Republicans find a nominee who can appeal to both conservatives and moderates, Owens will find himself in trouble. His first vote was for the House health care reform bill.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on November 30, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.