Monday, July 12, 2010

NBC's First Read Misses A Key Point

By Stuart Rothenberg

In looking at the reasons why Republicans might win the House in November, as well as why they might not, NBC’s First Read made the following point: “winning 39 seats is a tall order. After all, when Democrats won back the House in 2006 -- during the height of violence in Iraq and after Hurricane Katrina -- they picked up 30 House seats. The GOP will need almost 10 more than that.”

The numbers are right, but they lack context and, therefore, are misleading.

Yes, taking over 42 or 43 Democratic-held districts is a challenge (some GOP seats are likely to fall in November, increasing the number of Republican victories needed to take over the House), and those are big numbers historically. But First Read missed a crucial point: A party’s chances of winning House seats depends on a number of things, not the least of which is where it starts in an election cycle.

In other words, winning a net of 30 or 40 seats is difficult when you are starting at 203 seats (which is where House Democrats were right before the 2006 elections), but it isn’t quite as difficult when you start at only 179 seats, which is where Republicans are now.

Democrats gained over 50 seats over the past two cycles, eating into the Republican core. The fact that so many Democratic members of Congress are now representing Republican-leaning districts means that the GOP has an unusually large number of opportunities.

Regaining those “core” districts will be easier than winning inherently competitive or Democratic-leaning districts.