Is the House in play in 2012?

at 06:30 AM ET, 03/23/2011

After three straight wave elections in the House over the past five years, there is already considerable debate among party strategists whether 2012 will be a status quo election with few changes or another wholesale swap of seats that could give Democrats a shot at reclaiming the majority.

New polling from Democracy Corps, a Democratic-aligned polling consortium, in 50 Republican-held House districts likely to be targeted in 2012 suggests the “new Republican majority is very much in play”, according to pollster Stan Greenberg.

Greenberg’s conclusion is based largely on the fact that the 50 Republican members tested haven’t made much of an impression on their constituents. Nearly four in 10 people said they didn’t know enough about their GOP member to offer an opinion of how they are handling their job in Congress, and just 40 percent said they were planning to vote to reelect their incumbent.

“There is no good will or honeymoon” for Republicans, said Greenberg in an email exchange with the Fix.

Greenberg argues that the relative anonymity of much of the newly elected House Republican class, coupled with the the large percentages of people ready to vote against their incumbent, points to the real possibility that Democrats could pick up the 25 seats they need to win back the majority.

“The playing field that Republicans must defend looks larger than it did for either Democrats in 2009 or Republicans in 2007,” he wrote in a memo on the results.

Is is that simple? Nope. (Is it ever?)

Glen Bolger, a prominent Republican pollster who has previously guaranteed that the GOP will hold the House in 2012, offered a counter-argument to Greenberg, noting that while Obama won all but six of the districts tested, they are far from easy pickups for his party.

Of the 50, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won only 12 of them in 2004, and the average partisan voting index (PVI) score — a rating developed by political handicapper Charlie Cook to compare the partisan performance of each district against every other district — was R +1.1. (That means that the 50 districts performed roughly one point more Republican, on average, than the nation as a whole in the past two presidential elections.)

“Republicans in 2010 had an abundance of traditionally Republican seats to target and could have taken back the House without winning a single seat with a positive (Democratic) PVI or a seat won by John Kerry in 2004,” wrote Bolger. “Democrats in 2012 are not as fortunate.”

Another factor that complicates the Democrats’ march to the majority in 2012 is redistricting, the decennial redrawing of the congressional lines in almost every district in the country.

Of the 50 seats included in the Democracy Corps poll, Republicans have full control of the redistricting process in 22 of them — meaning that GOP line-drawers will work to strengthen their party’s hand in many of these swing seats. Democrats control redistricting in 10 seats, while the other 18 are either in the hands of independent commissions or split control between the state legislature and/or governor.

The simple truth is that predicting the size — or competitiveness — of the House playing field this far from the election is something close to guesswork. There’s data in the Democracy Corps poll that suggests a broad playing field with significant Republican vulnerabilities. But there’s underlying data in the districts that suggests a core Republicanism that could complicate Democrats’ chances at a majority next November.

Which data point will ultimately prove a better predictor? We’ve got 20 months to debate it.

Romney would issue health care waivers: In a blog post on the National Review website Tuesday, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) continues to position himself as an opponent of President Obama’s health care bill.

Romney, who has been criticized in GOP circles for enacting a law that has been compared to Obama’s, wrote that as president his first act would be to sign an executive order issuing waivers to all 50 states to get out of the new federal mandate.

Romney, striking a Federalist note as he has before in defense of his health care bill, said the move would return authority to the states to be “laboratories of democracy.”

“As I have stated time and again, a one-size-fits-all national plan that raises taxes is simply not the answer,” Romney wrote. “But since an outright repeal would take time, an executive order is the first step in returning power to the states.”

NRCC launches robocalls on gas prices: The National Republican Congressional Committee is targeting 10 House Democrats with new robocalls accusing them of causing higher gas prices.

“Feeling the pain at the pump every time you fill up your tank?” says one of the calls. “Well, you should know that your congressman, Heath Shuler, is supporting policies that could raise gas prices even more.”

The calls accuse the Democrats of supporting big-government policies and opposing a move toward American energy (i.e. offshore drilling and oil exploration).

The calls are being made in districts held by Shuler and Reps. Ruben Hinojosa (Texas), Brian Higgins (N.Y.), Bruce Braley (Iowa), David Loebsack (Iowa), Leonard Boswell (Iowa), Larry Kissell (N.C.), Brad Miller (N.C.), Nick Rahall (W.Va.) and Mark Critz (Pa.).

Latest hit for Haridopolos: Florida state Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R) is set to turn in a very big fundraising quarter in his first three months as a Senate candidate. After all, he raised $1 million at one fundraiser alone.

In any other situation, that would probably make Haridopolos the prohibitive favorite and help clear the primary field to run against Sen. Bill Nelson (D). But as Haridopolos has raised all that money, he’s been getting hammered in the media.

The latest headline came Tuesday, when the Miami Herald reported that Haridopolos nixed a Senate ethics bill that he had previously supported.

Haridopolos’s office declined to comment as to why, but given that he recently got admonished for an ethics violation, that reaction is only going to prolong the story.

Haridopolis’s dilemma is proof that leadership positions are often great for raising money, but generally troublesome when it comes to one’s further political ambitions.

Scott Brown stands up for Planned Parenthood: Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) will occasionally remind us that, despite his party affiliation, he is indeed a senator from Massachusetts, and Tuesday was one of those days.

Brown made it known that he opposes pulling all federal funding from Planned Parenthood — cuts that were included in the House GOP budget bill he supported earlier this month.

Brown said “the proposal to eliminate all funding for family planning goes too far. As we continue with our budget negotiations, I hope we can find a compromise that is reasonable and appropriate.”

Keep track of these situations in which Brown separates himself from his party. Every one of them invites a primary challenge but probably helps him in the general election.

Fixbits:

Ohio state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) is apparently “likely” to run against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D). Check out The Fix’s recent profile.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) becomes the latest Democrat to express some hesistance on military action in Libya; he wants an accounting of how much it’s going to cost.

The latest potential rematch: Businessman Randy Altschuler (R) is considering another run against Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) after a very narrow 2010 loss.

The Missouri Republican Party is calling on Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) to release her tax records now that she has paid nearly $300,000 in unpaid property taxes on a plane she co-owned.

President Obama’s latest approval ratings in Gallup poll: 44 percent approval, 46 percent disapproval.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) is backing California Secretary of State Debra Bowen (D) in the special election to replace former Rep. Jane Harman (D). Many other elected officials are backing Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn (D).

Keep an eye on this quote from Bill Nelson: “I think the Democrats are optimistic that the recovery is underway.” If it doesn’t happen, that’s campaign fodder.

Mike Huckabee wants to repeal the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for gays in the military. He said “there’s been some talk that the military is fine with having same-sex orientation people. But if you really surveyed the combat troops, that is not at all the case.”

Must-reads:

Reading The Palin Tea Leaves Is Likely A Futile Endeavor” — Scott Conroy, Real Clear Politics

Media Matters boot camp readies liberal policy wonks for the camera’s close-up” -- Jason Horowitz, Washington Post

 
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