“That’s a really bad omen for Democrats, not just this year but in future years,” said David Wasserman, the House editor for the Cook report.
Though more than 80 GOP freshmen are standing for reelection, just two dozen are facing tough challenges and only 15 are in significant danger of losing. Take Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.), whose 2010 victory over a Hispanic Democratic incumbent defied the odds because the district was nearly 75 percent Latino. Legislators drew him into a new district running north of Corpus Christi along the Gulf of Mexico, which tilts 60 percent toward Republicans.
Rather than a one-hit wonder, Farenthold, 50, could now serve in Congress for decades to come.
Similarly, the Philadelphia suburbs have served as political ground zero for past House majority battles. In 2006, the National Republican Congressional Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent a combined $5 million battling over the 7th Congressional District to the west of Philadelphia, followed by another $1.3 million in 2010.
Now, that district snakes across five suburban counties, encompassing the most Republican-leaning sectors of each, allowing freshman GOP Rep. Patrick Meehan to cruise to re-election.
Neither party committee is devoting resources to the Philadelphia media market for the first time in more than 20 years. With a delegation that boasted a dozen Democrats two years ago, Pennsylvania will send five or six Democrats to the House next year depending on Democratic Rep. Mark Critz’s tight battle outside Pittsburgh.
Democrats have put a few high profile tea-party lawmakers on the defensive. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), whose confrontational style made him a YouTube sensation and a regular on Fox News, is running behind in his suburban Chicago district.
In Florida, Rep. Allen West (R), a former Army lieutenant colonel, moved north of his previous Palm Beach-based district but still faces stiff competition, even as he declines to tone down his rhetoric.
“It’s about two different ideologies going forward. It’s the opportunity society against the dependency society. It’s the constitutional republic against a socialist egalitarian nanny state,” the conservative icon, one of just two black Republicans in Congress, said in an interview in St. Lucie.
Beyond the freshmen, Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Steve King (Iowa) are fighting for their political lives. Bachmann’s Quixotic presidential campaign left her open to charges of ignoring her district. King is facing Christie Vilsack, the wife of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a still-popular former governor. She is also focusing on local issues rather than King’s national conservative platform.
“If you’re truly focused on the people of your district, if you’re making it local, you should be concerned about the 750,000 not about the ideology that my opponent is talking about,” Vilsack said in a recent interview.
Democrats believe that such high-profile victories could send a signal that hyper-partisanship is not the route to reelection, giving hope for more bipartisan work in 2013.
Kane reported from Pennsylvania, O’Keefe reported from Florida and Iowa