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A House Subtracted

The special election won by Republican Brian Bilbray in California last week was really encouraging for the GOP  --  or the Democrats.
The special election won by Republican Brian Bilbray in California last week was really encouraging for the GOP -- or the Democrats. (AP)

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By Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 11, 2006

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country -- and do some math!

That's right, kids, pull out your pocket calculators and let's figure out if the Democrats have a shot at winning a majority in the House this fall.

The wise people of Washington are knee-deep in numbers these days, trying to compute which candidates are vulnerable and which ones are lost causes, and where to devote precious money and resources. Oh, the joy and the horror of all those calculations, all those parsed polls and historical averages -- like fantasy baseball, only with the future of the country at stake.

This much we know: The Democrats need 15 more seats to take control of the House for the first time in 12 years. How the party can achieve that magic 15 (or not) depends on whom you talk to, and how they spin the special election that took place in California last week to replace ethically challenged and now-imprisoned Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R). They may invoke "drag," the Partisan Voting Index and something called "clump theory." They may bring up 1994 and they may bring up 1974. They may start talking about NASCAR and hurricanes.

Now, wait a minute. This is just math, right? Isn't there a right answer?

Grover Norquist, president of the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, breaks it down this way.

"Democrats must win 74 percent of all competitive races to gain the majority," he writes in this month's American Spectator. "Not impossible, but difficult."

Nuh-uh, says Amy Walter, who crunches House numbers for Cook Political Report. "They need to win 56 percent of all the competitive races."

Well, just how many "competitive" races are there?

"Fifty-seven," says Bernadette Budde, political analyst for the Business Industry Political Action Committee.

"Two dozen," says Scott Reiter, a representative of the Realtors Political Action Committee.

It takes a particular sort of person to enjoy this.


CONTINUED     1        >

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