The Hill May Look Steep For Republicans in 2008

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Sunday, November 26, 2006

As the 2006 congressional campaign fades from memory, the 2008 Republican campaign to retake the House and Senate will get underway in coming months.

This year, scandal and a strong anti-GOP tide were fortuitous forces for Democrats, who picked up seats that were squarely in Republican territory. Those seats are likely to be top prospects for Republicans to recapture in 2008.

In contrast, Democratic gains in swing districts in the Midwest and Democratic-leaning districts in the Northeast will be much tougher for Republicans to seize.

Target No. 1 for the GOP may well be Tom DeLay's old district in Texas. Former majority leader DeLay resigned earlier this year amid campaign finance charges, and courts said the GOP could not name a replacement on the ballot.

In a district where President Bush got 65 percent of the vote in 2004 some believed Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, the Republican write-in candidate, could eke out a victory against Democrat Nick Lampson, but Lampson won.

Similarly, Republicans will probably target former representative Mark Foley's district in Florida. His safe seat turned into a tossup after Foley resigned in the page scandal that consumed Washington in the last part of the campaign. There was not enough time for the Republicans to name a replacement candidate on the ballot, according to Florida law, and Democrat Tim Mahoney won against Joe Negron, the Republican stand-in, in a close race.

Other scandal-plagued seats Republicans may target in 2008 include former representative Robert W. Ney's Ohio district and Rep. Don Sherwood's Pennsylvania district. Other heavily Republican seats captured by the Democrats include two in Indiana, one in Kansas and one in North Carolina.

But even if Republicans were to take back these seats, they would have to win about six others to take the House in 2008 -- and those six are not so clear. The Democrats will have roughly a 14-seat advantage in the House.

On the Senate side, the GOP faces more trouble. The Republicans need at least one seat -- and maybe two, depending on who wins the presidential race -- to take back the upper chamber. But while 12 Democrats are up for reelection in 2008, 22 Republicans are.

Only a few Democrats and Republicans, however, are considered vulnerable. Still, Republicans could be buffeted by a string of retirements that would make the field more competitive. As of now, the two most vulnerable Democratic senators appear to be Tim Johnson (S.D.) and Mary Landrieu (La.), while the most vulnerable Republicans are Wayne Allard (Colo.), Norm Coleman (Minn.) and John E. Sununu (N.H.).

TV Ads Exceed Coverage

Television viewers in crucial Midwest states got more political information in the weeks leading up to the midterm elections from campaign advertisements than from news coverage, according to a new study.

In the seven markets studied, newscasts aired almost 4 1/2 minutes of paid political ads during a 30-minute broadcast, while only offering 1 minute 43 seconds of election news coverage.

The study was done by the Midwest News Index, a project of the University of Wisconsin's NewsLab, with support by the Joyce Foundation, a nonprofit affiliated with political reform organizations. The report studied major markets in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Most news coverage, moreover, focused on political strategy, with far less examining policy differences among candidates, according to the report. More than 10 percent of news stories were about or featured political ads.

"The data here are unambiguous: Local television news provides less news on politics than many other topics and the coverage is overwhelmingly characterized by stories on strategy, horse race, and the game of politics," Ken Goldstein, a political science professor at Wisconsin, said in a statement. "Any intelligent debate needs to begin from that starting point."

News stories, on average, lasted 76 seconds, shorter than the 89 seconds recorded in a similar study in 2002. About two in five election stories aired during the final week of the campaign. While much of the attention was focused on the horse race for Congress, one in four election stories in the Midwest looked at the state's gubernatorial race.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company