Monday Fix: Five House seats that may change parties in 2010

Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 2, 2009

Let's talk about next November: The House playing field for 2010 continues to expand, as Republicans sense opportunity in the national landscape and Democrats look to stay on offense in some corners of the country in order to build a bulwark against a possible wave election.

The Cook Political Report lists 105 seats as potentially competitive, with the vast majority -- 78 -- controlled by Democrats. The Rothenberg Political Report is more skeptical of such a large playing field, but of the 48 seats it lists as competitive, Democrats hold 31.

Although Democrats have far more vulnerabilities, thanks in large part to their 50-plus seat gains in 2006 and 2008, they also have a handful of seats in which they are playing offense, including four of the five districts most likely to switch parties next November. Here's a detailed look at the quintet:

5. Illinois' 10th District (Republican-controlled): This wealthy North Shore district provides a rare example of a race in which both parties have a number of quality candidates. Although Rep. Mark Kirk (R), who is giving up the seat to run for the Senate, must do well in his home district to be viable statewide, this is a solidly Democratic district where there will likely be a lot of ticket- splitters backing Kirk for the Senate and the Democratic nominee for the House.

4. Louisiana's 3rd District (Democratic-controlled): The Senate Democrats' gain was the House Democrats' loss in this southeastern Louisiana district, with Rep. Charlie Melancon vacating his seat to challenge Sen. David Vitter (R). Louisiana races are notoriously late/slow to develop, and both parties seem headed to contested primaries. But Barack Obama won only 37 percent of the vote in the 3rd in 2008, so Republicans have to be given an edge at the moment.

3. Louisiana's 2nd District (R): It's hard for us to imagine that Rep. Joseph Cao, who won the upset race of the 2008 cycle against scandal-tarred William J. Jefferson (D), can overcome the overwhelming Democratic advantage in this New Orleans-based seat. Democrats are falling all over themselves to run for the seat, and Cao must hope they bruise one another so badly in the primary that he can sneak by in the general election.

2. Delaware's At-Large (R): Rep. Mike Castle's surprising decision to run for the Senate leaves former lieutenant governor John Carney (D) in the catbird's seat. Carney was an even-money bet to win the seat even if Castle ran for reelection, and now he is a considerably stronger favorite. A number of Republicans are mentioned, but no one has stepped forward yet and every day that passes improves Carney's chances of winning.

1. New York's 23rd District (R): Democrat Bill Owens and Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman are in a dead heat. Republican Dede Scozzafava acknowledged the obvious last weekend and ended her candidacy. No matter who wins Tuesday's special election, he's not going to be the official GOP nominee. That said, if Hoffman wins, he will caucus with the Republicans and vote with them a solid majority of the time.

Momentous -- for whom?

Speaking of the special election in New York's 23rd District, with just 24 hours to go, two things have become abundantly clear.

The first is that Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman can win -- especially with state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, the endorsed Republican nominee, dropping out of the race last Saturday. Her last-minute endorsement of Democrat Bill Owens, however, makes any hard and fast predictions almost impossible.

The second is that neither major party knows what to make of Hoffman's candidacy, and both are trying to adjust their spin to accommodate what a victory by the Conservative Party candidate would say about the national political dynamic.

Two independent polls released over the past 72 hours showed Hoffman in a statistical dead heat with Owens. The first, which was conducted for the liberal Daily Kos blog by Research 2000, showed Owens at 33 percent and Hoffman at 32 percent. The second was conducted by the Siena Research Institute and produced a virtual facsimile -- Owens at 36 percent and Hoffman at 35.

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