Monday , August 07, 2006
By Martin Frost
This year’s election is three months from this Tuesday, so it’s time to go out on a limb and predict the outcome in the battle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
With the usual caveat that events could change the dynamic in the next three months, let me venture the following prediction: Democrats will capture a net of at least 25 seats and will control the next Congress by at least 10 seats.
This prediction is based on the premise that Democrats will not lose any seats in which a Democratic incumbent is running for re-election. That’s exactly what served as the bedrock of the Republican’s historic win in 1994. No Republican incumbent was defeated that year. My reasons for believing Democrats can pick up enough additional seats for a majority are explained after my predictions.
Since Democrats are currently down by 15 seats, picking up 25 seats would give them a 10 seat margin when Congress convenes in January. If the bottom totally falls out for Republicans and there is a national tidal wave in favor of the Democrats, the margin could be much greater.
For purposes of this discussion, let’s assume a solid Democratic victory but not a tsunami.
Here’s how I get to a 25 seat pick-up:
(1) The Big Five: There are five states (Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana) with at least three Republican seats in serious jeopardy. In fact, there are four seats at play in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Let’s assume Democrats pick up two seats in each of these states for a total net gain of 10.
(2) The Rest of the East: Democrats have real chances of winning one seat in New Jersey and at least one seat in New Hampshire. That’s a net gain of 2 seats.
(3) The South: Democrats have a legitimate chance of gaining a seat in the following Southern states: Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Kentucky and Texas. There are several other seats at play in Kentucky and Florida, but for purposes of this discussion, let’s assume one in each state. That’s a net gain of 5 seats.
(4) The Midwest: Democrats have a real chance of winning Republican open seats in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. That’s a net gain of 4 seats.
(5) The Southwest: Democrats have a legitimate chance of winning a Republican seat in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Nevada. That’s a net gain of 4 seats. There are other seats at play in the region, but let’s assume just these 4 seats.
(6) Pacific Coast: Let’s assume one seat in California and one seat in Washington. There are other seats at play in the region, but let’s be conservative. That’s a net gain of 2 seats.
Those of you who are good in math will notice that I actually have identified 27 seats…that gives me a little margin for error. Politics is not an exact science.
The hardest part of this exercise is the five seats in the South, which has been a very difficult part of the country for Democrats in recent years. Maybe an extra seat or two from one of the “Big Five” will offset any races that fall short south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
The biggest wildcard of them all is the one seat in Texas (Tom DeLay’s district). It is impossible to predict that one with any great certainty because of the protracted legal battle over whose name will appear on the ballot for the Republicans. However, former Democratic Congressman Nick Lampson clearly has a big head start in that race and has a legitimate chance of winning.
Also, some Republican incumbents are very good campaigners and may be able to withstand a national trend. A good example is Heather Wilson in New Mexico. However, she faces a very accomplished opponent in Attorney General Patricia Madrid.
Why am I optimistic about a Democratic takeover?
Let’s look at two recent polls from very different sources, but both coming to the same conclusion…Republicans are in deep trouble.
An NPR poll of likely voters in the 50 most competitive House seats in the country (40 Republican seats and 10 Democratic seats) released on July 27 showed that a majority of voters in these districts disapproved of the job President Bush is doing and that only 29 percent of the voters said they intend to vote for their incumbent Congressman.
In 2004, voters in these 50 districts went Republican by about 12 percent. In the current poll, voters in these same districts said they would prefer a Democratic Congressman to a Republican Congressman by about 6 points.
An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, released the same day, gave Bush an approval rating of only 39 percent and gave Democratic Congressional candidates a 10 point lead over Republican Congressional candidates.
For a number of months, much of the press bought into the Republicans’ mantra that there weren’t enough seats in play for Democrats to actually take control of the House. There clearly are enough seats up for grabs and this is how you get to the magic number.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a scholar in residence at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.