So as we stare down the barrel of some big Democratic losses in the House today, let’s look at another end of the equation. It’s often noted that Republicans need to pick up 39 seats to win a majority, but it is also theoretically possible that they could pick up 39 seats and still not win control. Why? Because there are in fact a very small handful of seats that they hold that the Democrats could nevertheless pickup in even this bad year.
Keep in mind, these wave cycles often have a few seats that swing the other way. Even in 1994, Democrats picked up such seats as Maine-02 and Rhode Island-01. The 2006 midterm year was interesting, with Republican picking up nothing — not one measly House seat — but even in 2008 they won a couple seats back, such as Kansas-02 and Texas-22, even as they lost another net 21 seats.
So let’s take a quick look at the Republican-held House seats that according to the leading ratings out there — CQ, Cook Political Report, Rothenberg Political Report, and Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball — are expected to go to the Dems.
To be honest, there aren’t that many of them — though who knows, there could be some surprises tonight. The criteria here are that the ratings guys all have these seats ranging from toss-up to leaning Dem to Dem favored. It’s a short list, but each one of them would move back the goalpost for a Republican House. Then again, if the national GOP wave turns out to be as big as everyone says, it won’t be too much of an issue — though it surely means something to the Dem candidates in these individual districts.
Louisiana-02: Rep. Joseph Cao (R)
Cao was elected in an upset in 2008, defeating the scandal-plagued Democratic incumbent William “Dollar Bill” Jefferson, who was then under indictment (and soon to be convicted) in a corruption scandal that involved cash being found in his freezer. But the fundamentals of this New Orleans-based district have always been against Cao winning a second term. Barack Obama carried it by 75%-23% in 2008, and before that it went to John Kerry by a similar 75%-24% in 2004.
The Democrats have nominated state Rep. Cedric Richmond, who is not under indictment for anything — and that might be all he needs. All the rating systems, and various political sources we’ve talked to, expect this seat to flip.
Delaware-At Large: Open Seat - Rep. Mike Castle (R)
Castle, who first won this seat in 1992, vacated it this year to run for Senate. Despite starting out as a heavy favorite, he ultimately lost the nomination to conservative activist Christine O’Donnell, who is expected to lose tonight to Democrat Chris Coons. And, it turns out, it is widely expected that Democrat John Carney, a former lieutenant governor who narrowly lost the 2008 gubernatorial primary, will win the race against another Tea Party-backed Republican, businessman Glen Urquhart.
The TPM Poll Average gives Carney a lead of 51.8%-40.8%.
Hawaii-01: Rep. Charles Djou (R)
Djou won this heavily Democratic seat under some unusual circumstances back in May. The former occupant, Democrat Neil Abercrombie, had resigned in order to focus full time on his gubernatorial campaign. This set off a single-round, winner-take-all special election that pitted two strong Democrats, former Rep. Ed Case and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, against the Republican Djou, who was then a Honolulu councilman.
Djou won the special election with only 39.5% of the vote. In something of an upset, Hanabusa edged out the national Dem-backed candidate Case for second place. Case then subsequently quit the race for the November election, leaving the Dem nomination to Hanabusa.
The TPM Poll Average gives Hanabusa a narrow edge of 47.2%-46.3%. So this one could be down to the wire.
Illinois-10: Open Seat - Rep. Mark Kirk (R)
This district has voted Democratic for president in the last three elections, but the Dems have never quite been able to take down the GOPer Kirk. However, Kirk left the seat this year to go run for the Senate (a race he could potentially win), opening up this seat for a potential Dem pickup.
The Democratic candidate is business consultant Dan Seals, who narrowly lost to Kirk in 2006 and 2008, and is now facing Republican businessman Robert Dold. The pundit ratings all say this seat leans to Seals — but on the other hand, a last-minute We Ask America poll gives Dold a sudden lead to Dold. Take that for what it’s worth.