By Alan Abramowitz
Democrats need to gain 15 seats in the House in 2006 to regain control. That’s not a large number by historical standards. In fact it’s close to the postwar average for seat losses by the president’s party in midterm elections. The problem is there are fewer and fewer marginal districts in the House and the cost of running a competitive campaign for a House seat keeps increasing. So Democrats will need to carefully target the most promising seats currently held by the GOP. An analysis of the performance of House GOP incumbents in the 2004 election suggests some candidates. I identified seven current incumbents who did considerably worse than expected based on the partisan composition of their districts and the amount of money spent by their challengers. These seven could be vulnerable if Democrats put up strong, well-financed challengers in 2006. There are some juicy targets here so an energetic and skillful challenger should be able to raise enough money to put these seats in play.
1. David Dreier–CA 6. Dreier has been a long-time fixture in the House and a key player on intelligence issues, but his performance in 2004 suggests that he could be vulnerable to a strong Democratic challenger in 2006. Despite outspending his Democratic challenger by a better than 20 to 1 margin, Dreier won only 55.8 percent of the major party vote in a district than leans Republican but appears to be trending Democratic.
2. Marilyn Musgrave–CO 4. Everyone knows about Bob Beauprez in the 7th district, but don’t forget Musgrave. Despite the strongly Republican make-up of the district, this right-wing ideologue won only 53.3 percent of the major party vote in 2006. Musgrave’s Democratic challenger spent a respectable $869,000 but was outspent by a nearly 4 to 1 margin. Democrats have been gaining ground in Colorado and a well financed challenger could give Musgrave a run for her money in 2006.
3. Katherine Harris–FL 13. Need I say more. Despite outspending her Democratic challenger by a 6 to 1 margin in 2004, Harris won only 55.3 percent of the major party vote in this Republican-leaning district. What Democrat wouldn’t want to go down in history as the candidate who knocked off Katherine Harris? And what Democrat inside or outside of Florida wouldn’t be willing to contribute to that candidate?
4. Henry Hyde–IL 6. If Hyde decides to run for another term, he could be vulnerable to a well-financed challenger. This long-time GOP stalwart and former House impeachment manager won an unimpressive 55.5 percent of the major party vote in 2006 despite outspending his Democratic challenger by a 3 to 1 margin. Illinois has been trending Democratic and a strong challenger could put this seat in play.
5. Chris Chocola–IN 2. No surprise here. Chocola got 54.9 percent of the major party vote in this marginally Republican district despite outspending his Democratic challenger by a better than 2 to 1 margin. Chocola is another right-wing ideologue who could be vulnerable to a well-financed challenger in 2006.
6. Robin Hayes–NC 8. Hayes has failed to improve his margins since his first election in 1998. In 2004, he won only 54.5 percent of the vote in this marginally Republican district despite outspending his Democratic challenger by an almost 8 to 1 margin.
7. Jim Gerlach–PA 8. No surprise here either. Gerlach’s 2004 challenger was the only one in this group who was not underfinanced, spending more than 1.9 million dollars. Even so, Democrats should take another crack at Gerlach. Gerlach won by a narrow 51-49 margin in 2004 and Al Gore carried the district in 2000.
This list is by no means exhaustive. There are undoubtedly other potentially vulnerable GOP incumbents and Democrats will need to target open seats as well as vulnerable incumbents if they are to have any chance to regain control of the House in 2006. But targeting these seven seats would be a good place to start.
By Alan Abramowitz