Video: GOP vulnerable on Capitol Hill

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updated 7/24/2008 10:11:36 AM ET 2008-07-24T14:11:36
ON THE TRAIL

The National Republican Congressional Committee's list of troubles sounds like a bad country song: heartache, money troubles and bad luck.

Polls on who voters would like to see control Congress continue to show a double-digit advantage for Democrats. Voters may say they really, really don't like Congress, but they dislike Republicans more than they dislike Democrats. In the most recent Washington Post/ABC poll, 57 percent disapproved of the job Democrats were doing in Congress, but 69 percent thought poorly of Republicans. This disparity is likely a combination of Bush drag and lingering scandal hangover from 2006.

Yet while it's hard to understate the trouble Republicans are in, it's easy to overstate it, too.

The list of Hotline's top 30 competitive seats shows us why. Get past the GOP open seats at the top (basically Nos. 1-14), and the next tier of targets includes hard-bitten Republicans who have survived tough races before (Christopher Shays, Steve Chabot, Mark Kirk, Jon Porter and Robin Hayes), as well as a handful of vulnerable freshman Democrats (Nick Lampson, Nancy Boyda, Tim Mahoney and Carol Shea-Porter).

And there are some recent additions to the Democrats' worry list. Special election winner Don Cazayoux in Louisiana's 6th District learned recently that he'll face more formidable foes in November than he did in May. We don't know much about Republican state Sen. Bill Cassidy's campaign skills, but we do know he doesn't come with all the political baggage of Woody Jenkins (R), Cazayoux's opponent in the special election. Also on the ballot: African-American state Rep. Michael Jackson, who left the Democrats to run as an independent. Cazayoux needs every bit of the black population -- pegged at 33 percent -- to win in this Republican district. It'll be very tough to do so now.

Also making our list for the first time is Rep. Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania. It's hard to believe that a Democrat sitting in a relatively safe seat is in trouble in a year like this. But, like so many of the incumbents who lost in '06, Kanjorski's biggest liability is that he's not had a serious contest in years, increasing the chances that his campaign will make serious mistakes. And, in a year when "change" is in, Hazelton Mayor Lou Barletta, a charismatic guy with populist appeal, cuts a strong contrast with a 12-term incumbent. But don't take our word for it: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last week attacked Barletta with its first ad buy of the general election season.

To be sure, Democrats are still poised to make significant gains. In fact, culling the list to 30 meant that we may have understated the depth of GOP vulnerability. Other potential additions to the list include Reps. Phil English, R-Pa., and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla. Should Democrat Jon Powers win the Sept. 9 primary in upstate New York, his party will have a very good shot at picking up the seat vacated by former NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds. And a contentious and expensive GOP primary fight in Alabama's 2nd has helped to give Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright, a top Democratic recruit, a head start in what would normally be considered a safe GOP seat.

The list of vulnerable Democrats, meanwhile, is unlikely to grow much. Republicans are stuck with a flawed nominee in Oregon's 5th, Mike Erickson, giving Democrat Kurt Schrader a better chance to hold an open seat for the party. Freshman Steve Kagen of Wisconsin sits in a tough district but faces John Gard, the same Republican he beat by 2 percentage points for an open seat in 2006. And while Pennsylvania freshman Christopher Carney also sits in a tough district, his GOP opponent, Chris Hackett, has some significant political baggage.

At this point, we think the Democrats are poised to pick up 12 to 15 seats.        

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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