Video: Rep. Jefferson unseated

updated 12/9/2008 12:07:00 PM ET 2008-12-09T17:07:00

The last couple of weeks have brought congressional Republicans some long-needed relief. First, there was Sen. Saxby Chambliss' win in the Georgia runoff. Then in Louisiana this past weekend, Republicans won two House seats in a postponed election. That makes three GOP wins in the three elections held without Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. Is this an ominous sign for Democrats in 2010?

To be sure, winning in heavily red Georgia and La.-04, and beating an indicted Democrat (William Jefferson) in La.-02, doesn't prove that Republicans have turned the corner. And it's important to note that Obama was only peripherally involved in the first two races and did nothing for Jefferson. He'll be much more active in '10.

But the other factor linking all three GOP wins was a drop in black voter turnout from Nov. 4.

In Shreveport-based La.-04, where the black voting-age population is about 30 percent, African-Americans made up just 19 percent of the early vote. Even as Paul Carmouche (D) performed better than most previous Democrats -- he carried six of the district's counties, while Obama carried just one -- it still was not enough to overcome the huge GOP leanings of this district. In New Orleans-based La.-02, where about two-thirds of the population is black, the early vote was just 52 percent African-American. (Carmouche, who lost by 356 votes, may apply for a recount.)

In looking ahead to 2010, it's important to note that there are actually just a handful of Democrats who owe their '08 success to Obama's vaunted turnout efforts among black voters. The best example is Larry Kissell in N.C.-08. In 2006, Kissell came very, very close to knocking off GOP Rep. Robin Hayes -- 329 votes close, in fact, despite being drastically outspent. This year he was outspent again -- $1.34 million to $3.7 million -- but crushed Hayes with 55 percent of the vote. African-Americans make up almost a third of the population of this district.

Video: Spin after Chambliss win Beyond Kissell, I was able to come up with just four other Democrats: Glenn Nye (Va.-02), Steve Driehaus (Ohio-01), Tom Perriello (Va.-05) and Bobby Bright (Ala.-02). All have an African-American population above 20 percent. Democrats have been targeting Va.-02 and Ohio-01 without success for years, suggesting that but for the presence of Obama, they'd still be in GOP hands.

Now, what if we also assume that Latino turnout will drop off in 2010? Nationally, Hispanic voters made up the same percentage of the electorate in 2006 as they did in 2008. But if we assume that the extraordinary effort made by the Obama team in battleground states like New Mexico and Nevada is not duplicated in 2010, it could mean a drop-off in new and infrequent voters, including Hispanics. If that's the case, we can also put four more Democrats on the watch list: Dina Titus (Nev.-03), Martin Heinrich (N.M.-01), Harry Teague (N.M.-02), Alan Grayson (Fla.-08) and Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.-08).

That brings us to a grand total of 10 districts held by Democrats that could be vulnerable with a drop-off in black and Hispanic turnout. Democrats currently have a 40-seat majority. If Republicans are going to take control of the House in 2010, they'll need to find at least 30 more seats.

As has been noted before, there are probably more than 70 districts held by House Democrats that voted for President Bush in 2004 and John McCain this year. But a Democratic House insider the other day ticked off 42 competitive districts to me where the Democratic nominee outperformed the top of the ticket. Even so, Democrats won only 27 of these 42 districts. And of those 27, just 10 were challengers.

For the Senate, the question isn't which Democratic seats are in danger -- they have far fewer potentially vulnerable seats up in 2010 than do Republicans -- but which ones could be harder for them to pick up with a drop-off in African-American participation. Louisiana Republican David Vitter, who'll face voters for the first time since he publicly apologized after being linked to an alleged prostitution ring in Washington, could be one Democratic target who's helped by lower turnout. It's notable, however, that Sen. Mary Landrieu won re-election with 52 percent even as McCain carried the state by almost 20 points.

The bigger question is not whether Obama has the coattails to keep Democrats in power, but whether they'll enjoy another cycle where the field is tilting so strongly in their favor. As the majority party in a year where lots of painful choices have to be made, the odds of that aren't so good.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.


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