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2010 House outlook: Democrats look secure

Louisiana Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao has to try to win re-election on his own merits two years after ousting scandal-plagued Democratic Rep. William Jefferson.
Louisiana Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao has to try to win re-election on his own merits two years after ousting scandal-plagued Democratic Rep. William Jefferson.Cheryl Gerber / AP file
/ Source: CQ Politics

As they gear up for the 2010 midterm elections, Democrats appear secure in their House majority they won with a big gain in 2006 and reinforced with another advance in 2008.

CQ Politics’ election analysts found 100 congressional districts with races where either major party stands a chance of winning the seat. That includes three true tossup seats, many districts that are only slightly competitive and some highly competitive. Of the 100 races worth closely watching, Democrats are defending 59 of the seats.

The CQ Politics race ratings show that the Democrats will need a third consecutive strong election year to prevent the Republicans from eroding the robust majority they now have, with 256 seats versus 178 for the Republicans and a vacancy in California’s 10th District, usually a Democratic stronghold.

For a sense of how the competitive House races are geographically distributed, check out this CQ Politics map. It provides ratings for every House race and an explanation of how the election team defines and comes up with its ratings.

There also is a chart showing the ratings for all 435 contests, with links to a page about each district and the upcoming election.

The GOP started this election cycle with some history on its side.

The 2010 elections will be the first since Democrat Barack Obama became president, and the party holding the White House often loses seats during a president’s first mid-terms.

While George W. Bush and his Republican Party were exceptions in 2002, the Democrats in 1994 took a 52-seat shellacking that cost them control of the House in President Bill Clinton’s first mid-term elections.

Many of the districts the parties will be focusing on are true swing seats, 49 where voters favored McCain for president while electing a Democrat to represent them in the House and the 34 where voters favored Obama for president while electing a Republican House member.

The only three contests in which CQ Politics rates an advantage to the challenging party are all for seats now held by the Republicans and targeted by the Democrats:

• Louisiana’s 2nd District, where freshman Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao has to try to win re-election on his own merits two years after ousting scandal-plagued Democratic Rep. William J. Jefferson. The district that usually votes so strongly Democratic that the race is rated Democrat Favored.

• Illinois’ 10th, a Democratic-trending collection of suburbs north of Chicago represented for five terms by centrist Republican Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, who is running for the Senate. The race is rated Leans Democratic.

• Pennsylvania’s 6th, an amalgam of suburbs and rural territory west of Philadelphia that is held by four-term Republican Jim Gerlach — a moderate who has entered the 2010 race for governor, creating an open-seat race that CQ Politics rates as Leans Democratic.

The Democrats’ two most vulnerable seats, currently rated Tossup, are in districts where McCain outran Obama by wide margins: Idaho’s 1st, which is held by freshman Democrat Walt Minnick, and Maryland’s 1st, held by freshman Democrat Frank Kratovil Jr.

The only other race currently rated Tossup is for the Republican-held seat in New York’s 23rd District. It is not clear whether either party will have a definite advantage in the special election that will ensue if Republican Rep. John M. McHugh receives an expected confirmation by the Senate as Obama’s nominee for secretary of the Army.

While at least some net gain is a very plausible possibility for the Republicans, it would take a huge reversal of political fortune for the party to reclaim a House majority. Of the 335 contests that CQ Politics’ election analysts rate as Safe for the incumbent party, 198 are currently Democratic (including that one vacant seat) and just 137 are Republican.

In addition, the Democrats are solidly favored in 31 of the 59 competitive contests for seats they currently hold, plus the Republican seat in Louisiana’s 2nd District. So if the Democrats were to win only their Safe seats and those rated Democrat Favored, they would have a total of 230 — well above the majority threshold of 218 seats.