It shouldn’t be happening this way, but at the moment it seems as if 2010 will be a rather lousy midterm election for the GOP. All the usual caveats apply, and the passage of an unpopular health care plan or the failure to pass it could have significant effects on Democratic chances next year, but CQ’s ratings for House and Senate suggest that Republicans are still suffering aftershocks all over the country. Even assuming that the GOP can hold NY-23, vacated by Army Secretary nominee McHugh, and pick up ID-01 and MD-01, which are traditionally Republican-leaning districts, they seem likely to lose three open seats in Louisiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania. The latter two are open because the incumbents are running for Senate and governor respectively, but the Senate does not look much more promising.
This is the first time these Senate seats have been up for election since the GOP’s implosion, and many of the same factors that cost Republicans Senate seats in Missouri, Ohio, North Carolina and New Hampshire in previous cycles are still at work today. If anything, voters in Missouri and Ohio have become more inclined to support Democrats than they were in 2006, the voters have not changed their minds that much in North Carolina and New Hampshire since last year, and Obama carried all four of these states. Most of the Senate toss-ups are Republican-held, and the Democratic-held toss-ups in Illinois and Connecticut are less vulnerable than they seem. Giannoulias is a known quantity in Illinois state politics, and Mark Kirk, whatever his good qualities may be, is considerably less well-known. That can be fixed with advertising and good campaigning, but there are also things that voters will not like when they find out more about Kirk. You can be sure that Kirk’s China blunder will haunt him for the entire campaign. Beyond being simply foolish, the China blunder can be used to portray Kirk as unprepared for higher office: “How can we trust him to represent all of Illinois responsibly?” and so on. Giannoulias will also be able to draw on significant funding here in the city, and simply because of Illinois’ recent electoral history he has to be considered the favorite. Dodd is more vulnerable because he is personally tainted by ethical problems, but it would be a bit surprising if Connecticut is the place where the GOP wins back support in New England while losing it everywhere else. Possibly the GOP’s best chance of a pick-up is actually in Nevada, where the electorate has been more evenly divided in the past and where Reid is not all that popular personally, but Republicans would need to field a candidate capable of taking advantage of these things.
So it is possible that Democrats could be looking at a net gain of at least one or two seats in the House and possibly a net gain of as many as five seats in the Senate. Many of the Republican-leaning districts that should remain in GOP hands are more vulnerable than they appear at first and certainly more so than they should be at this point. Rothenburg identified their problems earlier this year:
They [the DCCC] are also hoping that Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) will finally call it quits and retire, and that Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) will either retire or run for the Senate. Open seats in any of those districts would create real Democratic opportunities.
California Republican Rep. Ken Calvert’s surprisingly narrow win in 2008 obviously makes him a target, though his district certainly continues to lean Republican.
And Republicans such as Reps. Don Young (Alaska), Erik Paulsen (Minn.), Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Leonard Lance (N.J.) Henry Brown (S.C.) and Dave Reichert (Wash.), all of whom had close contests last year, have to prepare for another possible Democratic assault.
Finally, DCCC automated telephone calls into districts currently held by GOP Reps. Charlie Dent (Pa.), Judy Biggert (Ill.) and Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) reflect Democratic strategists’ views that those districts are either already Democratic enough or are becoming Democratic enough to present the party with new opportunities.
The last one, McCotter’s district, would be a very visible loss given his position in the House minority leadership, and losing there and in the Illinois seats would be in keeping with the general rout of the party from the Midwest. It should not be the case, but it seems that the public may not be finished punishing the GOP.