Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The GOP's Open Seat Problem

There is a slight problem for the Republican Party's chances at retaking the House of Representatives next year that I first highlighted in my two part series "Pelosi's Silving Lining" (Part 1, Part 2).

First, the good news. Of the lost seats in 1994, including two special elections, twenty-four were open seats. Democrats held onto all open seats in districts where Clinton won over 50% of the vote. I'm willing to concede that Democrats will probably keep open seats where Obama won over 50% of the vote, especially traditionally Democratic seats where Gore and Kerr also won. And I'll concede they only have a few open seats to defend right now. In Louisiana, Charlie Melancon's seat seems like a certain pick up. Pennsylvania's Joe Sestak and New Hampshire's Paul Hodes will be more difficult seats for them to defend and I'm optimistic about the Pennsylvania 7th. And I'll concede some difficulty in defending Mark Kirk's seat in the Illinois 10th. But other than the open seat in Delaware, I don't see much happening in this category of races. For now.

Down in Louisiana it looks almost certain that the two parties will swap sweets. Republicans will take Melancon's open seat in the 3rd District and Democrats will defeat Cao in the 2nd District. Democrats also have to defend open seats in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, but that's the extent of their open seat defensive game. Republicans, however, will have to worry about Delaware, the Illinois 10th, and the Pennsylvania 6th. All three are in blue districts. I have my fingers crossed for the Pennsylvania 6th but the other two will probably flip.

So despite the big national wave favoring Republicans, it looks like the open seat playing field will, at best, be neutral. In 1994 the open seat playing field helped Republicans on their way to victory. This year the tea leaves look bad enough that a lot of Democrat House members are backing out of statewide runs because they don't think they will win and they don't want to give up their House seat.

Without the open seats helping the GOP along, and potentially even harming them, Republicans will have to work even harder to defeat Democrat incumbents. Which means spreading resources around and investing wisely. Given the fetishism of the NRCC for RINOs like Rob Hurt, I'd say us conservatives at the grassroots will be working against the grain in trying to elect conservatives in 2010.

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