Cook Political Report: House Race Solidifying
by Jonathan Singer, Fri May 12, 2006 at 03:58:33 PM EDT
The latest House race rankings (.pdf) from Charlie Cook, Amy Walter and the gang at the Cook Political Report are now available online and they bear a striking resemblence to the previous race rankings released on April 29. In fact, they are exactly the same as the previous set of ratings. Since the end of March, only as single seat -- that of Abramoff-pal John Doolittle of California -- has been added to Cook's list of competitive House seats held by either party.
With the field of play seemingly failing to grow in recent months, are the Democrats' chances of retaking the House for the first time in a dozen years diminishing? Put another way, are there enough seats in play for the Democrats to have a shot at picking up the House?
According to Cook, as of this point in the campaign, 68 seats have the potential of becoming competitive by election day, with Republicans defending 47 seats (69 percent) and the Democrats defending 21 (31 percent). Of these 68 seats, Cook sees 35 to already be competitive, with the Republicans defending 24 seats (69 percent) and the Democrats defending 11 seats (31 percent). Within the group of 35 seats that are aleady competitive, Cook eyes 11 tossups, with the Republicans defending 9 seats (82 percent) and the Democrats defending only 2 (18 percent).
Leaving aside qualms about some of the rankings -- I do not believe that the seat from which Tom DeLay is resigning should be labeled "likely Republican" nor do I believe that Ted Strickland's seat is still a "toss-up" given the strong write-in campaign of Charlie Wilson -- let's take a look at some basic mathematics based on the Cook rankings.
The Democrats cannot win back the House solely by winning the seats that are most competitive today, the "toss-ups." Were the Dems to sweep all 11 seats, they would still need six more pick-ups in order to retake the House.
The Democrats can win back the House solely by winning back seats that are competitive today, the "toss-ups" and "leans" categories, though it would be very difficult. For the Democrats to win back the House only in these two categories, they would have to win 25 of 35 seats -- or about 71 percent of the seats. This would be a possible, however less than likely task, even in a year in which one party has a general advantage in the double-digits.
By expanding the race to incoporate all seats that Cook views as possibly competitive at this juncture -- the "toss-ups,""leans," and "likely" categories -- the Democrats' path to victory would become slightly easier. To win back the House with only seats deemed today to be potentially competitive, the Democrats would have to win 42 of the 68 races, or roughly 61 percent of the elections in question. While this might be difficult, it is not impossible, either numerically speaking or politically speaking.
Clearly, it would still behoove the Democrats to continue to expand the field of play for this fall. Even if the traditional recruitment season is over, that does not mean that Democratic insiders still should not look for one or two -- or more -- new candidates across the country, nor does it mean that they should not help prop up less orthodox, and perhaps more grassroots, candidates who might have a shot at victory with institutional help from the party.
That said, it appears that there are enough seats in play, or potentially in play, at this time for the Democrats to have a shot at retaking the House of Representatives this fall -- particularly given the fact that the Dems have maintained a double-digit generic congressional ballot lead in every poll in the last month (with the surprising exception of the most recent Fox News poll).