The Cook Political Report tells us that Democrats currently occupy 40 of the 50 House seats designated as “toss-up” or “leans.” (He has also moved the North Dakota Senate seat from “leans Republican” to “solid Republican.”) That is a rather remarkable finding, and it’s only January:
Of the 50 currently competitive seats, Democrats occupy 40 (80 percent), exactly the number of seats Republicans need to gain to steal the House majority. Of the 60 potentially competitive seats, Democrats occupy 45 (75 percent), a figure that underscores Democrats’ overexposed position in the House today.
It is important to note that while one party has never won all of the competitive races in any given election cycle (currently Republicans would need to win all 50 competitive seats to win 218 seats in the House), the likelihood of one or two dozen potentially competitive Democratic seats entering the danger zone at some point in this cycle is high.
Moreover, it’s important to note that this is just the current snapshot, and those GOP openings could multiply. Looking over those early projections of GOP pickups, Larry J. Sabato reminds us :
Could it go higher? Sure, if the economy remains weak, President Obama’s popularity falls further, or (God forbid) a terrorist attack boomerangs on the administration. It could also go lower, if the economic recovery takes off and some other big things go the president’s way.
And that’s just the point. At the Crystal Ball we’re delighted to have been on the mark in both our final 2006 and 2008 projections. But those projections were issued at campaign’s end. Early predictions are like winter snow. They are probably going to melt away by spring, much less summer or fall. What were the various “political ratings newsletters” projecting for Democratic House gains in January 2006? Single digit additions. Democrats ended up +30.
Now, that cuts both ways. Democrats this time around have plenty of time to prepare and adjust course. Unlike the GOP, which was caught by surprise in 2006, the Democrats understand all too well their peril. They could try to save some of those seats by shifting gears and pulling some members back from the brink. But they’ll need to get going and begin shedding their reputation of being ultra-liberal busybodies. And ramming through ObamaCare probably isn’t the way to do it. Should they “succeed” in that gambit, Sabato and Cook will probably need to start adjusting their projections.