The Democrats’ Top 20 Pick-Up Opportunities In The House For 2006

About 5 weeks ago, I put together a list of The GOP’s Top 18 Pick-Up Opportunities In The House For 2006. At the time, I noted that the list of truly vulnerable Democrats was fairly small. Unfortunately, the reverse isn’t true. There are a plethora of good Democratic pick-up opportunities and here’s a run-down of their 20 best shots. “*” indicates an incumbent. (RR) means Rightroots endorsed. Hat tip to RealClearPolitics for the polling data.

1) District: (TX-22)
Candidate: Shelly Sekula-Gibbs (R) vs. Nick Lampson (D)
Latest Polls: None
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Likely Democratic Pick-Up (90/10)
Comment: This is Tom DeLay’s old district. Since Lampson was getting geared up to run against DeLay, he has a huge warchest. Sekula-Gibbs, on the other hand, got in the race late and has to run as a write in candidate. The GOP would have had to spend millions to try to keep this seat and they couldn’t afford it in this kind of environment.

2) District: (IN-8)
Candidate: *John Hostettler (R) vs. Brad Ellsworth (D)
Latest Polls: Ellsworth +14, +23
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Likely Democratic Pick-Up (90/10)
Comment: People have been reluctant to move this race up the charts because Hostettler is an incumbent, but he’s getting creamed by such a big margin that it’s hard to see him pulling it out at this point.

3) District: (PA-10)
Candidate: *Don Sherwood (R) vs. Chris Carney (D)
Latest Polls: Carney +9, +14
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Likely Democratic Pick-Up (90/10)
Comment: Sherwood had an affair and was accused of assault by his mistress. That doesn’t fly in Republican districts. So, unless things change, it looks very bad for Sherwood.

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4) District: (NC-11)
Candidate: *Charles Taylor (R) vs. Heath Shuler (D)
Latest Polls: Shuler +11, +8
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Likely Democratic Pick-Up (90/10)
Comment: Shuler has been consistently ahead in this race for months and everyone has been waiting for Taylor to turn it around. At this point, it doesn’t look like the turnaround is coming.

5) District: (NY-26)
Candidate: *Tom Reynolds (R) vs. Jack Davis (D)
Latest Polls: Davis +16, +15
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Likely Democratic Pick-Up (90/10)
Comment: Reynolds completely tanked after the Foley scandal and he’s going to have a hard time recovering at this point unless his opponent commits some sort of massive blunder.

6) District: (AZ-08)
Candidate: Randy Graf (R) vs. Gabrielle Giffords (D)
Latest Polls: Giffords +8
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Moderate Democratic Edge (75/25)
Comment: The GOP backed Steve Huffman over Graf in the primary and when Huffman lost, they petulantly decided not to back Graf. If this seat ends up being lost, you can blame it on the Republican Party. On the upside, Graf has been picking up endorsements and momentum, so he’s still in the hunt.

7) District: (OH-18)
Candidate: Joy Padgett (R) vs. Zack Space
Latest Polls: Space +7, +9
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Moderate Democratic Edge (75/25)
Comment: This is Bob Ney’s old seat and unfortunately, Padgett is his hand-picked candidate. I don’t know that it helps a lot to be the hand-picked candidate of a guy going to jail. But, Padgett has been slowly but surely gaining on Space in this Republican leaning district. Will she have time to pull it off?

8) District: (PA-7)
Candidate: *Curt Weldon (R) vs. Joe Sestak (D)
Latest Polls: Sestak +1, +8
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Slight Democratic Edge (60/40)
Comment: A month ago, Weldon looked like he was headed for a victory, but his numbers have started to tank. Worse yet, the FBI just searched his daughter’s home as part of a corruption investigation. Can he survive that kind of bodyblow with 3 weeks left in the election when he’s trailing and his opponent seems to have the momentum? That remains to be seen.

9) District: (IA-01)
Candidate: (RR)Mike Whalen (R) vs. Bruce Braley (D)
Latest Polls: Braley +11, Whalen +13, Braley +7
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Slight Democratic Edge (60/40)
Comment: Whalen is a great candidate and the GOP is spending a big chunk of change in his district, but it’s a left-leaning district and most polls have shown Braley ahead by significant margins. This race should be close, but will it be enough to pull out a GOP victory?

10) District: (FL-16)
Candidate: Joe Negron (R) vs. Tim Mahoney (D)
Latest Polls: Mahoney +7
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Slight Democratic Edge (60/40)
Comment: This is Mark Foley’s old seat and for a vote to register for Negron, the voters actually have to pull the lever for Foley. On the upside, it is a Republican district and Negron has plenty of money, so he should be able to close the gap with Mahoney. But, will it be fast enough?

11) District: (NM-1)
Candidate: *Heather Wilson (R) vs. Patricia Madrid (D)
Latest Polls: Madrid +10, +8
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Slight Democratic Edge (60/40)
Comment: This is very scary race for the GOP because Wilson has been consistently ahead by small margins until very recently, when the last two polls show her numbers plunging rapidly. Are those just quirky polls or has the environment turned particularly anti-GOP in the last few weeks? If it’s the former, Wilson can still pull it out. If it’s the latter, the GOP is in serious trouble because they have a lot of “Heather Wilson” type candidates out there.

12) District: (OH-15)
Candidate: *Deborah Pryce (R) vs. Mary Jo Kilroy (D)
Latest Polls: Kilroy +15
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Toss-Up (50/50)
Comment: There hasn’t been a lot of polling in this district and it’s hard to know whether the latest poll is an outlier or is representative of what’s really happening in the district, but it’s not good news for Pryce.

13) District: (CO-7)
Candidate: (RR)Rick O’Donnell (R) vs. Ed Perlmutter (D)
Latest Polls: Perlmutter +6, Tie
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Toss-Up (50/50)
Comment: Perlmutter had a big lead at one point, but O’Donnell has closed the gap. This is exactly the sort of seat that the GOP has to win if they’re going to hold the House.

14) District: (PA-6)
Candidate: *Jim Gerlach (R) vs. Lois Murphy (D)
Latest Polls: Gerlach +3, Murphy +2, Murphy +6
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Toss-Up (50/50)
Comment: This is a rematch from the 2004 race, which Gerlach barely won. This is the sort of race where the GOP’s GOTV campaign may make the difference — and it’s also a seat the GOP desperately needs to win if they’re going to hold on to Congress.

15) District: (IN-9)
Candidate: *Mike Sodrel (R) vs. Barron Hill
Latest Polls: Hill +2, Hill +8
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Toss-Up (50/50)
Comment: Hill beat Sodrel in 2002, lost in 2004, and now this is their third match-up in as many election cycles. Although Hill appears to be ahead, it should be close and the GOTV effort may make the difference for Sodrel.

16) District: (IN-2)
Candidate: *Chris Chocola (R) vs. Joe Donnelly (D)
Latest Polls: Donnelly +1, +4
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Toss-Up (50/50)
Comment: Donnelly has consistently been ahead in this race, but Chocola has closed the gap and is breathing down his neck. Again, it sounds like a cliche, but this is exactly the sort of race that the GOP has to win in order to hold the House.

17) District: (CT-4)
Candidate: *Chris Shays (R) vs. Diane Farrell (D)
Latest Polls: Farrell + 3, +5
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Toss-Up (50/50)
Comment: This is a leftward leaning district, but Shays has been consistently ahead until just recently. Ironically, Joe Lieberman may end up pulling in a lot of Republicans in CT who wouldn’t otherwise be voting in a non-competitive Senate race and that may be Shays saving grace.

18) District: (FL-13)
Candidate: Vern Buchanan (R) vs. Christine Jennings (D)
Latest Polls: Jennings +12, Jennings +3
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Toss-Up (50/50)
Comment: Given that this is a Republican leaning district and that Buchanan has raised more than 5 million dollars, this district shouldn’t even be close. But, this is Katherine Harris’s old district and her deranged campaign for the Senate has undoubtedly hurt Buchanan’s prospects. On the upside, even though Buchanan is down right now, he still has a chance to close and pull this one out in a district of this sort.

19) District: (IL-6)
Candidate: (RR) Peter Roskam (R) vs. Tammy Duckworth
Latest Polls: Duckworth +5, tie
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Toss-Up (50/50)
Comment: This race has been neck and neck all the way and will probably stay that way right up until election day.

20) District: (CT-2)
Candidate: *Rob Simmons (R) vs Joe Courtney (D)
Latest Polls: Simmons +14, +3
Odds of Democratic pick-up: Toss-Up (50/50)
Comment: Simmons has a small lead, but this is a very leftward leaning district. Once again, Joe Lieberman bringing more Republicans to the polls than normal for a CT Senate race could be the deciding factor that saves this seat for the GOP.

Now, those are the Dem’s top 20 pick-up opportunities. But, the bad news is there are probably another 5-7 toss-up races and maybe another 5-7 races that lean towards the GOP, but could become competitive. So, let’s break down what we have at the moment:

5 Likely Democratic Pick-Ups
2 Moderate Democratic Edges
4 Slight Democratic Edges
14-16 Toss-ups
5-7 Slight Republican Edges

The problem the GOP has is that if the Democrats simply win every seat that they have the advantage in and then split the toss-ups 50/50, they’ve got 18 seats, enough to take control of the House.

For the GOP to hold the House, they’re probably going to need to win about 80% of the toss-up seats and hold onto all the seats that are leaning their way. Can they do it? Well, they do have a fund raising advantage and a better “Get Out The Vote” program than the Democrats, so it’s possible. Furthermore, if the GOP could actually win a few seats or pull some seats that are leaning towards the Dems out of the fire, it would help immensely. Is there a chance that could happen? Yes. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that if you look closely at the polling data in a lot of these races, it has started to shift in favor of the Democrats. So, if anything, the Dems have a tailwind at their back and there really isn’t much time left for the GOP to change the focus.

So, for the moment, the GOP is still capable of holding onto the House, but it looks like it’s going to be an uphill fight unless the political momentum somehow shifts in their favor before the election.

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