The battle for control of the US House of Representatives could boil down to whether voters end up voting on foreign policy or domestic policy.
As George W. Bush presses for war against Iraq heading into the Nov. 5 election, and Republican candidates try to tie themselves to Bush's popularity on foreign policy issues, Democratic candidates must focus their campaigns on "kitchen table" economic issues where the Republicans are clearly vulnerable.
Bush is doing his best to crowd domestic issues off the front pages and TV news highlights with his talk of the suddenly urgent war with Iraq: When Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle criticized Bush's handling of the economy on Sept. 18, the media either ignored Daschle's speech on the Senate floor or buried it inside the newspapers. But polls show Bush's popularity is not transferring to Republican congressional candidates, on whom the electorate is still closely split. A Gallup Poll released Sept. 16 indicated the economy remains the central domestic issue that concerns Americans. A majority, 54%, feels economic conditions in the country are getting worse rather than better. While Democrats have a slight edge on Gallup's latest generic congressional ballot, with 46% of registered voters saying they will vote for the Democratic candidate for Congress in a Sept. 2-4 CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, and 43% voting for the Republican (11% are undecided), the GOP has the lead when it comes to perceptions of which party can best keep the nation safe from terrorism and military threats.
The House now has 223 Republicans, 211 Democrats and one independent who generally votes with the Dems, so the Democrats need a net gain of six seats to take back the majority.
"If the vote is on domestic issues, we win," said Kelly Young, executive director of 21st Century Democrats. "If the vote is on foreign policy issues, we lose."
Young, whose group promotes progressive populist Democrats and is active in 16 House races (including 11 listed below), is frustrated with the Democratic leadership that has hesitated to take on Bush's mishandling of economic issues. "People are threatened by the economy and they are feeling insecure about the stock market, jobs, pensions and health care," she said. Democrats "should be absolutely attacking the neglect of the Bush administration toward these domestic issues."
Democrats who are in good shape, she said, are those who are running strong grassroots campaigns and are not relying on the mainstream media to report on the issues. "The ones who are doing the groundwork, meeting the voters door to door and working phone banks are in much more control of their destinies," she said.
In the close races, Kelly Young said, the victor will be "the candidate who knows who the voters are and can get their voters to the polls better." If that sounds like a no-brainer, you'd be surprised how many candidates overlook those details.
Larry Sabato, a non-partisan campaign-watcher with the University of Virginia Center for Politics, figures the Democrats have 189 safe seats and the Republicans have 196 safe seats. Among the 50 "highly competitive" seats he lists at www.centerfor-politics.org as of Sept. 12, 15 districts lean toward the Democrats, 20 lean toward the Republicans and 15 are tossups. So if the Republicans win all 20 races where they appear to have a majority, they would have 216 seats and would need only two of the 15 tossups to keep the majority. "However," Sabato wrote, "despite President Bush's continuing high popularity -- here comes the catch for the GOP -- the election issues mainly seem to be ones that Democrats can capitalize upon disproportionately: the weak economy with its sagging stock market and 401(k) accounts; the corporate responsibility/CEO scandals; health care and prescription drugs for seniors; Social Security, a successful Democratic perennial; the Bush administration's environmental record; continuing dissatisfaction with Republicans among the African-American community; and even soaring deficits, succeeding a brief period of surplus in the Clinton administration."
Sabato added, "Iraq and the war on terrorism generally are wild cards, and they could cut either way depending on events. It is certainly true that Bush and the congressional Republican party have done a good job to this point in minimizing Democratic gains on all of the pro-D issues, but that has required quite a juggling act which will be hard to sustain in the two most fiery and partisan months of the campaign remaining before Election Day. So we'll see, and the toss-up seats will tell the tale."
Charlie Cook of the National Journal puts the number of hotly contested House races at only 44 districts, and of those, "only a dozen House races can be said to be true toss-ups at this stage, with 32 more leaning to one party or the other. More ominously for Democrats," he added, "219 House seats currently can be said to be leaning, likely or solidly Republican, one more than a simple majority of the House. What that effectively means is that if the election were held today, Democrats could win every seat that was leaning, likely or solidly Democratic, plus every toss-up race, and still come up two seats short of a majority."
Cook also noted, "If this election is about the economy, about bread-and-butter domestic issues, that could give Democrats the advantage they need. Democrats do not need a gale-force wind to pick up the seats [but] they do need a good, stiff breeze." If the election is about Iraq and foreign policy, he said, Republicans have an edge.
J.B. Armstrong of MyDD.com, who tracks congressional races from a generally progressive point of view, forecasts a 10-seat gain for the Democrats, resulting in a 221-213-1 Democratic majority in the House.
The 65 races listed below are those that generally are considered to be "in play" this fall. Some may represent wishful thinking, but the favored candidates and their advocates are still working. Political leaning, where indicated, is generally based upon conventional wisdom, which is ripe for upsets.
If you live in one of these targeted districts and have been subjected to attack ads for weeks now, you have our sympathy. In other districts that do not show up on the political radar and are considered "safe" but have a determined opponent making the rounds of a district, the cliché remains true that the only way to run is unopposed or scared.
Where "tossup" is indicated, that means a tossup between the D's and R's. Green, Libertarian and other alternative party candidates might have impacts on close races, but none are seen to have a chance at victory.
AL 3rd CD: Joe Turnham (D), Mike Rogers (R), George Crispin (L) for Bob Riley's (R) seat. Tossup.
AZ 1st CD: George Cardova (D), Rick Renzi (R), Andy Fernandez (L) for open seat. Tossup.
CA 11th CD: Elaine Dugger Shaw (D), Rep. Richard Pombo. Likely R.
CA 18th CD: Dennis Cardoza (D), Dick Monteith (R), Linda DeGroat (L) for Gary Condit's (D) seat. Likely D.
CA 46th CD: Gerrie Schipske (D), Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. Likely R.
CO 4th CD: Stan Matsunaka (D), Marilyn Musgrave (R), John Volz (L) for Schafer's (R) old district. Leans R.
CO 7th CD: Mike Feeley (D, 21st Cent. D's), Bob Beauprez (R), Bud Martin (L) for new district. Tossup.
CT 2nd CD: Joe Courtney (D, 21st Cent. D's, Prog Majority), Rep. Rob Simmons (R). Leans R.
CT 5th CD: Rep. Jim Maloney (D), Rep. Nancy Johnson (R). Tossup.
FL 5th CD: Rep. Karen Thurman (D), V. Brown-Waite (R). Leans D.
FL 8th CD: Eddie Diaz (D), Rep. Rick Keller (R). Leans R
FL 22nd CD: Carol Roberts (D), Rep. Clay Shaw (R). Leans R.
FL 24th CD: Harry Jacobs (D), Tom Feeney (R) in open district. Leans R.
FL 25th CD: Annie Betancourt (D, 21st Cent. D's), Mario Diaz (R). Leans R.
GA 3rd CD: Jim Marshall (D, 21st Cent. D's), Calder Clay (R), Ronnie Thompson (L) in open district. Leans D.
GA 11th CD: Roger Kahn (D), Phil Gingrey (R), Wayne Parker (L) for Bob Barr's seat. Leans D.
GA 12th CD: Charles W. Walker (D), Max Burns (R) for open district. Leans D.
IA 1st CD: Ann Hutchinson (D), Rep. Jim Nussle. Leans R.
IA 2nd CD: Julianne Thomas (D, 21st Cent. D's), Rep. Jim Leach (R), Kevin Litten (L). Tossup.
IA 3rd CD: Rep. Leonard Boswell (D), Stan Thompson (R), Jeffrey Smith (L). Leans D.
IA 4th CD: John Norris (D, 21st Cent. D's, Prog. Majority), Rep. Tom Latham (R), Terry Wilson (L). Leans R.
IL 19th CD: Rep. David Phelps (D), Rep. John Shimkus (R) redistricted together. Tossup.
IN 2nd CD: Jill L. Thompson (D), Chris Chocola (R) for Tim Roemer's (D) seat. Tossup.
IN 7th CD: Julia Carson (D), Brose McVey (R), Andrew Horning (L). Leans D.
IN 8th CD: Bryan Hartke (D), John Hostettler (R), Pam Williams (L). Leans R
IN 9th CD: Rep. Baron Hill (D), Mike Sodrel (R), Jeff Melton (G), Al Cox (L). Leans D.
KS 3rd CD: Rep. Dennis Moore (D), Adam Taff (R), Doug Martin (L). Leans D.
KY 1st CD: Klint Alexander (D), Rep. Edward Whitfield. Likely R.
KY 3rd CD: Jack Conway (D), Rep. Anne Northup. Leans R.
KY 4th CD: Ken Lucas (D), Geoff Davis (R), John Grote (L). Leans D.
LA 5th CD: Rodney Alexander (D, state rep.), Robert Barham (R, state senator), Lee Fletcher (R, former congressional aide), Clyde Holloway (R, former US rep.), Vinson Mouser (L) for John Cooksey's district. Leans R.
MD 8th CD: Chris Van Hollen (D), Constance Morella (R). Tossup.
MD 2nd CD: CA Dutch Ruppersberger (D), Helen Bentley for Bob Ehrlich's (R) seat. Leans D.
ME 2nd CD: Michael Michaud (D), Kevin Raye (R) for Baldacci's (D) seat. Leans D.
MI 9th CD: David Fink (D), Joe Knollenberg (R), Dick Jozniak (L). Leans R
MI 10th CD: Carl Marlinga (D), Candice Miller (R), Renae Coon (L) for David Bonior's (D) seat. Leans R.
MI 11th Kevin Kelley (D), Thaddeus McCotter (R), William Boyd (G), Michael Corliss (L). Leans R.
MN 2nd CD: Rep. Bill Luther (D), John Kline (R). Tossup.
MN 6th CD: Janet Robert (D), Rep. Mark Kennedy (R). Leans R.
MS 3rd CD: Rep. Ronnie Shows (D), Rep. Chip Pickering (R), Brad MCD:onald (L). Leans R.
NC 8th CD: Chris Kouri (D), Rep. Robin Hayes (R), Mark A. Johnson (L). Leans R.
NC:13th CD: Brad Miller (D), Carolyn Grant (R), Alex MCD:onald (L) in open district. Leans D.
ND AL Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D, 21st Cent. D's), Rick Clayburgh (R). Likely D.
NH 1st CD: Martha F. Clark (D, 21st Cent. D's, Prog Majority), Jeb Bradley (R), Dan Belforti (L) for John Sununu's (R) seat. Tossup.
NH 2nd CD: Katrina Swett (D), Rep. Charles Bass (R), Rosalie Babiarz (L). Leans R.
NJ 5th CD: Anne Sumers (D), Scott Garrett (R) for Roukema's (R) seat. Leans D.
NJ 7th CD: Tim Carden (D), Rep. Mike Ferguson (R), Darren Young (L). Leans R.
NJ 12th CD: Rep. Rush Holt (D), DeForest Soaries (R), Carl Mayer (G), Tom Abrams (L). Tossup.
NM 1st CD: Richard Romero (D, 21st Cent. D's, Prog. Majority), Rep. Heather Wilson (R). Leans R.
NM 2nd CD: John Arthur Smith (D), Steve Pearce (R) for Jos Skeen's (R) seat. Tossup.
NV 3rd CD: Dario Herrera (D, 21st Cent. D's, Prog. Majority), Jon Porter (R), Neil Scott (L) in new district. Tossup.
OH 3rd CD: Rick Crane (D), Mike Turner (R) for Tony Hall's (D) seat. Leans R.
OH 17th CD: Timothy Ryan (D), Ann Benjamin (R) v. James Traficant (I) for the seat from which Traficant was expelled. Leans D.
OK 4th CD: Darryl Roberts (D), Tom Cole for JC Watt's (R) seat. Leans R.
PA 6th CD: Dan Wofford (D), Gerlach (R) Holden's. Leans R.
PA 15th CD: Ed O'Brien (D, 21st Cent. D's, Prog. Majority), Rep. Pat Toomey (R). Leans R.
PA:17th CD: Rep. Tim Holden (D), Rep. George Gekas (R). Leans D.
SD At Large CD: Stephanie Herseth (D, 21st Cent. D's), Bill Janklow (R), Terry Begay (L) for Thune's (R) seat. Tossup.
TN 4th CD: Lincoln Davis (D), Janice Bowling (R) for Van Hilleary's (R) seat. Leans D.
TX 5th CD: Ron Chapman (D), Jeb Hensarling (R), Thomas Kemper (G), Dan Michalski (L) for Pete Sessions' (R) seat. Leans R.
TX 23rd CD: Henry Cuellar (D), Rep. Henry Bonilla (R), Ed Scharf (G), Jeffrey Blunt (L). Leans R.
TX 25th CD: Chris Bell (D), Tom Reiser (R), Guy McLendon (L). Leans D.
UT 2nd CD: Rep. Jim Matheson (D), John Swallow (R), Patrick Diehl (G), Ron Copier (L). Leans D.
WA 2nd CD: Rep. Rick Larsen (D), Norma Smith (R), Bruce Guthrie (L). Leans D.
WV 2nd CD: Jim Humphreys (D), Shelley Moore Capito (R). Leans R.