With the Crystal Ball shifting 21 House race ratings in their direction last week, the national picture looks bright for Republicans, both from a birds-eye view and also from a race-by-race perspective. This week we nudge three more Democratic-held House seats into more competitive categories, as we hone in on where exactly the GOP gains we have long projected will come from.
As a result of these changes, Democrats now hold 28 seats we already have leaning towards the Republicans, and they are playing defense in another 22 districts they currently hold which we list as “Toss-Ups.” For their part, Republicans hold just two seats currently rated “Leans Democratic” plus two additional “Toss-Up” seats. All together, we consider 95 Democratic-held districts to be competitive at this juncture, while only 17 Republican seats are in play.
IL-11 (Halvorson-D): Rep. Debbie Halvorson’s 2008 victory went from nail-biter to blowout, as she ended up with a 58%-34% margin of victory despite running in an open seat race in Republican territory. With a stronger Republican nominee on the ballot, no hometown Obama coattails to ride, and the Democratic brand now severely tarnished, this election never seemed as easy. Her GOP opponent is 32 year-old veteran Adam Kinzinger who had already raised over $1 million by the end of June. With the national Republican cavalry charging in to provide assistance, his message is already being heard on the district’s very pricey airwaves. The recent polling here shows his message is resonating. By early August Kinzinger’s campaign had a poll showing them over the crucial 50% threshold and leading Halvorson by double-digits. A nonpartisan poll from The Hill newspaper this week showed similar numbers, but painted an even bleaker picture for Democrats’ chances of holding the seat, with Halvorson trailing 49%-31%. It is against this background that the Crystal Ball rating changes from Toss-Up to Leans Republican.
NY-23 (Owens-D): Remember November? The new Republican tagline also sounds a cautionary note regarding this upstate New York district. In November 2009, just as Republicans were sweeping to victory in the New Jersey and Virginia governors’ races, the GOP fumbled away this House seat in a special election. Democrat Bill Owens became the new congressman due to infighting between Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman and Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava over the nomination process and Scozzafava’s moderate to liberal positions. In the end it was Scozzafava who dropped out at the last minute to try to salvage the seat, but the cake was baked. Again this year Hoffman will carry the Conservative Party label with the Republican mantle belonging to Matt Doheny, a much more conservative nominee than Scozzafava. After being abandoned by the Tea Party and donors who had supported last year’s bid, Hoffman endorsed Doheny this week and will cease campaigning, although his name may remain on the ballot. With a major stumbling block for Republicans now removed, the Crystal Ball changes our rating from Leans Democratic to Toss-Up.
WI-08 (Kagen-D): A series of shocking polls have shaken up this race, as Republicans argue that Democratic Rep. Steve Kagen is not only endangered, but on his way out the door. They point to two Republican-affiliated polls in the past month showing double-digit leads for their nominee, roofing contractor Reid Ribble. Kagen’s race has never been considered among the most competitive, as he is not a freshman (elected in 2006) and Ribble was never a highly touted candidate. Through the end of August, Kagen held an 11-to-1 advantage in campaign cash, but with the competitive GOP primary now over and Ribble on the NRCC’s list of “Young Guns,” a competitive race is likely. As this race heats up, the Crystal Ball rating in this district shifts from Likely Democratic to Leans Democratic.