Yes, control of the House is in play
Democrats are feeling more upbeat about their chances in the 2010 mid-term elections, claiming momentum in four Senate seats and while acknowledging that there are a lot of seats in play, they will still hang on to control of the House.
There’s not really any there there. What does it mean for a seat to be “in play”, for instance? Suppose it means a seat which the Republican has some tangible chance of winning. If that’s the case, there are more than 70 or 80 seats “in play”. In fact, there are 101 Democrat-held seats that are rated as something other than safe by at least one of the “Big 4″ forecasters (Cook, CQ, Rothenberg, Sabato). And if you include Real Clear Politics’ forecasts in the mix, the total rises to 108.
That’s a fairly liberal definition of “in play”, but at least it’s one with some concrete standard attached. By a slightly more conservative definition — a seat is “in play” if at least three of the five forcasters noted above think it is — the figure is 89 seats, still higher than the range that the DCCC memo suggests.
The DCCC memo also argues that there’s like no freaking way that the Republicans can win more than about 60 percent of the seats that happen to be “in play”, however that’s defined:
To win 43 seats, the NRCC would need to put 70 to 80 seats in play.
I don’t really know what the basis for this claim is. Would it be impossible for the Republicans to win 43 seats, for instance, if there were 69 of them “in play” rather than 70? If you tossed a fair coin 69 times, there is only about a 3 percent chance that it would come up tails on at least 43 of those occasions. But elections to Congress aren’t like that; the outcomes aren’t independent of one another. If the pollsters aren’t quite capturing the full magnitude of anti-Democratic sentiment, for instance, that’s going to affect a lot of races, and a large fraction of the “toss-ups” could go to the Republicans.
So with all of this, you’re asking, “Do Democrats really have a chance of losing the House?” Well, yesterday the Cook Political Report updated their forecast for the mid-terms:
The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 32 to 42 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 255 Democratic and 178 Republican House members and two vacant seats, one formerly held by a Democrat and one by a Republican. Republicans need to net 39 seats to reach a bare majority of 218 seats.
We’re three months away, and with divisions in the House and between Congress and the Obama Administration becoming more evident, Republicans have a real shot at pulling it off.