Thursday, November 16, 2006

Using the Presidential Race to Identify Opportunities

Going into a midterm election, one thing each party would do, in trying to identify potential pick-ups, is look at presidential returns. Going into this year, Democrats would look for districts that Kerry carried but that were held by Republicans. Vice versa for Republicans.

Looking at the data, Kerry did not run ahead of a single Republican House member in ’04. Bush, meanwhile, ran ahead of 49 House Democrats. We know that not one of these Democratic seats changed hands. If we were to pick the 20 most “vulnerable” Republicans (including ties) coming into 2006 based on their vote relative to Kerry’s, these members would be targeted:

Member, District, Margin Over Kerry:
Simmons (CT2)--Even
Gerlach (PA6)--Even
Shays (CT4)--Even
Reichert (WA8) +1%
Nussle (IA1) +2%
Beauprez (CO7) +4%
Fitzpatrick (PA8) +4%
Leach (IA2) +4%
Wilson (NM1) +4%
Bass (NH2) +6%
Porter (NV3) +6%
Weldon (PA7) +6%
Thompson (CA1) +7%
Dent (PA15) +9%
Kuhl (NY29) +9%
Northrup (KY1) +9%
Dreier (CA26) +10%
Hyde (IL6) +10%
McCotter (MI11) +10%
Knollenberg (MI9) +10%
Sodrel (IN9) +10%

How did the Democrats do against these Republican incumbents? They picked up 9 (in bold).

Thus, while presidential returns can provide a starting point for parties trying to pick up seats, this year saw a large number of Democratic pickups in places we wouldn’t have expected coming into this cycle. Its been noted that a number of these Republican victims were tainted by scandal (Sherwood, Pombo, DeLay, Ney, Foley, Sweeney). Beyond these more “explainable” defeats, though, there certainly were some surprises (Ryun, Hayworth) that illustrate the degree to which the national or statewide mood can create unlikely victims.

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