Preview Of Fall House Races

Political writer Shira Toeplitz of Roll Call talks with Melissa Block about how turnover in the House this year could change the shape of Congress.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From the presidential race to the fight over control of Congress. Yesterday on the program, we talked about the Senate and whether Republicans might be able to flip the four seats they need to take control there. Well, today, we're moving to the other chamber to talk about prospects for the House of Representatives. What would it would take for Democrats to regain that majority?

I'm joined once again by political writer Shira Toeplitz, of Roll Call. And Shira, all 435 House seats are up. How many net seats would the Democrats need to win in November if they want to take control of House?

SHIRA TOEPLITZ: Democrats need 25 seats. And that may not seem like that many, but it's actually quite a lot when you look at the dynamics of each election in each House race, and which ones would be competitive.

BLOCK: And does redistricting hurt them in that effort? A lot of statehouses are now in Republican hands, and did redistricting to favor Republican candidates.

TOEPLITZ: I think redistricting, on the whole, probably hurt Democrats just a little bit. For the most part, it was pretty even. But it hurt them in the long term more than the short term, and here's why. When Republican lawmakers redrew the lines all over the country, they solidified these lines, basically, for the next 10 years. So a lot of the gains Republicans made last cycle, they've been solidified. They've been shored up. They've moved more Republicans into those districts of their most vulnerable members. And as a result, Democrats are going to have a much more difficult time winning those seats back over the course of the next 10 years.

BLOCK: Let's talk a bit about the Tea Party freshmen, who were elected two years ago in that big wave. Do you think that they look really viable this time around, too? Are they still broadly supported back home?

TOEPLITZ: The wave that swept 2010 was so big. You had a huge class - 85 freshman Republican members. That is huge. This was the largest freshman class for 60 years. And in that class, you had some political novices. About a third of the freshman Republicans were political novices. And so they probably need to learn a couple of things. I think of some of their re-election races will be a lot harder to win than their first races.

BLOCK: Some of the people who paid the price for that Tea Party wave were Blue Dog Democrats - centrist, fiscally conservative Democrats, a number of whom were voted out in 2010. What about in 2012, do you think - are they an endangered species, a dying breed?

TOEPLITZ: Absolutely. Blue Dog Democrats were already on the verge of extinction, and it still is not looking much better in 2012. This group, in many ways, is really at a turning point in Congress right now because their ranks are dwindling very, very quickly. They're losing a significant amount of their membership - not only to members in contests, which they will probably lose this cycle because their districts have been redrawn, but also a lot of Blue Dog members who are saying, hey, I'm just not going to run for re-election. This isn't worth it.

BLOCK: Of the hundreds and hundreds of races that you're going to be following, Shira, are there a couple that you're paying particularly close attention to, that really strike you as something interesting going on?

TOEPLITZ: Well, at Roll Call, we cover Congress. So we're always very interested when a very senior member gets a primary challenge, and one that might look substantive. Right now, we're keeping our eyes a little bit on Spencer Bachus, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee - he has a primary challenge - as well as Rep. Dave Camp, who's also another longtime committee chair and a very powerful one at that. He also has a primary challenge. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Rep. Dave Camp is not facing a Republican primary challenge.]

BLOCK: And the challengers - are they sort of, of a Tea Party stripe; people who are saying - sort of - throw the bums out? Who are they?

TOEPLITZ: It's very similar to the challengers we saw last cycle, who came and ran in Republican primaries against longtime incumbents. These are Tea Party activists. These are very conservative Republicans who are coming in and saying hey, we don't like the way you vote; the voters of this district don't like the way you voted; you're not conservative enough for us; I'm a better choice.

BLOCK: Shira, what national trends are you going to be looking for as we head toward November, that might signal whether there are shifts coming in terms of who controls the House?

TOEPLITZ: I'm going to be looking a lot at how much money matters, and how much superPACs matter, in particular; the kind of money they're willing to spend. In past years, in previous campaigns, basically, for the last decade, incumbents who raised a lot of money did a really good job of being able to get their message out, and they would be much safer for re-election.

I'm not sure that's as much the case anymore. I think with a lot of outside spending from these superPACs, I think that could change this. And additionally, I think just the way members get messages out - with the Internet and a lot of new technology, and the activation of the Tea Party groups - has really changed the dynamic of entire primary and general election campaign.

BLOCK: Shira Toeplitz, thanks so much.

TOEPLITZ: Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: Shira Toeplitz is a political writer for Roll Call. We were talking about the prospects for House races in 2012.

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Correction March 9, 2012

In this interview, Roll Call's Shira Toeplitz incorrectly stated that Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan is facing a Republican primary challenger. He is not.

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