Tracking This Year's 'Trigger' Districts

In the days leading up to the election, pollsters are tracking as many as 100 House districts across the country — the "swing" districts. The key 20 or so are dubbed "trigger" districts. These are the traditionally Republican districts that Democrats took in 2006 and 2008. If they go Republican early Tuesday night, it could suggest a big GOP wave. Host Guy Raz talks to NPR political editor Ken Rudin about the races we should be looking for Tuesday.

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GUY RAZ, host:

And for more on which races to look out for, I'm joined by NPR's political editor Ken Rudin.

Hi, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Guy.

RAZ: So we just heard Andy Kohut from Pew talk about what voters are saying about this election. Let me ask about another factor that pollsters will be looking at - you'll be looking at.

These are so-called trigger districts. First, can you explain what a trigger district is?

RUDIN: There are a select number of districts that we're watching that, in this case, Democratic incumbents are holding on to long-time Republican seats that either they've held them for the last two years or four years and who are very vulnerable in 2010.

RAZ: And those will give us a sense of where this election is headed if those trigger seats start to go Republican.

RUDIN: Absolutely, because at least 95 percent of all the vulnerable seats that are out there are currently held by the Democrats. Their majority is clearly in jeopardy.

RAZ: So how many of these trigger races need to go Republican to suggest this Republican tsunami?

RUDIN: Well, if we're talking about 100 Democratic seats in play, even if the Republicans win half of them, all they need is 39 to make John Boehner the next speaker of the House.

So but there's also, you know, another way of looking at it. Sit down election night and look at the clock. Like, for example, at 7 o'clock, Indiana is going to close. At 7:30, Ohio is going to close.

There are key Democratic candidates there who either were elected in '06 and '08 in Republican districts who are very, very vulnerable.

If these guys, like for example Joe Donnelly and Baron Hill of Indiana, or Mary Jo Kilroy (inaudible)...

RAZ: In Ohio.

RUDIN: In Ohio. If they go down, and we'll know that early, then we'll know this is going to be a very long night for the Democratic Party.

RAZ: So you're going to be looking at races in Ohio, Indiana. Any other races that we should be looking out for?

RUDIN: Absolutely. Since Chris Shays of Connecticut, a Republican, was defeated in 2008, there has not been one Republican member of Congress from the entire Northeast for the first time in history.

RAZ: Northeast, yeah.

RUDIN: Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire, who is a two-term Democrat, is very vulnerable. She could lose her seat. There's also an open seat there in New Hampshire where Paul Hodes, the Democrat, is running for the Senate. If Republicans win in New England, they're almost returning to where they were prior to 2006.

RAZ: Even Barney Frank is vulnerable, they're saying.

RUDIN: Well, here's the sense. Barney Frank usually wins with 65 percent of the vote. He may win with 55 percent of the vote or 53 percent of the vote. The point is they're making robocalls for Barney Frank, and this is the kind of Democrat they never had to bother...

RAZ: They never thought they would spend money on him.

RUDIN: Or lift a finger, absolutely.

RAZ: Ken, before you go, you've been running your own numbers. What's your prediction for Tuesday, first, for the House and then for the Senate?

RUDIN: I think I'm more conservative than most people. A lot of people think that the Republicans will have a net gain of perhaps 50 to 55 seats. My numbers show that the Republicans pick up 45, lose four seats in Hawaii, Louisiana, Illinois and Delaware, and so for a net gain of only 41, still enough to make John Boehner speaker, but not the huge numbers that others are talking about.

In the Senate, the Republicans need 10 to get a majority. I still have them winning seven. And if Harry Reid loses in Nevada, then it's eight, but no more than that. And I think the Democratic control is safe.

RAZ: And Chuck Schumer may become the majority leader of the Senate.

RUDIN: Well, he'll have a fight with Dick Durbin, who's Harry Reid's deputy.

RAZ: That's NPR's political editor Ken Rudin. You can read Ken's Political Junkie blog and see all of his election predictions at npr.org/junkie.

Ken, thank you so much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Guy.

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