The 2010 elections, in which Republicans had a net gain of 63 seats in the House, was one for the record books. It was the most impressive showing by the GOP since 1938, when their net House pick up was 80 seats, and the best showing by any party in the House since 1948, when the Democrats added 75 seats. The sweep of two years ago more than wiped out the gains made by the Democrats in the House of 2006 (31 seats) and 2008 (20 more).
But many of those districts that went to the GOP were longtime Democratic bastions. In several situations, the Republicans who won in 2010 were far more conservative than the districts in which they were elected. And so the question for 2012 has always been: How much of a rebound would the Democrats make? And would they get the 25 seats they needed to return Nancy Pelosi as Speaker?
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Among the most vulnerable House incumbents are Jim Matheson (D-Utah), Charlie Bass (R-N.H.), John Tierney (D-Mass.) and Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.).
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A review of all 435 House races indicates that is not likely to happen. In fact, there may not be much of a change at all.
For all the talk about endangered Republican incumbents — such as Roscoe Bartlett of Md., Joe Walsh of Ill. and Charlie Bass of N.H. — there are also Democrats who find themselves in big trouble, such as Larry Kissell of N.C., Kathy Hochul of N.Y. and Jim Matheson of Utah. For all the talk about how redistricting has hurt the GOP in states like Illinois, redrawn boundaries are damaging Democratic chances in, say, Ohio. Scandal may bring down Republicans like David Rivera of Fla., but it sure ain't helping Democrats such as John Tierney in Mass. And even if some districts are likely to return to their Democratic roots — making GOP freshmen like Chip Cravaack of Minn. and Francisco Canseco of Texas quite vulnerable — the retirements of many Democrats in the South, such as Mike Ross of Ark., Dan Boren of Okla. and Heath Shuler of N.C., open up those seats to Republicans.
The final week or so of campaigning could potentially see a surge for one party or the other. But I'm guessing not. What is clear is that after three successive tidal-wave elections — 2006 and 2008 for the Democrats and 2010 for the Republicans — not much net change is anticipated for this year's contests.
Here is a subjective list of the Top 50 House races to watch on Election Night. (NOTE: Alphabetical by state ... Democrats are listed first ... incumbent is in CAPS ... incumbent party indicated with asterisk.)
State/CD Democrat vs. Republican
AZ 01 (new) Ann Kirkpatrick vs. Jonathan Paton
AZ 09 (new) Kyrsten Sinema vs. Vernon Parker
CA 07 Ami Bera vs. DAN LUNGREN
CA 10 Jose Hernandez vs. JEFF DENHAM
CA 21 (new) John Hernandez vs. David Valadao
CA 24 LOIS CAPPS vs. Abel Maldonado
CA 26 (Elton Gallegly retiring) Julia Brownley vs. Tony Strickland*
CA 36 Raul Ruiz vs. MARY BONO MACK
CA 41 (new) Mark Takano vs. John Tavaglione
CA 52 Scott Peters vs. BRIAN BILBRAY
CT 05 (Chris Murphy running for Senate) Elizabeth Esty* vs. Andrew Roraback
FL 18 Patrick Murphy vs. ALLEN WEST
FL 22 (new) Lois Frankel vs. Adam Hasner
FL 26 Joe Garcia vs. DAVID RIVERA
GA 12 JOHN BARROW vs. Lee Anderson
IL 08 Tammy Duckworth vs. JOE WALSH
IL 10 Brad Schneider vs. ROBERT DOLD
IL 11 Bill Foster vs. JUDY BIGGERT
IL 17 Cheri Bustos vs. BOBBY SCHILLING
IN 02 (Joe Donnelly running for Senate) Brendan Mullen* vs. Jackie Walorski
IA 03 LEONARD BOSWELL vs. TOM LATHAM
IA 04 Christie Vilsack vs. STEVE KING
KY 06 BEN CHANDLER vs. Andy Barr
MD 06 John Delaney vs. ROSCOE BARTLETT
MA 06 JOHN TIERNEY vs. Richard Tisei
MI 01 Gary McDowell vs. DAN BENISHEK
MN 06 Jim Graves vs. MICHELE BACHMANN
MN 08 Rick Nolan vs. CHIP CRAVAACK
NV 03 John Oceguera vs. JOE HECK
NV 04 (new) Steve Horsford vs. Danny Tarkanian
NH 01 Carol Shea-Porter vs. FRANK GUINTA
NH 02 Ann McLane Kuster vs. CHARLIE BASS
NY 01 TIM BISHOP vs. Randy Altschuler
NY 11 Mark Murphy vs. MICHAEL GRIMM
NY 18 Sean Patrick Maloney vs. NAN HAYWORTH
NY 24 Dan Maffei vs. ANN MARIE BUERKLE
NY 25 LOUISE SLAUGHTER vs. Maggie Brooks
NY 27 KATHY HOCHUL vs. Chris Collins
NC 07 MIKE MCINTYRE vs. David Rouzer
NC 08 LARRY KISSELL vs. Richard Hudson
NC 11 (Heath Shuler retiring) Hayden Rogers* vs. Mark Meadows
NC 13 (Brad Miller retiring) Charles Malone* vs. George Holding
OH 06 Charlie Wilson vs. BILL JOHNSON
OH 16 BETTY SUTTON vs. JIM RENACCI
PA 12 MARK CRITZ vs. Keith Rothfus
RI 01 DAVID CICILLINE vs. Brendan Doherty
TX 14 (Ron Paul retiring) Nick Lampson vs. Randy Weber*
TX 23 Pete Gallego vs. QUICO CANSECO
UT 04 JIM MATHESON vs. Mia Love
WA 01 (Jay Inslee running for governor) Suzan DelBene* vs. John Koster
I still need 2012 campaign buttons! If you have a Senate, House or gubernatorial button from this year's campaigns that I need, I will gladly send you a set of these incredibly valuable Political Junkie buttons in return. Let me know what you have!
Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week — some serious, some not — on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin. Here are some attempted answers to readers' questions:
Q: What do you think of this scenario? President Obama is re-elected. In Massachusetts, Senator Scott Brown is re-elected. Obama appoints Sen. John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State; in turn, Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick appoints Elizabeth Warren to replace Kerry in the Senate. — James McKinstra, Hibbing, Minn.
A: I'm not convinced Brown is going to win. But even if he does, I don't think Gov. Patrick would appoint someone to the Senate who was just defeated in her own election. There are a lot of Massachusetts Democrats angling for the Senate appointment should Kerry be named to head the State Department.
Q: I live in Benton County, a red county in eastern Washington State. This year we have a presidential, a gubernatorial, and a senatorial race. What is weird is while we have some presidential ads aired here, we have A LOT of gubernatorial ads, but I have yet to see one ad for either candidate in the Senate race. In previous elections, there are campaign signs everywhere. It's almost as if the Senate race doesn't exist. — Kirsten Crippen, Kennewick, Wash.
A: Well, compared to the Jay Inslee (D) vs. Rob McKenna (R) gubernatorial race, it doesn't. Democratic Senate incumbent Maria Cantwell has an overwhelming lead against her Republican opponent, state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, who comes from the eastern part of the state and is not well known in the more populous western part. In addition, he has not raised much money. Part of the reason the GOP is not investing in Baumgartner's candidacy is that they are focusing on the gov. race, where they are thought to have a better shot.
Q: I live in Massachusetts and how I am deciding my vote is whoever bothers me with the least junk mail will get my vote. So far it looks like Mitt Romney for president and Jonathan Golnik for Congress. The Warren vs. Brown Senate race is in a dead heat as of today; their mail stacks are both about two inches tall. Phone calls make me take one from the caller's opposition and put it in the caller's pile. — Matthew Herget, Townsend, Mass.
A: Count your blessings. At least you're not living in a presidential battleground swing state.
Q: In the Sept. 24 column, you compiled a list of Senate races between two female candidates in history. Did you really forget about Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina in California in 2010? — Gary Nielsen, Tampa, Fla.
A: Inexplicably, I did. Good catch.
Q: Your Oct. 10 Political Junkie trivia question was, "Who was the last vice president elected the same year an Ohio professional sports team won a championship. You gave the answer as 1976, when Walter Mondale was elected V.P. and the Cincinnati Reds won the World Series. This answer is incorrect. On November 23, 2008, the Columbus Crew defeated the New York Red Bulls 3-1 to win the MLS Cup, a day that is still revered by many of us here in Columbus. That same month Joe Biden was elected vice president.
The Columbus Crew is a professional sports team playing in a professional sports league, Major League Soccer (MLS). It is not collegiate, minor league, or some other semi-professional sport. For Ken to be broadcasting from Columbus at the time but to still have the audacious tenacity to dismiss MLS and the accomplishments of this city's beloved yellow soccer team is greatly disheartening and probably most egregious error ever committed in the history of radio broadcasts ... although I am sure my heartache and dismay could easily be rectified by receiving a Political Junkie t-shirt of my own.
To be fair, I believe Ken did narrowly tailor his question when he first posed it by saying "professional" included football, basketball, baseball, or hockey. But in second reference the question was said as just "professional." So, either the Political Junkie and NPR do not recognize Major League Soccer as a professional sports league (although all indications suggest that it will soon replace NHL in the "Big Four"), or they simply "dropped the ball" on the question. — Ben Hoelzel, Columbus, Ohio (similarly, Mark Merck of West Fargo, N.D.; James Schramm of St. Clairsville, Ohio; Frank McCormick of Boise, Idaho; and Martin Long of Arlington, Mass.)
A: When I asked the question, I did indeed limit the sports to football, baseball, basketball and hockey. But Ben is right in that subsequent readings of the question, Neal Conan and I just said "professional" teams. And so I understand why so many people thought I made a mistake. And that's why I gave so much space to this issue. And no, Ben, you're not getting a t-shirt.
Q: My prediction in your Electoral Vote contest is Obama 274, Romney 264. Would this be the closest electoral contest ever? — Jami Weinman, San Francisco, Calif.
A: It's hard to get closer to the 2000 election, where George W. Bush finished with 271 electoral votes — one more than the magic number of 270 — and Al Gore with 266. (Gore should have had 267 EVs, but one Gore elector from the District of Columbia withheld her vote.)
Q: Who was the first spouse to speak for a presidential candidate at a national convention? And I mean a real speech, not just "Here's my husband...". I can't imagine Mamie Eisenhower speaking at a convention! — Charles Hamm, Raleigh, N.C.
A: Mamie did not, but Eleanor Roosevelt did, in July of 1940. And she spoke less of her husband than she did of FDR's choice of Henry Wallace to be his running mate. Wallace was a controversial pick, objected to by many Democrats who saw him as far too liberal. President Roosevelt didn't attend the Chicago convention and left it to his wife to quell the potential insurrection:
"We cannot tell from day to day what may come. This is no ordinary time. No time for weighing anything except what we can do best for the country as a whole, and that responsibility rests on each and every one of us as individuals."
According to the FDR Library, "the effect of her words was transformative. A silence marked by respect and admiration followed her message, somberly and palpably shifting the atmosphere. Balloting began immediately after she sat down and the Convention went on to nominate Henry A. Wallace to run alongside Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 election."
But the liberal Wallace still was not a popular choice and even though he managed to win enough delegate support, he was asked not to address the convention.
In Memoriam: George McGovern, 1922-2012
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McGovern was elected to the House in 1956, the Senate in 1962, and was the Dem prez nominee in 1972.
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Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions and sparkling jokes. Two weeks ago, we dissected the second Obama-Romney debate. You can listen to that show here.
Oct. 17 Junkie segment on TOTN
And last week, we focused on House and Senate races. And that can be heard here.
Oct. 24 TOTN Junkie segment
Podcast. There's also a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," up every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner in crime, Ron Elving, and me. Since there was no Political Junkie column, you can hear the last two episodes here:
And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can usually be found in this spot every Monday or Tuesday. A randomly selected winner will be announced every Wednesday during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. Not only is there incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner also gets the very famous Junkie T-shirt!
Most recent winner: Clare Weinkam of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at email@example.com.
******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********
This day in political history: Associate Justice William O. Douglas, 75, becomes the longest member of the U.S. Supreme Court in history, serving 34 years, 196 days. He breaks the record held by Justice Stephen Field, who served from 1863-97 (Oct. 29, 1973). First appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, Douglas was a Democratic presidential hopeful in 1948. He will serve on the Court until he retires in November 1975, citing the effects of a major stroke. He died Jan. 19, 1980.
Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: firstname.lastname@example.org