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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

Completing this series of posts, let’s look at House races that could be danger districts for Democrats because Republicans, presuming they have resources and can recruit good candidates, almost certainly will be targeting them as 2010 pickups.

To repeat an earlier summary statistic, there were 49 so-called “McCain Democrat” divided districts–that is, districts that in 2008 elected a Democrat to the House but that John McCain carried. More than a third are located in just five states: Pennsylvania (5), Arkansas, Arizona, Ohio and Tennessee (3 each).

Of greater interest are the margins by which McCain carried these 49 districts. In some cases, the split-ticket voting is remarkable, with McCain posting 20-plus point margins despite Democratic winners. Not surprisingly, these districts are home to many Blue Dog Democrats who are popular back home in part because they have consistently centrist voting records; even less shocking is how many are southern Democrats. Few of these are really in any electoral jeopardy, at least in the districts as currently configured, including members like Gene Taylor (MS-4, McCain margin 36 points, Taylor vote share 75%); Marion Berry (AR-1, 20, uncontested); Bart Gordon (TN-6, 25, uncontested); and Charlie Melancon (LA-3, 24, uncontested). Without beating the Whistling Past Dixie horse to death, it’s important to realize that these districts are safe now, but (a) may be less so starting in 2012, depending on redistricting outcomes; and (b) regardless of boundaries, if these popular incumbents retire Republicans will be well positioned for capturing these seats.

Elsewhere among this southern-dominated group of McCain Democrats are some seats that Republicans might be able to use anti-Obama sentiments and resistance to expanding government to make a run at Democratic incumbents, especially without Obama on the ticket. These might therefore be better split into three groups, based on whether and to what degree Obama’s presumed downballot effect helped them in 2008 but may not next year:

Non-swing state McCain Democrats from districts McCain carried by wide margins include:

  1. Chet Edwards (TX-17, McCain margin 35 points, Edwards vote share 53%)
  2. Bobby Bright (AL-2, 26, 50)
  3. Parker Griffith (AL-5, 26, 52)
  4. Walt Minnick (ID-1, 26, 51)
  5. Childers (MS-1, 24, 54)
  6. Frank Kratovil (MD-1, 19, 49)

If you’re looking for a pattern among this half dozen, it’s pretty obvious: Four of them are rookies, and a fifth (Childers) is essentially a rookie because he first came to the House via special election in 2008. And although it might seem like they are safer because they won despite any downballot pull from Obama, all but Minnick have significant minority populations which surely contributed to their competitiveness despite their state overall providing solid wins for McCain (or, in the case of MD, Obama). These Dems have giant targets on their backs.

Swing-state McCain Democrats from districts McCain carried barely include:

  1. Tom Perriello (VA-5, 51, 50)
  2. Betsy Markey (CO-4, 50, 56)
  3. Harry Teague (NM-2, 50, 56)
  4. John Murtha (PA-12, 49, 58)
  5. Kathleen Dahlkemper (PA-3, 49, 51)

Again, this list is dominated by freshmen. All but Murtha are rookies, and if Murtha’s 58 percent re-election total looks safe, keep in mind that he’s on the front page of the Washington Post today, with news of another potentially shady deal. This quintet is potentially in even greater danger than the group above because they almost certainly benefited from Obama’s spending, presence and organization–resources likely unavailable to them in 2010.

Finally, there are a couple of McCain Democrats to keep an eye on because they hail from districts McCain carried barely in the non-battleground states and, again, are rookies trying to get past that critical, sophomore cycle: Eric Massa (NY-29, 50, 51) and Ann Kirkpatrick (*AZ-1, 54, 56).

So, in short, Democratic rookies beware.

*AZ is arguably a special case because it is McCain’s home state and might become a battleground in 2012; but because Obama fared pretty well there Kirkpatrick may have a tougher time there in an off-year cycle, especially since she was running in a Republican scandal-plagued district.

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