Roll Call reports today that the DCCC is already formulating a strategy to target the most vulnerable Republicans in the upcoming election cycle. The DCCC is defining a "marginal Republican district" as one in which Obama carried in 2008, or a seat that the Republican won with less than 55% of the vote. According to Roll Call, the GOP holds 61 seats won by Obama, and 32 that fit both criteria.
This might sound like a cause for disquietude, as Republicans will only hold a 24 seat majority in the 112th congress. However, not everything is as rosy for the Democrats as the DCCC would have you believe. While the Democrats are trying to compare their electoral prospects in 2012 to the GOP's in 2010, there are some major differences that provide a more optimistic outlook for Republicans.
1. The Obama electoral map was an anomaly and is totally obsolete. Nobody believes that he will carry the second district in Nebraska, or even come close to it. Based upon his dismal approval ratings, it is highly unlikely that he would carry Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia. The reality is that the Bush electoral map (or the Charlie Cook PVI) is a better standard to which one should measure the vulnerability of a district.
By that measure, the Republicans aren't nearly as overextend as the Democrats were, headed into the 2010 Midterms. Prior to November, the Democrats held almost 70 R rated districts. As we head into the 2012 elections, the Republicans will only hold 17 D rated districts and 7 that are rated as even. Also, most of those 14 Democrat districts are rated as D+2 or less, while only one district (Mark Kirk's old seat), is rated over D+5. Contrast that to the Democrat majority of 2008, in which they held 35 seats rated as R+5 or more, with many of them being R+10 or more. The bottom line is that despite all of the hype concerning the potential for Republicans to win deep blue districts like Barney Frank's, it never materialized. Most of their gains were from the red districts of the Blue Dog Democrats. They are in a solid position to hold every one of those conservative leaning seats.
2. Even though the Republicans decimated the blue dog coalition, they did not pick the map clean of red district Democrats. In fact, there are still 17 R rated districts and two even ones held by Democrats. Thus, there are still more overexposed Democrats than Republicans, even after the midterm shellacking! Furthermore, 8 of those Democrats are in districts rated R+5 or higher, with a couple that are still in R+10 districts. Although these Blue Dogs were able to hold to their seats in 2010, they only did so by the skin of their teeth. Keep in mind that Obama was not on the ballot in 2012, so they were able to distinguish themselves as "conservative Democrats". Blue Dogs like Joe Donnelly (IN-2) won by a diminutive margins after running ads attacking Reid and Pelosi. These pseudo-moderates will have to defend their seat in states like Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, and West Virginia with Obama on the ballot in 2012. They will face a more daunting task in distinguishing themselves from the top of the ticket.
3. All of these calculations don't factor in the effects of reapportionment and redistricting. Let's first examine the states that have gained or lost seats:
States gaining Congressional seats: Arizona (1), Florida (2), Georgia (1), Nevada (1), South Carolina (1), Texas (4), Utah (1), Washington (1).
States losing Congressional seats: Illinois (1), Iowa (1), Louisiana (1), Massachusetts (1), Michigan (1), Missouri (1), New Jersey (1), New York (2), Ohio (2), Pennsylvania (1)
With Republicans gaining several red state districts from reapportionment, and Democrats losing several blue state districts, we are automatically slated to net a few more seats. For example; while Republicans will inevitably gain a seat in Utah, the Democrats will automatically lose a seat in Massachusetts.
Once we factor in the Republicans' unrivaled control over most of the redistricting, the outlook is even bleaker for Democrats. The Republicans should easily gain a seat in Arizona, Georgia, and South Carolina, while netting one or two seats in Texas. The Republicans will also control the process in some states that are losing seats. This provides them with an easy opportunity to net a seat, simply by eliminating a Democrat district. In Missouri, they can easily obliterate Russ Carnahan's district and combine it with the St. Louis district of William Clay. They will also have an opportunity to eliminate Mark Critz in Pennsylvania, an urban district in Michigan, at least one Democrat seat in Ohio, and possibly a seat in Iowa. Even in New York, where the Democrats control everything except the Senate, the population shift will force them to eliminate a NYC district and an upstate one. The worst outcome of such an arrangement would be a draw for Republicans.
In other states slated to gain or lose seats, Nevada and New Jersey have divided governments, which will provide us at least with an even chance. Florida gained two seats, but based upon the demographic shifts, and the fact that redistricting is controlled by an independent panel, there will probably be no net gain for us.
The only state that is a major problem for us is Illinois. The Democrats will control the redistricting process and will have an opportunity to eliminate one of the four freshmen Republicans. In addition, they will try to make life harder for the other three. Louisiana might present a minor problem because we must eliminate a Republican district. However, there is no doubt that as a package deal, reapportionment and redistricting will be a net boon for Republicans. At worst, it will merely help preserve and strengthen the existing Republican majority.
In conclusion, based upon the electoral map, reapportionment, and redistricting, it is very unlikely that the Republicans will incur a net loss in the 2012 elections. On the other hand, there is at least an even chance that they will gain seats. Redistricting alone can result in a net gain of 10 seats. And although there is a reasonable chance that we can lose a few seats (especially in Illinois), there are even more pickup opportunities to overcome those losses. It is not outlandish to envision an election result in which we net 20 seats in the House, even if we take a conservative approach to redistricting. Amazingly, we still would not be as overexposed as the Democrats were this past year. Keep dreamin' away, Democrats. Get used to being in the minority. No wonder why they are so obsessed with granting minorities extra rights!