House Democrats' Top Targets List: A Closer Look
Three dozen races make up the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's list of top targets among open and Republican-held House seats. But the contests are better thought of not as a single list but as three groups. Almost all of the races and candidates are emblematic of similar patterns, but each group of "Red to Blue" races highlights a different aspect of the puzzle that national Democrats are trying to put together as they attempt to take back the majority:
Open seats: Thirteen of the 36 Red to Blue races are for open seats -- five Democratic, three Republican, and five new seats created by redistricting. For the most part, these contests demonstrate how this cycle's redistricting process has not been the horror story many predicted for Democrats. All five of the new seats (four California districts and the new 10th District in Washington) are majority-minority, and former Reps. Nick Lampson, D-Texas, and Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., saw their southwestern targets get much friendlier when the maps were redrawn (subject to various court cases in the instance of Texas). Redistricting obviously boosted Republicans in many states, but Democrats have had their wins too, and several are on display in this category.
Freshmen: Another 16 districts on the list currently belong to first-term Republicans. Democrats' clearest way back to a House majority is through the areas represented by the GOP's enormous freshman class, and the DCCC is clearly confident that the party can march back into some of those districts as the Republican wave of 2010 recedes. President Obama won most of these districts -- to name a few, Rep. Robert Dold's and Rep. Joe Walsh's suburban Chicago seats and Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick's suburban Philadelphia seat -- in 2008, demonstrating Democratic viability.
Republicans argue that Democrats hit their high water mark in these areas in 2008 and that the president and his party are less attractive there now. On the other hand, many of these districts have seen rapid growth in Democratic-friendly demographics (minorities and college-educated whites) in recent years, which helped elect a number of Democrats to the House in 2004, 2006, and 2008. The question is whether 2010 represented a reversion to a GOP-leaning norm or merely a hiccup for Democrats. Judging from the Red to Blue list, the DCCC subscribes to the hiccup notion. The answer, as always, is probably somewhere in between.