I have already written that the 2006 election cycle offers Democrats an excellent opportunity to make serious gains in the House, possibly even the 15 seats they need to win a House majority. A Democratic wave seems likely to develop.
That said, some of the early assertions being thrown around about how many competitive House races there will be this cycle are foolish, indicating a misunderstanding of the 2006 landscape and how it compares to what happened in 1994.
It may make great copy to write that 100 GOP seats could be in play, or that recent Republican troubles could double the number of contested House races from 40 to 80 seats. But those numbers are no more credible than the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s hyperbolic assertion in an Oct. 21 press release that the party has “45 strong candidates for change.”
Let’s take a serious look at where the fight for the House stands and where it might be headed.
Democrats have a number of strong candidates running in GOP open seats, including two each in Iowa’s 1st district and Colorado’s 7th, plus one in the Minnesota 6th. They also have good candidates in their own open seats — Maryland’s 3rd, Ohio’s 6th and Vermont’s at-large seat.
But recruiting strong hopefuls to seek a party’s own open seats isn’t news, and the Iowa and Colorado races are in tossup districts, in which both parties are expected to field strong candidates.
The test for the Democrats will be in open seats that lean Republican and in districts where Republican incumbents are seeking re-election — and in those districts, the Democrats’ achievements so far are mixed.
The DCCC can rightly boast about recruits such as Diane Farrell (Connecticut 2nd), Lois Murphy (Pennsylvania 6th), Ron Klein (Florida 22nd), Patricia Madrid (New Mexico 1st), and former Reps. Nick Lampson (Texas 22nd) and Baron Hill (Indiana 9th). Each has demonstrated an ability to run a strong campaign, and each has significant personal accomplishments.
But some of those the DCCC is promoting as “strong candidates” have far fewer assets, and much more to prove, before they merit the strong candidate label.
For instance, I met businessman Tim Mahoney, who is challenging Rep. Mark Foley (R) in Florida’s 16th. He’s on the DCCC’s list, but if he’s a top-tier candidate, then I’m Thomas Jefferson. I found Mahoney to be an unpolished second- or third-tier House candidate who is not yet prepared for a U.S. House race. He may have some personal money to put into his race, and he may ultimately become a good candidate. Time will tell. But he isn’t one now.