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And the special election in New Yorks 20th district earlier this year suggested the political environment hadnt changed much from 2008.
But the National Republican Congressional Committee has already recruited some intriguing challengers, and a noticeable shift in the national mood will almost certainly put more Democratic seats into play over the next six to 12 months.
Repeat GOP candidates such as Steve Stivers (Ohio), Andy Harris (Md.) and former Rep. Steve Chabot (Ohio) have to be regarded as strong challengers given their narrow defeats last time. Former Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), who is running to regain a seat he gave up to run for the Senate, is another strong contender.
Republicans are also high on California Assemblyman Van Tran, Manchester, N.H., Mayor Frank Guinta, Colorado state Rep. Cory Gardner, Honolulu Councilman Charles Djou and Montgomery, Ala., City Councilmember Martha Roby, who give the GOP an unusual mix of challengers with considerable appeal. And former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan is about to enter the open-seat race in Democratic Rep. Joe Sestaks Pennsylvania district, giving the GOP a chance to win the seat.
House retirements have been relatively few, and as the last election in this redistricting cycle, total House retirements may be down. But we still should see some additional retirements over the next few months, possibly adding to the list of competitive contests.
Finally, there are plenty of races for governor.
Again, I thought that many of the gubernatorial outcomes were easily predicted, but the combination of a weak economy and some interesting candidates have shaken up a number of races. Its early, but contests (in some cases both primaries and general elections) in a number of large states, including Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and even California, look potentially fascinating.
The tide clearly has turned nationally, with the presidents popularity down and Democrats fighting against a growing mood of dissatisfaction. Thats a huge problem for Democrats in the two states that will have gubernatorial elections this year.
But while Republican strategists are showing greater optimism about the midterms, they also say that they wish those elections were taking place this November, not more than a year from now. And thats another reason why the next 14 months should be so exciting.
Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.