The extent of Democratic losses in next years midterm elections will rest, in part, on the ability of Democrats elected in conservative or Republican districts over the past two cycles to survive aggressive GOP attempts to defeat them.
More than four dozen districts sent a Democrat to Congress last year while casting a plurality of their votes for Sen. John
McCain (R-Ariz.) for president. Of the 49 Congressional districts where this occurred, 11 gave McCain more than 60 percent of the vote (see chart).
But not all of those 11 look equally vulnerable. Six of those successful Democrats won handily in 2008 (with at least 59 percent of the vote) Reps. Charlie Melancon (La.), Ike Skelton (Mo.), Gene Taylor (Miss.), Dan Boren (Okla.), Lincoln Davis (Tenn.) and Bart Gordon (Tenn.) and their electoral histories suggest that nothing short of a tsunami could seriously threaten them. Indeed, three of them (Skelton, Taylor and Gordon) proved their mettle more than a decade ago by surviving in 1994.
Obviously, retirements in any of the six districts would be disastrous for Democrats, which is why a possible Melancon Senate run is so disturbing to the partys House strategists.
Purely from a statistical point of view, the most vulnerable House Democrats are the four who won election last cycle with less than 55 percent of the vote in districts where McCain scored comfortable wins. That includes Reps. Bobby Bright (Ala.), Parker Griffith (Ala.), Walt Minnick (Idaho) and Travis Childers (Miss.), plus Rep. Frank Kratovil in Marylands 1st district. Kratovil won with just 49 percent of the vote while McCain was carrying the district with 58 percent.
Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) falls somewhere in between the vulnerable and less vulnerable lists, since he won with only 53 percent in a very Republican district but has survived repeated attempts to defeat him.
A handful of other freshman and sophomore Democrats in McCain districts also deserve mention.
Freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (Va.), who won a squeaker with 50 percent in a district that McCain won with 51 percent, should find himself in trouble because of possible lower Democratic turnout in nonpresidential years. Two other Democratic freshmen, Reps. Betsy Markey (Colo.) and Eric Massa (N.Y.), ousted controversial GOP incumbents in districts that were tight in the presidential contest (McCain carried both narrowly), though Markeys 56 percent showing was considerably stronger than Massas 51 percent victory.
Elsewhere, freshman Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (Fla.) knocked off a damaged GOP incumbent, winning with 57 percent in a district that McCain carried with 51 percent, while sophomore Rep. Christopher Carney (Pa.) was re-elected with 56 percent in a district that gave McCain 54 percent.
Of course, vulnerability is more than merely a districts generic voter preference or even its recent electoral history. Candidate quality, fundraising and national mood are among the other relevant factors.
Democrats in conservative or heavily Republican districts are particularly vulnerable next year because crucial voters in those districts veered away from their traditional behavior in 2008.