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Landscape Shift Means More Trouble for House Democrats

Already prepared to deal with challenging midterm turnout dynamics that favor the GOP, national Democratic strategists now find themselves looking at higher unemployment numbers, potentially divisive foreign policy decisions and a president who lacks the luster that he had immediately after his inauguration.

This new political reality has a significant effect on the election prospects of dozens of Democratic candidates for the House, whether incumbents, challengers or open-seat hopefuls.

More than a dozen Democratic Members who were already headed for competitive contests now find themselves in even more serious danger in next year’s midterm elections. Before the election cycle ends, most of them are likely to be underdogs for re-election.

Those at greatest risk represent Republican-leaning or conservative districts, as well as districts where a big turnout for Barack Obama by African-American and younger voters helped Democratic candidates for Congress.

The list of Democratic freshmen most affected by the national shift includes Reps. Bobby Bright (Ala.), Walt Minnick (Idaho), Frank Kratovil (Md.), Travis Childers (Miss.), Harry Teague (N.M.), Steve Driehaus (Ohio), Mary Jo Kilroy (Ohio) and Tom Perriello (Va.).

Three of those freshmen — Kratovil, Driehaus and Kilroy — face rematches, while Teague is being challenged by former Rep. Steve Pearce (R), who gave up his seat to run for the Senate.

Given midterm issues and the current political environment, Democrats seem certain to lose at least two of those four seats, with a loss of three quite probable and a Republican sweep of all four certainly possible.

Though the next tier of at-risk Democrats initially appeared slightly less vulnerable, Reps. Betsy Markey (Colo.), Suzanne Kosmas (Fla.), Bill Foster (Ill.), Eric Massa (N.Y.) and Mark Schauer (Mich.) also find themselves in significantly more trouble.

Alan Grayson (Fla.), who started off in this group of freshmen, now looks worse off after his self-inflicted wound on the House floor, even though Republicans do not yet have a top-tier challenger.

One way to look at Democratic problems is to focus on open seats. With Republican Reps. Mark Kirk (Ill.), Jim Gerlach (Pa.) and Mike Castle (Del.) running statewide, Democrats might look like a lock to make important open-seat gains. But they aren’t, at least not yet.

Democrats could well win all three, but Republicans have recruited potentially strong candidates in the Illinois and Pennsylvania districts, and they have good pickup opportunities of their own in the open seats being vacated by Democratic Reps. Charlie Melancon (La.) and Joe Sestak (Pa.).

At the moment, Democrats are likely to pick up two GOP-held seats: Castle’s and that of freshman Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (La.).

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