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2012 Battleground Centers on Traditional Swing Seats

Two weeks after Republicans posted historic gains in the House, political operatives are already turning their attention to 2012, where an evolving battlefield in a presidential year offers Democrats cause for both fear and optimism.

Their hope lies in dozens of seats in Democratic-friendly swing districts across the nation that Republicans claimed Nov. 2. And President Barack Obama — absent, of course, from the midterm ballots — will lead the 2012 ballot and could boost Democratic turnout in key battleground states that went decidedly Republican earlier in the month.

Democrats’ fear, however, comes amid redistricting efforts that could further tip the scales in Republicans’ favor, especially given massive GOP pickups in state Houses in swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. And the president’s place atop the ballot, widely expected to help in some regions, could have the opposite effect should the nation’s economic struggles continue.

Still, Republicans are reluctant to predict major House gains in 2012.

“If people think it’s going to be another 55, 60 seats, they’re wrong,” one longtime GOP strategist said, noting that Republican gains were centered in swing districts throughout the Midwest, Pennsylvania and New York, while the Northeast and Northwestern coast largely remained Democratic.

“We didn’t expand the playing field. Now we’re going to the election cycle with increased black turnout, increased Hispanic turnout — all factors that work against Republicans,” the GOP strategist said. “I think there’s a lot of room for Republicans to screw this up.”

The key battles, of course, will focus on the independent vote, which swung decidedly in the GOP’s favor in 2010 after fueling Democratic victories the two previous cycles. Democrats insist that the 60-seat swing does not represent an irreversible realignment of the political landscape.

“Fundamental shifts don’t take four years to happen and two years to come back. The voters are not in the mood to stay in one place right now. Maybe that’s the shift,” said Democratic strategist Jef Pollock, president of Global Strategies Group. “This is about folks in the middle evaluating what they want to see in the future. I think a lot of them haven’t decided.”

But it’s no secret where the Democratic establishment will focus in 2012. They’ll start, Pollack noted, with Republicans in Democratic-friendly districts.

In the new Congress there will be at least 63 GOP Members representing districts Obama won in 2008, including more than a dozen that also supported Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004. Further, there are 60 Republican Members who won with less than 55 percent of the vote.

“I would submit that it’s almost impossible to win some 60 House seats and add to it two years later,” said Philadelphia-based Democratic consultant Mark Nevins. “Chances are that Democrats will pick up seats in 2012. The question is how many.”

Democrats see opportunities in suburban areas ceded to Republicans this year ­— places such as the Philadelphia suburbs, where the GOP picked up two seats and held another. Democrats will also target newly elected Republicans with perceived liabilities, according to Nevins, who cited Pennsylvania 10th district winner Tom Marino’s (R) controversial resignation from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“If 2010 had not been a wave election, I’m not sure he would have won,” Nevins said.

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