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Projections — Not Predictions — About 2012

When the data did change ó Obamaís numbers sank, the economy showed no signs of an economic rebound, unemployment continued to rise, the Democratic Partyís numbers tanked ó then I changed my projections, ultimately ending the cycle projecting Republican gains of 55 to 65 seats.

Thatís the kind of process I employed last cycle, the cycle before it and the cycle before that. And thatís how Iíll approach 2012.

If you simply want to read an early prediction of what will happen in 2012, youíll have to look elsewhere. Iím sure you can find some partisan observer or college professor whoíll be happy to offer a guess even now about the next election.

But thatís not what I do here in this column or in my newsletter. I interview and write about candidates, trying to identify the strongest ones as well as the less credible. I report on what the parties are doing and thinking. And I try to compare election cycles. Handicapping is a part of the product, but itís just a tip of the iceberg.

Now, on to 2012.

Obviously, I have no idea what will happen in the fight for the House next year. At least not yet.

Projections at this point in the cycle are of dubious value, especially because redistricting will be a huge wild card. We have no idea what the economy (and the unemployment rate) will be like. And we donít know anything about candidate recruitment or fundraising.

Even more important, we donít know how the dynamic of divided government will play out or how voters will regard the two parties when 2012 rolls around.

We do know that last cycleís huge Republican net gain of 63 seats means a House of 242 Republicans and 193 Democrats, and that the GOP gains included a handful of Democratic-leaning districts that could snap back to the Democrats in a year when higher turnout among young voters and African-Americans could mean a less Republican electorate.

Republicans control the redistricting process in more states, which gives them a significant advantage. But their large gains in 2010 limit their ability to take advantage of that power, since they already have maximized their gains in some states.

I start out with the working assumption that there wonít be huge changes in the House. Democrats should win back some seats that they lost only because of the midterm wave, but those gains could be offset by the GOP redistricting advantage.

If you havenít figured it out yet, this isnít a prediction. Itís a baseline projection that will be adjusted over time, as we all start to see more data and as the 2012 elections approach. Enjoy the ride over the next 22 months.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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