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Contrary to what you see on television and cable news, there are other elections besides the presidential race this year. And for those who care about control of Congress, the picture there is starting to come into better focus.
Because of substantial redistricting gains in three large states — California, Illinois and Florida — Democrats are likely to make gains, possibly substantial gains, in the House. But these gains are not likely to be large enough to reach the 25 seats that Democrats need to regain a majority.
Nationally, Republicans have done a good job (where they have had the opportunity in redistricting) of solidifying their incumbents, including freshmen who were lucky to win because of the favorable dynamic of the 2010 midterm elections.
The result is that while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is trying to make the playing field bigger, it currently has only a limited number of good opportunities.
Could this change? Certainly. This assessment is only a rough estimate that is based on current conditions and a 50-state map that has not yet been finalized. Political and economic developments over the next few months could change this projection dramatically.
The economy has been showing signs of recovery in the past few months, and rising consumer confidence could well foretell an improving economic and jobs outlook, which in turn would improve the public’s mood and President Barack Obama’s standing.
An improving mood could help the president’s re-election, but it also could boost the prospects of all incumbents, including House Republicans.
Of course, Democrats still have a few arrows in their quiver, as the president showed when he proposed government consolidation in the Department of Commerce to achieve savings.
That proposal put Congressional Republicans in a box. If they refuse to give him the authority to consolidate government and save valuable dollars, they appear to be defending bloated government and bureaucracy. If they bow to the president’s request, they give him a victory and allow him to take credit for streamlining, shrinking government and helping the business community.
But the Democrats’ best hope for shaking up the 2012 elections — the selection of an unqualified or extreme presidential nominee by the GOP — seems increasingly remote.
Whatever his strengths and weaknesses, Mitt Romney is a relatively safe choice for GOP Congressional candidates around the country. Democrats will paint the former Massachusetts governor in the most unflatteringly light, but it is unlikely that he will frighten voters or damage his party’s brand further than it has already been.