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Still, the potential for an unexpected electoral jolt is omnipresent.
Former Florida House Majority Leader Adam Hasner is a conservative Republican running in a very Democratic district, Florida’s 22nd. He shouldn’t have a shot in a district that would have voted 57 percent for Barack Obama in 2008, but a recent poll showed him within striking distance of Democrat Lois Frankel, the former mayor of West Palm Beach. He’s still got a hill to climb, but there could be a surprise here.
Another tier of surprise races, especially in a redistricting year: freshman Members whose chances of winning re-election have been written off but might manage to squeak out a victory.
Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) ranks high on the written-off list. If the normal political rules of gravity apply, he should lose his Democratic leaning seat, but recent movement in the race portends a slim chance that he could be more than a one-term wonder.
By every normal political metric, embattled Florida Rep. David Rivera is poised to be forcibly retired by his constituents Nov. 6. He is reportedly under federal investigation, had an anemic fundraising quarter and is persona non grata with national Republicans. Polls have him down by double digits and the DCCC is so confident in his impending loss that it has canceled its planned advertising against him.
But Miami is a difficult city to poll, the district is ever-so-slightly Republican leaning and insiders who have watched Rivera master South Florida politics over the years caution to never count him out.
Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.) is a conservative representing a newly configured district that is not. She faces a rematch with the man she unseated, former Rep. Dan Maffei (D). For months, she has been seen as a politically dead woman walking. But she raised a comfortable $531,000 in the third quarter, and third-party groups are coming to her defense, leaving open the possibility that she could return.
With a strong Republican wave at the their backs, the GOP ran the board last cycle, picking up seats that looked like tough gets even with the partisan wind. That means their stretch seats are more limited in 2012: The best opportunities missed two years ago were targeted by the NRCC from the very beginning of the 112th Congress.
In the minority, Democrats have a broader array of big reaches, and most of them have been moving off the competitive playing field instead of onto it. Among the exceptions might be the race against Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who seems to be in a more competitive contest than most originally anticipated.