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For the first time in six years, there will be no wave benefiting one party on Election Day. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be some surprise races that emerge during the next 17 days.
Control of the House does not appear to be up for grabs Nov. 6. Democrats are expected to make modest seat gains but not anywhere near the net 25 needed to remove Republicans from the majority. Still, some races previously thought not to be in play are moving quickly onto the radars of party operatives and political prognosticators. A few might even deliver a shock come Nov. 7.
There are different tiers of surprise races.
Some races have appeared heavily lopsided but have swung toward coin-flip contests. The underdog has the potential to win in a number of heavily reconfigured seats in California. Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R) could well be upset by physician Raul Ruiz (D) in a contest that national Democrats have helped push into play with TV ads. Golden State Democratic Reps. Jerry McNerney and Lois Capps both could certainly find themselves in tighter contests a week before Election Day.
Former Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) has had his share of ups and downs in politics, but could be poised to be an upset winner in Texas’ open 14th district. It’s a comfortably Republican seat, but he outraised his GOP opponent, state Rep. Randy Weber, in the third quarter. And, as Roll Call reported this week, Lone Star State Republicans now have agita about a race that should be safe.
Sometimes late-breaking news can swing a race. After reports surfaced this month about Tennessee Rep. Scott Desjarlais (R) appearing to pressure a patient and mistress to have an abortion more than a decade ago, Democrat Eric Stewart looks to have at least a shot of unseating the anti-abortion rights Congressman. It’s a heavily Republican district, but a big scandal can move a race in ways that surprise.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is just how few surprises there look to be in the House this cycle.
Surprise is, of course, relative. With the proliferation of powerful outside groups and two fine-tuned national committees — the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — potentially competitive districts are monitored by polling throughout the cycle. Potential opportunities, even long ones, are noted early, candidates are recruited and strategies are plotted. In the late summer, committees carefully check their flanks and are usually keenly cognizant of any potential upsets in the works by Labor Day.
“In today’s world of sophisticated House committees and many super PACs, [it’s] hard for a sleeper to slide this far,” emailed Brad Todd, an influential GOP consultant, deeply familiar with the House landscape.