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House races 101: Is the Republican Party primed for a takeover?

Many more Democratic House seats than Republican ones are vulnerable this year. Republicans are targeting the Democrats' freshman class, plus some veteran lawmakers.

By Staff writer / September 3, 2010

Mark Critz (D) of Pennsylvania won a special election May 18. Now he has to run for the House again – and against the same GOP challenger.

Keith Srakocic/AP/FILE



As campaigns move into full gear after Labor Day, Republicans have moved well within striking distance of taking over the House of Representatives, especially if the economic recovery continues to fizzle.

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If Republicans prevail on Nov. 2, they'll be in charge of the House for only the second time in 56 years. Their last takeover came in 1994 in an election outcome that stunned Democrats.

This year, the Democrats see them coming. Even before the disappointments of a jobless recovery, Democratic leaders expected a tough fight – and they have taken care to rack up an early fundraising advantage, especially for their newest members.

Democrats have much to overcome, however.

Polls show that Republican voters are more likely to turn out for this midterm election than are Democrats. And many independent voters – citing alarm about ballooning federal deficits and what they see as expansion of government – are swinging to Republican candidates. Moreover, Democrats have at least six times as many House seats in play as Republicans do, according to the Rothenberg Political Report. Here's a primer on the 2010 House races.

How many seats are up for election this year?

All 435 House seats are up for election every two years. Democrats currently hold 255 of those seats; Republicans hold 178. There are two vacancies.

How many seats must Republicans win to take control of the House?

A majority in the House is 218 seats. Republicans need a net gain of 39 seats to get there.

How many seats are open?

There is no incumbent in 41 seats. Twenty-two of those are now held by Republicans, and 19 by Democrats.

But 15 of the open GOP seats are in heavily Republican districts, and three others are likely to remain Republican seats, according to the Cook Political Report. By contrast, in only two of the 19 open Democratic seats is the Democratic candidate clearly leading the race.

How many seats are competitive?

Typically, no more than 35 House seats are in play (chalk that up to the science of redistricting, which produces many districts that all but ensure one party's dominance). This year, 88 seats are seriously in play – 12 Republican and 76 Democratic, according to the Rothenberg Political Report.

On Sept. 2, the Cook Political Report downgraded 10 Democratic races, leaving 73 Democratic seats ranked as competitive compared with eight Republican seats. "This is an environment in which any Democratic laxity or misstep can prove fatal and even underfunded or flawed Republicans can be highly competitive,” the report concluded.

But the anti-incumbent, anti-Washington mood threatens incumbents in both parties, especially to the degree that national issues drive local races.

Where do Republicans have their best shot at picking up seats?

House Republicans are likely to pick up 28 to 33 seats, predicts a report by independent analyst Stuart Rothenberg. But the gains could be much higher, perhaps topping 39, if conditions are ripe for a full-fledged "change" election, the report says.

"In some ways, this is a replay of 2006 in reverse, when Republicans were confident in their financial standing [and] that they had plenty of ammunition against individual Democratic challengers. But the voters tuned out the messages and were ready for change, and we have to wait and see if that happens to Democrats this year," says Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.