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Race Rating Changes: House Map Jells; Senate Still Fluid

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

What a difference two years makes. At this point in 2010, as the GOP wave began to build, political handicappers and political operatives alike were trying to keep up with the number of newly competitive races moving onto the rapidly expanding House battleground. The same was true at this time in 2006 and 2008, when we were attempting to size up the coming Democratic waves.

Fast-forward two years, and a month before Election Day we are taking House races off the board, as it becomes clear to both parties that contests they hoped to put in play just haven’t materialized this cycle. We expect there may be a few less competitive races that begin to move in the competitive direction, but that hasn’t happened to a large extent at this point.

There is other significant movement in a handful of House races that we now rate as more likely than not to switch hands. GOP Reps. David Rivera (Fla.) and Ann Marie Buerkle (N.Y.) are in races that look to be increasingly uphill. Both face rematches from 2010 (although Rivera’s troubles have much more to do with his own ethics problems than the strength of his Democratic challenger).

In Senate race moves, we are moving two Democratic-held seats virtually off the board. Republicans always knew that Hawaii was going to be a tough race considering the overwhelming Democratic tilt of the state. But former Gov. Linda Lingle was the best possible candidate they could have gotten. However, it’s clear that the race really never got off the ground. Lingle would have had to run a flawless campaign AND Rep. Mazie Hirono (D) needed to stumble. Neither happened, and the race is now off the board.

Republicans have a similar situation in New Mexico, another race where they got the strongest possible nominee despite the demographics of the state favoring Democrats. Former Rep. Heather Wilson (R) has run a good campaign. But national Republicans aren’t spending any money to help her, and polls show Rep. Martin Heinrich in a good position to win next month.

The other Senate change is in what could turn into the second wackiest race of the cycle (behind Missouri): Maine. Ex-Gov. Angus King (I) is still favored to win there, but spending by national Republicans is forcing Democrats to spend money on a state they hadn’t budgeted for earlier. We are continuing to monitor the Connecticut and Arizona Senate races, which seem to be where a lot of late movement is happening. Both of these races slightly favor one party but could move into the Tossup category soon.

Here are the race rating changes we are making today:

  • Hawaii Senate: Leans Democratic to Likely Democratic
    Former Gov. Linda Lingle is the only Republican who could keep this race competitive. But in a year when homegrown President Barack Obama leads the ticket, it does not appear Rep. Mazie Hirono’s quest to keep the seat in Democratic hands is in much trouble.
  • Maine Senate: Likely Independent to Leans Independent
    Former Gov. Angus King (I) will still probably win this three-way race, but national Republicans have made it more competitive by knocking King and boosting Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill in ads. King still leads in public polling, but his shrinking margin over Republican Charlie Summers has led national Democrats — who haven’t endorsed in the race but expect King to caucus with Democrats — to buy airtime of their own. With air cover from Washington, D.C., King should be fine. But it’s a less comfortable kind of fine than he was two months ago.

  • New Mexico Senate: Leans Democratic to Likely Democratic

    For all of former Rep. Heather Wilson’s (R) strengths as a candidate, she entered this open-seat race with high unfavorable ratings from her previous statewide campaign. Plus, she’s running in a heavily Hispanic state no longer viewed as competitive in the presidential race and against a solid Democratic recruit in Rep. Martin Heinrich (D), who took the lead in August and does not appear willing to let go.
  • California’s 10th district: Leans Republican to Tossup
    The polls in this swing district are moving in the right direction for astronaut Jose Hernandez (D) in his challenge to freshman Rep. Jeff Denham (R). Hernandez released an internal poll today showing him within 2 points.
  • California’s 36th district: Likely Republican to Leans Republican
    Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R) is still favored to keep this seat, but national Democrats are backing up their vocal support for physician Raul Ruiz (D) by shifting resources here from other, less competitive races.
  • California’s 47th district: Leans Democratic to Likely Democratic
    If any Republican could win this district, it would be Long Beach City Councilman Gary DeLong. But there has been no evidence of a close race for this new seat in a presidential cycle.
  • Florida’s 16th district: Leans Republican to Likely Republican
    The allegations of ethical impropriety around Rep. Vern Buchanan (R) didn’t pan out in the politically damaging way that Democrats had hoped. The campaign for Democratic nominee Keith Fitzgerald didn’t pan out the way Democrats had hoped either. The chance of a Democratic pickup here is now quite slim.
  • Florida’s 22nd district: Leans Democratic to Likely Democratic
    Former state House Majority Leader and ex-Senate candidate Adam Hasner is the only Republican who could win in this open Democratic district. He still has a shot here, but it’s a longer shot than he had before, Florida insiders said. He faces former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel (D) in November.
  • Florida’s 26th district: Tossup to Leans Democratic
    It is no longer feasible for embattled freshman Rep. David Rivera (R), reportedly under federal investigation, to win this Miami-area seat. Republicans are already looking toward winning it back in 2014.
  • Indiana’s 2nd district: Leans Republican to Likely Republican
    House Democrats are diverting resources from this district elsewhere — a sign the party believes it’s no longer in play. It’s very difficult to see how Iraq War veteran Brendan Mullen (D) overcomes former state Rep. Jackie Walorski (R) so late in the cycle.
  • Maine’s 2nd district: Likely Democratic to Safe Democratic
    This is a race that national Republicans hoped would materialize, but it just never did. There’s no real evidence that Rep. Mike Michaud (D) is in any danger next month in his rematch from 10 years ago against state Senate President Kevin Raye (R).
  • New Hampshire’s 1st district: Leans Republican to Tossup
    Rep. Frank Guinta (R) has the more conservative Granite State seat, and even Democrats concede that his rival, former Rep. Carol Shea Porter (D), is not the strongest candidate for this district. But President Barack Obama is beginning to outpace Mitt Romney statewide and it is hard to see voters crossing the ballot in either direction in this House race.
  • New York’s 21st district: Tossup to Leans Democratic
    Rep. Bill Owens won both his special election and his first full term in 2010 with less than 50 percent of the vote, a sign of real vulnerability. But Republican nominee Matt Doheny has not yet managed to capitalize on that vulnerability in this newly configured district in northern New York. Although the Owens-Doheny race is a rematch of 2010, Owens looks to be in surprisingly good shape. Democrats who, earlier this cycle, thought the incumbent was done are now feeling pretty confident on this race.
  • New York’s 24th district: Tossup to Leans Democratic
    The numbers in this newly configured district — that would have voted about 56 percent for Barack Obama in 2008 — make it tough for Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R) to beat former Rep. Dan Maffei (D) in a presidential year.
  • New York’s 25th district: Leans Democratic to Likely Democratic
    The race for this seat between popular Rep. Louise Slaughter (D) and popular Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks (R) has not quite ripened the way the GOP hoped it would. A recent public poll found Slaughter leading by 10 points. There’s time between now and the election for Brooks to close the gap, but not much, which means this race now favors the incumbent a bit more.
  • Ohio’s 7th district: Likely Republican to Safe Republican.
    This week, House Democrats pulled their ad reservation intended for this race out of the Cleveland market. It’s not surprising: There are more competitive races in the Buckeye State that are better opportunities for the party. Now it’s virtually a sure bet that freshman Rep. Bob Gibbs (R) is coming back to Congress for another term.
  • Oklahoma’s 2nd district: Leans Republican to Likely Republican
    It’s hard to see how Democrats hold retiring Rep. Dan Boren’s (Okla.) seat in a presidential year. Parties are not spending funds on this race. Plumbing company owner Markwayne Mullin’s (R) victory over former Assistant District Attorney Rob Wallace (D) is becoming close to a foregone conclusion.
  • Pennsylvania’s 18th district: Likely Republican to Safe Republican
    Initially, Democrats were optimistic that Washington County Commissioner Larry Maggi (D) could win this district — especially if Rep. Tim Murphy (R) took a big hit in his GOP primary. But Murphy won his party’s nod with a comfortable margin, and Democrats shifted their focus to other competitive races in the Keystone State.
  • Rhode Island’s 1st district: Tossup to Leans Democratic
    Rep. David Cicilline (D) began his term in deep trouble because of holdover troubles from his tenure as Providence mayor. Republicans have a top recruit in retired state police Col. Brendan Doherty. But Cicilline seems to have rebounded and looks to be in much better shape than he was a few months ago in this very Democratic district.
  • Washington’s 6th district: Likely Democratic to Safe Democratic
    Businessman Bill Driscoll (R) can self-fund his candidacy, but the race for the seat of retiring Rep. Norm Dicks (D) looks to be state Sen. Derek Kilmer’s (D) to lose.
  • Wisconsin’s 8th district: Leans Republican to Likely Republican
    Businessman Jamie Wall (D) has proved to be an adept fundraiser, but his challenge to Rep. Reid Ribble (R) appears to be a heavy lift at this point.

Joshua Miller, Abby Livingston, Kyle Trygstad and Shira Toeplitz contributed to this report.

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