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Seeds for Democratic Gains In U.S. House Actually Planted in 2004

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Even though Democrats lost seats in the U.S. House in 2004, there are several indicators in that election that suggest their Party was making inroads to be more competitive with Republicans—inroads that paid off in a big way in 2006. Trends in several measures of party competitiveness were already working in the Democratic Party's favor in 2004.

First, Democrats reduced the number of House districts in which they did not field an opponent against the GOP—from 45 in 2002, to 38 in 2004, to just 10 in 2006.

Secondly, Democrats drastically reduced the number of "blow out" races in which they fielded a candidate but were on the losing end of a 50 to 99 point margin. The number of blow out races dropped from 17 in 2002, to 9 in 2004, to just 5 in 2006.

Thirdly, Democrats also reduced the number of "very uncompetitive" districts in which they lost to Republicans by 30 to 49 points: from 96 in 2002, to 87 in 2004, to just 53 in 2006.

As a consequence of fielding more candidates and reducing the number of grossly uncompetitive districts, Democrats were positioning themselves in greater number in weakly competitive and competitive races. For example, Democrats increased the number of weakly competitive races in which they lost by between 11 and 29 points: from 53 in 2002, to 81 in 2004, to 100 in 2006.

The rise in weakly competitive GOP-held districts was not a result of Democrats losing ground in competitive districts held by the GOP: competitive districts (decided by between 0 and 10 points) rose from 20 in 2002 to 35 in 2006.

By picking up several seats in 2006 Democrats will naturally have to protect several districts that they won by slim margins (28 races were decided by 10 points or less). However, the sheer number of districts that are potentially up for grabs in 2008 has skyrocketed from 2002. The Democrats have positioned themselves to make the GOP defend up to 135 districts in 2008—almost double the number of competitive and weakly competitive districts in 2002 (73).

While defending a 25-point GOP-held district may not at first blush seem like a worrisome task, the current political climate dictates otherwise. Just ask ousted Republicans like J.D. Hayworth of Arizona (AZ-05) who won by 24 points in 2002, 22 points in 2004, and then lost by 5 points in 2006—a 27 point turnaround. Or ask defeated Connecticut Congresswoman Nancy Johnson (CT-05), who lost by 12 points in 2006 after winning by 22 points in 2004—a 34-point swing.

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Remains of the Data

Who Has Won the Most Votes in US Senate Electoral History?

Only three of the Top 10 and nine of the Top 50 vote-getters of all time are currently serving in the chamber.

Political Crumbs

Six for Thirteen

Collin Peterson remarked last month that he is leaning to run for reelection to Minnesota's 7th Congressional District in 2016. If he does and is victorious, he will creep even closer to the top of the list of the longest-serving U.S. Representatives in Minnesota history. The DFL congressman is only the sixth Minnesotan to win at least 13 terms to the U.S. House of the 135 elected to the chamber in state history. Peterson trails 18-term DFLer Jim Oberstar (1975-2011), 16-term Republicans Harold Knutson (1917-1949) and August Andresen (1925-1933; 1935-1958), and 14-term DFLers Martin Sabo (1979-2007) and John Blatnik (1947-1974). Andresen died in office, Sabo and Blatnik retired, and Knutson and Oberstar were defeated at the ballot box in 1948 and 2010 respectively. At 70 years, 7 months, 11 days through Monday, Peterson is currently the ninth oldest Gopher State U.S. Representative in history. DFLer Rick Nolan of the 8th CD is the seventh oldest at 71 years, 1 month, 23 days.


Seeing Red

Congressman Nick Rahall's failed bid for a 20th term in West Virginia this cycle, combined with a narrow loss by Nick Casey to Alex Mooney in Shelley Moore Capito's open seat, means that West Virginia Democrats will be shut out of the state's U.S. House delegation for the first time in over 90 years. The Republican sweep by two-term incumbent David McKinley in the 1st CD, Mooney in the 2nd, and Evan Jenkins over Rahall in the 3rd marks the first time the GOP has held all seats in the chamber from West Virginia since the Election of 1920. During the 67th Congress (1921-1923) all six seats from the state were controlled by the GOP. Since the Election of 1922, Democrats have won 76 percent of all U.S. House elections in the Mountain State - capturing 172 seats compared to 54 for the GOP.


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