While few Minnesota political pundits - or officeholders - are projecting a GOP takeover of the House of Representatives in November 2010, the Republican party leadership is very optimistic they are going to make gains into the DFL's current 40-seat advantage in the lower chamber.
The DFL, meanwhile, is hoping to stave off the inevitable Republican 'pullback' for one more election cycle, in hopes of netting three more seats to reach a veto-proof 90-member caucus. (Though, the party would likely gladly settle for less if they won the governorship next fall).
Since Minnesota legislators were elected on partisan ballots in 1974, there has been a net swing of the 20+ seats the GOP would need in 2010 just one time in the House of Representatives. That occurred in 1978, when Republicans mounted a massive net gain of 37 seats from 1976 - cutting the 104-30 DFL advantage down to a 67-67 draw.
Even if the GOP could replicate the remarkable electoral success of the DFL in 2006 - netting 19 seats - that would not be enough to win back the House (the DFL would still have a 68-66 advantage).
But for the DFL to reach 90 seats in 2010 would be even more unprecedented. No party has made gains in the House across four consecutive election cycles since legislators began being elected on partisan ballots in 1974.
Still, while neither scenario is likely, the odds of a Republican takeover of the House seem to be much longer.
And just how grim is the electoral map for the Republicans?
Smart Politics conducted an analysis of the 543 general and special election house races that have been conducted since redistricting in 2002 to evaluate the relative strength of the Republican and DFL's respective 'wish lists.'
First, the DFL has a double-digit advantage over the Republican Party in the number of so-called 'safe districts.'
· Since 2002, the DFL has run the table in 52 house districts - sweeping each district in every general (and special) election matchup over the last four cycles. Republicans, meanwhile, have swept 42 districts during this span.
· However, the DFL has had few close calls in these 52 districts, winning them by an average of 39.0 points. Only two districts, 13B (Willmar) and 20A (Benson), have had a competitive average margin of victory (decided by an average of less than 10 points since 2002).
· But in the 42 districts Republicans have swept since 2002, the GOP has had an average margin of victory of basically half that of the DFL - just 20.6 points. Moreover, eight of these GOP stronghold districts have average margins of victory of less than 10 points since 2002: Districts 04B (Crosslake), 14A (Sauk Rapids), 17A (Cambridge), 18B (Litchfield), 22A (Luverne), 22B (Worthington), 24B (Wells), and 53B (White Bear Lake).
· Overall, The DFL has come within less than 10 points of winning at least one contest in 18 of these 42 GOP stronghold districts. Republicans, meanwhile, have been competitive in at least one contest in just 9 of the 52 DFL stronghold districts across these four election cycles.
Secondly, the DFL has deepened their support across many districts over the decade. Since 2002, the DFL has improved their standing in every election in 36 districts (increasing the margin of victory or decreasing the margin of loss).
· Only nine of these districts are in DFL strongholds - those in which the DFL is undefeated since 2002.
· The majority of these districts with increasingly stronger vote margins for the DFL are in "swing districts" - those districts which have been held by both the GOP and DFL at some point since 2002. The DFL has improved in every election since 2002 in 23 of these districts.
· The DFL has also improved in every election in four Republican stronghold districts: 10B (Wadena), 19A (Buffalo), 21B (New Ulm), and 49A (Andover).
· Excluding special elections, the DFL has bettered its cycle-to-cycle standing in another four districts, for 40 districts in total (adding 15B, 28B, 40A, and 47A).
· There has only been one house district out of the 134 across the state in which the GOP has improved its position in each contest since 2002 - District 19B (St. Michael) held by Tom Emmer.
Thirdly, the DFL, on paper, is now in a stronger position heading into 2010 than they were heading into 2008 (pending retirements etc.).
· In 2006, House DFLers won 27 of their 85 seats by less than 10 points. In 2008, only 18 of the DFL's 87 seats (21 percent) were won with victory margins of less than 10 points - down from 32 percent of seats won in 2006.
· The GOP, meanwhile, treaded water. In 2006, 17 of their 49 victories were by less than 10 points (35 percent); in 2008, 15 of the GOP's 47 victories were decided by single-digits (32 percent).
· The most glaring advantage at the moment for the DFL is that nearly half of their seats are being won in blowouts: 42 of 87 districts were carried by victory margins of 30 or more points in 2008 (48 percent). Only 5 Republican districts (11 percent) were won by 30 or more points.
The true battles in 2010, of course, will be in the swing districts - those 40 districts that have been held by either the GOP or the DFL since the last census.
· The DFL has won these districts 83 times in special and general election matchups since 2002, compared to 80 victories for the Republicans.
· Fourteen of these 40 districts have been held by the Republicans in 2 cycles and the DFL in 2 cycles: 01A (Thief River Falls), 08B (Mora), 12A (Brainerd), 12B (Little Falls), 17B (North Branch), 25B (Northfield), 27A (Albert Lea), 29B (Rochester), 38A (Eagan), 43B (Minnetonka), 50B (New Brighton), 53A (Shoreview), 56A (Woodbury), and 56B (Woodbury).
Of course, what is 'on paper' now is subject to not only the changing national political winds, but, perhaps most importantly, what candidates both parties end up sending to the top of the ticket in the 2010 gubernatorial election.
Coming tomorrow: part two in the series highlighting the most reliably GOP and DFL districts in the state.
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