Facing a Wave, Republicans Could Still Win at Least One Dem Seat

September 1, 2006 · 12:02 AM EDT

Democrats need to net fifteen seats on November 7 in order to win a majority in the House. And that’s not an unreasonable goal, give that in the most recent edition of the Rothenberg Political Report, we predicted Democrats to gain between 15 and 20 seats.

But everyone (party strategists, journalists, and handicappers alike) should stress the word “net,” rather than merely talking about takeovers. Because every seat that Democrats lose to Republicans in November is another seat that they need to take over from the GOP in their quest to reach 218 seats in the next House.

Even though Republicans only have a handful of long-shot opportunities of taking over a seat currently held by the Democrats, part of history is on their side. Over the last 50 years, no party has been completely shutout in the takeover column in the House. So, even if GOP incumbents are dropping like flies on Election Day, there could still be at least one Republican challenger being sworn in next January.

In 1994, Democrats lost 56 seats to the Republicans, including 34 incumbents and 22 open seats, but they still managed to takeover four GOP-held open seats.

In 1980, Democrats lost 37 seats to the Republicans, including 27 incumbents and 10 open seats, but still defeated three GOP incumbents and took one Republican open seat.

In 1966, Democrats lost 43 seats to the Republicans, including 39 incumbents and 4 open seats, and simultaneously won four GOP-held seats.

And in 1958, Republicans lost 49 seats, including 35 incumbents and 14 open seats, but still managed to defeat one Democratic incumbent.

Publicly, Democrats are confident they will keep all of their seats and add to their number in November, but there is a good chance they will lose at least one. The most vulnerable seats, to this point, appear to be John Barrow (GA-12), Melissa Bean (IL-8), Alan Mollohan (WV-1), and Leonard Boswell (IA-3). Even longer-shot GOP opportunities include Chet Edwards (TX-17), Jim Marshall (GA-8), Charlie Melancon (LA-3), John Spratt (SC-5), and open seats in Vermont (At-Large), Illinois (17th District), Hawaii (2nd District), and Ohio (6th District).

Right now, a Republican victory in those races would be viewed as a surprise. But using history as a guide, it shouldn’t be.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on August 30, 2006.