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A Deteriorating Political Environment for House Republicans

12:59 PM, Oct 14, 2008 • By GARY ANDRES
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John McCain's slip in the polls over the past few weeks is creating a drag for down-ticket Republican House candidates across the country. GOP congressional losses could top twenty or more, depending on how the political environment settles in the next couple of weeks.

Jim Ellis, who writes for a thoughtful target=_blank>election forecasting and monitoring service, recently readjusted his House numbers, predicting deeper Republican losses.

Ellis's math looks like this. He believes 229 seats are either safe or likely in Democratic hands (you need 218 to form a majority in the House). On the Republican side, he counts 182 seats as safe or likely GOP. That leaves only 24 toss-up seats. Of those, Republicans currently hold 16 (8 incumbents and 8 open seats). Democrats control the other 8.

In addition to the 24, he writes that five GOP seats are already in the likely or safe Democratic category: NY-13 (Rep. Fossella, retiring), AK-AL (Rep. Don Young, incumbent), NY-25 (Rep. Walsh, retiring), VA-11 (Rep. Davis, retiring), AZ-1 (Rep. Renzi, retiring).

Ellis writes that McCain's decline in the polls in the last month and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's money advantage could mean Democrats hold all of their 8 toss-ups and Republicans lose a good chunk of their 16. A net loss in the mid-twenties could push the Democrats' advantage in the House to around 255-180, putting the GOP just slightly ahead of where it stood prior to the 1994 election. Before picking up a net 54 seats that year, Republican numbers in the House during the 1980s and 1990s ranged between a high of 192 following the 1980 election to a low of 167 after the 1990 midterm.

Many Republican strategists hope to restrict losses to 20 or fewer. Keeping the number of GOP House seats at 180 or above is an important political/psychological threshold for raising resources and recruiting candidates looking to 2010.