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Dangerous Dozen Open House Seats

By Stuart Rothenberg

A significant number of retirements since my last Dangerous Dozen (Oct. 25, 2007) has shuffled the list and shows why the fight for the House is a one-sided battle, with Democrats having most of the targets.

Here are the dozen most vulnerable open House seats, starting with the most likely seats to flip. The first three districts are all likely to go Democratic and are in a class of their own.

Illinois’ 11th: State Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson (D) would be a formidable nominee in any case, but Republican prospects weren'’t helped when their primary winner, New Lenox Mayor Tim Baldermann, dropped out of the race. Local GOP leaders are expected to select businessman Martin Ozinga III to replace Baldermann as the party’'s nominee. The district is competitive (President Bush carried it by 7 points in 2004).

New York’'s 25th: Republican Rep. Jim Walsh (R) barely beat challenger Dan Maffei (D) last time, and Walsh’'s decision to retire gives Maffei a clear shot this time in the marginal upstate district. The race for the Republican nomination was scrambled when Peter Cappuccilli Jr., the former director of the New York State Fair, dropped his bid after having a mild stroke. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won the district by 2 points in 2004.

Virginia’'s 11th: Rep. Tom Davis’ (R) retirement and the general drift of Washington, D.C.’s Virginia suburbs toward the Democrats create a significant problem for the GOP. Gerry Connolly, who chairs the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, begins with an edge for the Democratic nomination over former Rep. Leslie Byrne. The most-mentioned Republican right now is businessman Keith Fimian, who has impressed in early fundraising and has invested some of his own money in the race.

Ohio’'s 16th: Republican Rep. Ralph Regula’'s retirement wasn’t a total surprise in a district that went for Bush by 8 points (54 percent to 46 percent) in 2004. State Sen. John Boccieri should be a strong Democratic nominee, while the Republican nominee, state Sen. Kirk Schuring, may have problems holding his party’'s base.

Arizona’'s 1st: GOP strategists breathed a sigh of relief when embattled Rep. Rick Renzi (R) announced he wouldn’'t seek re-election, but this district is still in play. Former state Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick is the favorite in the Democratic race, though she faces a fight for her party’s nomination from former TV personality Mary Kim Titla and attorney Howard Shanker. The Republican race pits conservative activist Sydney Hay against state Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes, though former state Senate President Ken Bennett is reconsidering his earlier decision not to run. Bush won the district by 8 points in 2004.

Alabama’'s 5th: Rep. Bud Cramer’s retirement creates a rare Democratic open-seat problem this cycle. His North Alabama district is only 17 percent black, and Bush carried it with 60 percent four years ago. Businessman Wayne Parker, who lost a squeaker to Cramer in 1994 (and by a larger margin in 1996) is running for the GOP nomination, while state Sen. Parker Griffith has entered the Democratic race.

New Jersey'’s 3rd: Rep. Jim Saxton’s (R) retirement gives Democrats another target in the Northeast. State Sen. John Adler (D) also gives them a formidable nominee. Local Republicans are split, with Lockheed Vice President Chris Myers having the support of Saxton and the important Burlington County GOP. Myers faces Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly for the GOP nomination. The district is competitive.

Minnesota’'s 3rd: Rep. Jim Ramstad’s (R) retirement adds to Republican woes given the competitiveness of the suburban district. The district went for Bush by 3 points in 2004. State Sen. Terri Bonoff is having a surprisingly hard time trying to fend off Ashwin Madia, an attorney and Iraq War veteran, for the Democratic nomination, while state Rep. Erik Paulsen is expected to be the GOP nominee.

New Mexico’'s 1st: Republican Rep. Heather Wilson’'s run for the Senate opens up a seat that she has held, though with significant difficulty, since a June 1998 special election. Last year, she was re-elected by 861 votes. Three Democrats are in the race: former Albuquerque Councilor Martin Heinrich, former state Health Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham and former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron. But Republicans are upbeat about their chances, with Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White the favorite of party insiders. Kerry carried the district with 51 percent in 2004.

Ohio'’s 15th: Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce barely held on last time, defeating Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy by 1,000 votes in a come-from-behind win. Kilroy is back, but Pryce has decided to call it quits. State Sen. Steve Stivers (R) initially passed on the race but has changed his mind. He should be a formidable candidate in November. While Bush barely squeezed by Kerry four years ago, Franklin County (Columbus) has been moving toward the Democrats.

Oregon’'s 5th: Democratic Rep. Darlene Hooley'’s retirement gives Republicans a competitive Democratic seat to shoot at. Each party has a primary. For the Democrats, it’s state Sen. Kurt Schrader and former gubernatorial aide Steve Marks, and for the GOP it is former party Chairman Kevin Mannix and ’06 nominee Mike Erickson. Bush carried the district narrowly in 2004.

New Jersey'’s 7th: State Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D) is taking her second shot at the seat after losing to Rep. Mike Ferguson (R) by less than 2 points in 2006. With Ferguson retiring, she'll face either state Sen. Leonard Lance (R) or Kate Whitman (R), daughter of the former governor, in the general election. Bush carried the district with 53 percent in 2004, leaving another GOP headache.

Stuart Rothenberg is the editor of the The Rothenberg Political Report, and a regular columnist for Roll Call Newspaper.

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