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The Dems' Long Odds to Take Back the House

The results from California's 50th district this week are putting a damper on the idea that Republicans are primed to lose the House this fall. As RCP's Jay Cost pointed out yesterday, CA-50 is the type of seat Democrats will have to win if they hope to take back the House.

In today's Washington Post, Jonathan Weisman has a front page story highlighting the hurdles Democrats will face this fall. Wesiman points to eight races in the "top tier" where Democrats have fielded solid challengers:

Patricia Madrid, to challenge their perennial target in Albuquerque, Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R); Ron Klein, a prominent, telegenic state senator, to challenge Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.); a law-and-order Indiana sheriff, Brad Ellsworth, to run against Rep. John N. Hostettler (R-Ind.); law professor Lois Murphy to run against Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.); and former Westport first selectwoman Diane Farrell to take on Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.). In other races, Harry Mitchell, a former Tempe mayor already honored with a statue in his district, is taking on Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.); Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy is challenging Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio); and Iraq war veteran Andrew Horne is attempting to unseat Rep. Anne M. Northup (R-Ky.), a perennially vulnerable incumbent.

Democrats do have some decent challengers and Wilson in New Mexico, Hostettler in Indiana, Gerlach in Pennsylvania and Shays in Connecticut may indeed go down this fall. But the problem is that after a handful of potential pickups, Democratic opportunities start to degrade rapidly. The fact that J.D. Hayworth, Deborah Pryce and Anne Northup are listed in the Democrats' top tier exposes just how much of a long-shot it is for them to take the House.

Hayworth is a popular 6-term incumbent, in a Republican district, who won in 2004 by 21 points. Pryce is chairman of the Republican Conference (the number four position in the Republican leadership) and has averaged 67% of the vote in her last six elections, winning in '04 by 20 points at the same time Kerry tied Bush in her district. And while Northup has been a Democrat target since winning a squeaker in 1996 and is in a district that voted for Gore and Kerry by a couple of points, she appears to have established herself, winning easily in '04 by 22 pts.

If Democrats can't win in California 50 with the Republican congressman in jail and the generic GOP ballot numbers and Bush job approval ratings in the toilet, how can they seriously argue they will beat incumbents like Hayworth, Pryce and Northup this fall? As bad as the media has made it out for Bush and the Republicans, the California results appear to indicate that the environment will have to continue to deteriorate for the GOP to give Democrats a realistic hope of retaking the House.