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Looking Ahead to the 2010 House Race Landscape

As the House winds to a close this week, it's only natural to contemplate what lies ahead in 2010. For Democrats, who for the first time in 16 years control both the White House and Congress, much of the discussion next year will focus on the midterm elections. Based on historical standards and the current political atmosphere it's almost a foregone conclusion that the party will lose seats.

Democratic leadership is publicly looking ahead as well -- Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen has scheduled a press briefing on Capitol Hill this morning to discuss the midterms, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi held court yesterday with a group of reporters. Pelosi assured them that Democrats would indeed hold on to a majority in Congress after November 2010; however, following four retirement announcements in as many weeks from congressmen in swing districts, Pelosi said she is "in campaign mode."

"A swing of 110 seats," said Pelosi, "That is really challenging to sustain. But that is our goal, is to sustain our majority. And we will have a strong majority."

While few political observers expect Republicans to pick up the 41 seats necessary to win back control of the House, a close look at the raw numbers shows exactly why the GOP feels the wind at its back.

In his 2008 bid for president, John McCain won 49 congressional districts that are represented by a Democrat in the House. Beyond that, President Obama won 37 Democratic districts that voted for George W. Bush in 2004, including New York-23. While many districts regularly vote differently at the congressional and presidential level, a total of 86 Democratic districts -- exactly one-third of the Democratic seats -- have voted Republican in at least one of the last two presidential elections.

Of the 49 McCain-Democrat districts, nearly half are represented by a Democrat serving just their first or second term, including 14 freshmen and nine sophomores. Of those 23 districts, four Democrats won by 3 points or less in a district McCain won by double-digits: Bobby Bright (AL-02), Walt Minnick (ID-01), Parker Griffith (AL-05) and Frank Kratovil (MD-01).

The retirement announcements of Dennis Moore (KS-03), John Tanner (TN-08), Brian Baird (WA-03) and Bart Gordon (TN-06) in recent weeks signals the potential for more Democrats from moderate districts to bail out of a tough 2010 political landscape. It also bumped up to seven the number of competitive open seats.

While losing seats appears inevitable, Democrats do have opportunities to play offense, and the DCCC this week began running radio ads in five GOP districts that could be vulnerable: Dan Lungren (CA-03), Mary Bono Mack (CA-45), Lee Terry (NE-02), Charlie Dent (PA-15) and Joe Wilson (SC-02). Obama won four of the five districts, and Wilson won with just 54 percent of the vote -- as did McCain.

Obama won a total of 34 districts held by Republicans. Of those, three will be open seats in 2010, as Mark Kirk (IL-10), Mike Castle (DE-AL) and Jim Gerlach (PA-06) are all running for higher office. An even bigger target for Democrats, though, is Lousiana's 2nd District, where Joseph Cao defeated longtime incumbent William Jefferson -- who was sentenced last month to 13 years in federal prison -- by 3 points. Obama won the district by 52 points.

As it was in 2008, the state of the economy is sure to be an overriding factor in the outcome of the midterms. Looking ahead to November, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) told RealClearPolitics this week: "I think people are looking at jobs. What is going to happen with the jobs landscape?"