Sabato's Crystal Ball

House Ratings Changes

Isaac Wood, House Race Editor February 25th, 2010

It has only been a week since the Crystal Ball published our most recent comprehensive view of House races across the country, but political news abhors a vacuum and there already many new developments to report. All nine ratings changes this week benefit Republicans, further evidence of the many advantages they face across the country at this time. The Crystal Ball moves five Democratic seats from a “safe” rating onto our list of competitive races: KY-6 (Ben Chandler), MA-10 (Bill Delahunt), OH-13 (Betty Sutton), SC-5 (John Spratt), and VA-9 (Rick Boucher). In addition, two already competitive races for Democrats look even worse than before—IA-3 (Leonard Boswell) and IN-8 (OPEN, Brad Ellsworth)—and two Republican incumbents have improved their reelection prospects—AL-3 (Mike Rogers) and CA-44 (Ken Calvert).

With filing deadlines and primaries rapidly approaching in some states, we also present a House calendar so our readers can stay one step ahead of the next big news. You can find it on our website by clicking here.

AL-3 (Mike Rogers-R)
Rating Change: Likely R to Safe R

Alabama Republican Mike Rogers faces a repeat challenger in 2010, facing off against 2008 foe, Democrat Josh Segall. While Segall held Rogers to just 53% of the vote in 2008, this year’s midterms with take place in a much different political environment. If Segall was not able to best Rogers in one of the best years for Democrats in recent memory, it is hard to imagine him doing it this year which looks to have a much more Republican tilt.

CA-44 (Ken Calvert-R)
Rating Change: Leans R to Likely R

A slim margin of victory in 2008 shot Ken Calvert up the short list of Democratic targets for 2010. Underfunded Bill Hedrick, a local school board member with no national party assistance, lost to Calvert by just 6,000 votes, two percent of the total cast, and Obama narrowly carried the district despite Bush’s nineteen percent victory here in 2004. Hedrick announced a rematch bid in April of last year as Calvert still fights a real estate scandal. While he will get more national attention this time around, Calvert is unlikely to get caught napping twice and the national winds will be blowing against Hedrick and the Democrats in this midterm year.

IA-3 (Leonard Boswell-D)
Rating Change: Likely D to Leans D

Retirement rumors plagued Democrat Leonard Boswell earlier this year and while he has swatted them away, the crop of Republican challengers circling around his seat will not be dispatched as easily. The Republican establishment favorite looks to be Jim Gibbons, a successful businessman and former wrestling coach at Iowa State University. Gibbons outraised his primary opponents, and Boswell, in the fourth quarter of last year, despite only entering the race in mid-November. Gibbons also has some well-known supporters going to the mat for him, including former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former Rep. Greg Ganske. The NRCC is very optimistic about his chances, listing him as “On the Radar” which moves him one step closer to receiving national party money. Boswell is a seven term incumbent and Obama comfortably carried the district in 2008, but the district is a pure battleground and Boswell has not received more than 56% of the vote in any reelection bid this decade.

IN-8 (OPEN, Brad Ellsworth-D)
Rating Change: Likely D to Toss-up

Rep. Brad Ellsworth officially removed his name from the ballot this week, at least from the House race in IN-8. Instead Ellsworth is seeking the Democratic nomination for Senate, hoping to hold the seat that Democrat Evan Bayh will vacate at the end of his current term. Ellsworth may be joined in that nomination contest by fellow Hoosier Rep. Baron Hill, but for the moment Ellsworth is the leading Democratic candidate, which explains why he was willing to give up his House seat for the opportunity. In Ellsworth’s place on the Democratic ticket in IN-8 will be state legislator Trent Van Haaften. Van Haaften has been already criticized by Republicans for his lobbyist connections, a somewhat ironic charge given the maelstrom surrounding their leading Senate candidate, Dan Coats, a former lobbyist himself. Republican hopes seem to rest on Larry Bucshon, a heart surgeon who leads a crowded GOP field in fundraising and has drawn the attention of the NRCC. The district itself is reliably Republican, with George W. Bush capturing 62% of the vote here in 2004. Without the “swaggering sheriff” Ellsworth defending the seat, it jumps to the top of the list of potential GOP takeover opportunities.

KY-6 (Ben Chandler-D)
Rating Change: Safe D to Likely D

Democratic Rep. Ben Chandler may have politically solid roots, but the ground on which he is planted is shaky at best. The grandson of a former governor and senator, Chandler ran for governor himself in 2003, losing then-Rep. Ernie Fletcher by ten points. Chandler decided to run in the subsequent special election for Fletcher’s House seat, won in something of a shocker, and has won reelection three times since, with large margins in the past two Democratic wave elections. Chandler’s endorsement of Obama in 2008 ruffled a few feathers though, especially as Obama captured just 43% of the vote in Chandler’s district. With 2010 taking on a decidedly Republican bent, Chandler could be in big trouble despite voting against the House health care bill and sitting on $1.6 million in campaign cash. The NRCC is touting Andy Barr who used to work for Fletcher, Chandler’s old rival. Barr will face former Democrat and coal company executive Mike Templeman, who is personally wealthy and has already begun airing campaign ads on TV. Either candidate could give Chandler a stiff challenge in this very Republican district.

MA-10 (Bill Delahunt-D)
Rating Change: Safe D to Likely D

The last few months have not been kind to Democratic Rep. Bill Delahunt. First, Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown carried the district during his special election victory just a year after Obama carried MA-10 by twelve points. Then there was the February 12 shooting at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. How could a congressman half a country away be affected by that? In1986, the suspect in the Alabama shooting had shot and killed her brother, firing three shots from a pump-action shotgun, although the shooting was labeled “accidental.” The district attorney who decided not to prosecute the case? Bill Delahunt. Flash forward to 2010 and Delahunt is attracting a crowd of GOP challengers, somewhat surprising given the Democratic tilt of the district. Former state Treasurer Joe Malone leads the pack, albeit with some baggage of his own from his time in office when his top aides made off with several million in state money, although Malone himself was not implicated. Malone’s internal polls already show him neck-and-neck with Delahunt, but rumors abound that Delahunt may retire instead of pursuing a difficult reelection bid. Adding to the intrigue in this Cape Cod district is the name of Delahunt’s rumored successor on the Democratic ticket: Joseph Kennedy III, son of the late Senator Edward Kennedy whose death sparked the special election that Brown won.

OH-13 (Betty Sutton-D)
Rating Change: Safe D to Likely D

It is rare that dropping out of a race gives you a better shot at going to Congress, but that is the case for Republican car dealer Tom Ganley. Ganley dropped out of the Ohio Senate race and announced he would instead challenge Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton. He brings with him over $1.2 million in campaign cash which dwarfs Sutton’s meager total of $210,000. Sutton’s district leans Democratic, with both Obama in 2008 and Kerry in 2004 surpassing 55% of the vote in their respective presidential contests, but she introduced two high-profile liberal bills that could be used against her in 2010: union “card check” legislation and “cash for clunkers.” Ganley’s entry catapults the race from a safe rating onto the list of competitive contests.

SC-5 (John Spratt-D)
Rating Change: Safe D to Leans D

Rep. John Spratt finds himself in good company as a long-time Democratic congressman from a Republican district suddenly endangered in this newly-Republican national environment. Republicans had been trying to push him to retire and while it looks like he has rebuffed those attempts, his political future is still less than certain. After voting for the stimulus, cap-and-trade, and the House health care bill, Spratt has drawn a strong Republican challenger. State senator Mick Mulvaney was named by Time Magazine as one of the top ten GOP challengers most likely to become the next Scott Brown, pulling off a surprise Republican upset. This will be House election number fifteen for Spratt, the chairman of the House Budget committee, and he has won every way imaginable. In 1994, though, his margin was just four percent and 2010 could turn out to be at least as close, if not closer.

VA-9 (Rick Boucher-D)
Rating Change: Safe D to Likely D

When an incumbent member of Congress who has represented the same district for 28 years draws a challenger who does not even live in the district should he be worried? If the incumbent is Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher then yes. Boucher’s district is coal country, comprised of the entire southwestern tip of Virginia and bordered by West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. While Boucher voted against the health care bill, his vote for cap-and-trade is already causing him headaches. Adding to his pains, Virginia’s state House Majority Leader, Morgan Griffith, has all but announced he will challenge Boucher. Griffith is a top tier candidate and has been recruited by the NRCC, but he lives in the 6th District instead of the 9th. This could complicate his bid against the entrenched Boucher, although Griffith’s supporters point out that his home is only “feet” from the district’s border and redistricting may render the point moot after this year’s election. While Griffith’s bid would be legal, since congressmen in Virginia only have to live in the state and not in the district they represent, politics is perception and a Republican argument that Boucher is out of touch with his district could be weakened by a messenger who does not even live there. Still, Boucher will be in for one of the tougher fights of his decades-long career as Republicans put another entrenched Democrat on their target list.

Crystal Ball House Race Ratings