Dems likely to lose House, analyst says

Political scientist expects GOP to pick up 47 seats, in addition to 8 or 9 in Senate

By Steven Thomma, McClatchy Newspapers
Friday, September 3, 2010

WASHINGTON -- The Democrats are likely to lose 47 seats and control of the House in November's elections, a top political analyst said in a new forecast Thursday.

Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, also said the Democrats are likely to lose eight or nine seats in the Senate, eight governors' offices and 300 to 500 seats in state legislatures.

"The numbers are eye-catching. Republicans are dramatically gaining in all categories," Sabato said in an interview. "It's generated by a rotten economy and a strong conservative reaction against President Obama."

The analysis marks the first time this year that Sabato and the university's Center for Politics have predicted a Republican takeover of the House.

Sabato is one of the most consistently accurate election prognosticators. His final pre-election analysis in 2006 got the exact number of Democratic gains in the House and Senate and was off by only one in governors' races. In 2008, he missed the final Electoral College count by only one, and missed the final House tally by only five seats.

"2010 was always going to be a Republican year, in the midterm tradition. It has simply been a matter of degree," Sabato said in a written analysis released Thursday.

"Had Democratic hopes on economic revitalization materialized, it is easy to see how the party could have used its superior financial resources, combined with the tendency of Republicans in some districts and states to nominate ideological fringe candidates, to keep losses to the low 30s in the House and a handful in the Senate."

With Labor Day looming, Sabato wrote, it's now clear that the summer didn't turn out as Democrats wanted.

Democrats now control the House by 255-178, with two vacancies, one previously held by each major party.

A switch of 47 seats would put the Republicans in charge by at least 226-209, assuming the two vacant seats remain in the same partisan control. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, is in line to be the new speaker of the House. His party would chair all House committees, and would gain subpoena power to force the Obama administration to answer questions.

At least one other nonpartisan analyst also is now predicting a Republican takeover of the House. University of Buffalo political scientist James Campbell forecasts that the Democrats will lose 51 or 52 seats.

Democrats now control the Senate by 57-41, with two independents joining them when voting for Senate leadership and rules. Losing nine seats would leave the Democrats with 48 seats plus the two independents. Though evenly split with Republicans, Democrats would have the tie-breaking vote from Vice President Joe Biden.

An important caveat: Some states still haven't held primaries, and those results could change the outlook. For example, Sabato now predicts that the GOP will win the Delaware Senate seat once held by Biden and filled by a Democratic placeholder since then.

However, that prediction is based on the assumption that Rep. Michael Castle wins the Sept. 14 Republican primary. Sabato said that Castle's tea party-backed challenger, Christine O'Donnell, is ill suited to Delaware, and would lose the seat in the Nov. 2 election.