Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Democratic control of Congress may be more tenuous, especially in the long run, than post-election analysts have thus far been willing to acknowledge.

Democrats have a 233 to 202 majority in the House, but many of them picked up Republican-held seats by extremely thin margins in a very dismal environment for the GOP.

For example: Democrats gained a total of 14 House seats by less than 10,000 votes each, or roughly by a margin of 5 percentage points or less. Most, if not all, of these gains were in Republican-heavy districts that, with a more favorable political climate and good candidates, could be back in the GOP column in 2008 and likely will be.

Longer term, though, Democrats face an even bigger election problem: the ongoing population shifts from the North to the Sunbelt states that will benefit Republicans more than Democrats in the next decade and could also enlarge the GOP's electoral count in presidential elections.

While demographic and political analysts caution that Democrats have offset the GOP's Sunbelt advantage with new gains in the Northeast and have made inroads in parts of the South and Southwest, they say the sheer size of the migration by the end of this decade will help Republicans more.

"I think on balance the Republicans will benefit from the large number of seats in the Sunbelt region. They won't get 100 percent of it, but more than the Democrats do," said Merle Black, a veteran historian and analyst in southern political realignment at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.

In a recent study by Election Data Services, which analyzes how population movements affect redistricting changes under reapportionment, the firm reported the significance of this continuing realignment. Its projections of the number of Americans moving from the Democratic Northeast to the more Republican-friendly Southern and Western states "show that seven congressional seats in 13 states have already changed at this point in the decade."

EDS forecasts that seven states -- Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri and Louisiana -- will lose House seats and six will gain them: Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and Utah gaining one each, and Texas getting two.

But in a separate analysis, Polidata, a Washington-area demographic and political-research firm, sees a larger "probable" shift in seats from the North to the Sunbelt regions.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.