Salena Zito

If a flood of House seats now held by Democrats switches to Republicans in 2010, it will not be because of a seismic change in the country’s ideology.

Many House sophomores and freshmen (those who won in 2006 and 2008) are conservative Democrats who appealed to traditional but disgruntled Republican voters in districts that lean Republican.

Some of these same districts went for Republican John McCain over Democrat Barack Obama last year’s presidential election.

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Political landscaper Charlie Cook sucked the oxygen out of the room for Democrats at August’s Netroots convention in Pittsburgh when he said the climate for Democrats has slipped completely out of control.

The problem is their victorious slogan in two consecutive national elections: “Change.” It sounded good in the last years of the Bush presidency, but there has been just too much of it.

The leap Democrats have taken since January – including government bailouts, stimulus packages and an unclear military strategy – have left voters exhausted and skeptical of the party they overwhelmingly supported at the polls.

Right now, Republicans are tied or leading in generic-ballot polls, something that numbers-crunchers haven’t seen since 2005. Republicans also have more enthusiasm, with most polls showing them to possess stronger opinions on policy issues than Democrats.

It all means that GOP congressional candidates may do very well in 2010.

Democrats had phenomenal cycles in ’06 and ’08, picking off a bunch of seats they frankly had no business winning, such as those of congressmen Parker Griffith and Bobby Bright in Alabama.

“Those will be very difficult seats to hold onto,” concedes one Beltway Democratic strategist.

Historically, a president's party loses a significant number of House seats in a midterm election.

“There are, of course, important mid-term years that resulted in much-larger-than-normal turnover,” says Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. As examples, he points to post-Watergate 1974, 1994’s GOP revolution, and the 2006 Democratic takeover.

“So much rides … on the health-care-reform debate,” Rozell predicts. “If Obama gets a health care bill out, even a substantially compromised one, he moves on to other issues, and we don't have anything like a repeat of 1994.”


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.