GOP looks to erase Dems’ comfy House majority

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WASHINGTON (AP) — No fewer than 65 House seats across the country — an overwhelming majority held by Democrats — are at risk of changing political hands this fall, enough to bolster Republican hopes of regaining power and stoke fears in President Obama’s party of losing it.

Even more races from California to New York could become competitive by November as voters look to blame someone for the sluggish economic recovery and take out their frustration on the Democrats who run the government. As of now, enough seats are in play that Republicans could gain the 39 they need to reclaim the House, dealing a blow to Mr. Obama in the first midterm elections of his presidency.

Primary outcomes and national polls show a restless electorate and energized Republicans. Independents, who propelled the Democrats to power in 2006 and 2008 in scores of swing districts, are leaning toward the GOP, expressing concerns about excessive spending, government overreach and the spiraling national debt.

Every part of the country features close House contests. At least six are in Pennsylvania and at least five in Ohio. Three apiece or more are in Arizona, Indiana, Florida and Illinois. New Hampshire has two, as does Arkansas.

Democrats say 70 at most are up for grabs; the GOP says the number is closer to 80. In interviews with the Associated Press, lawmakers and party officials from both sides agree that at least 65 of the 435 races are hotly contested — and Democrats are on the defense in most.

Democrats just reserved nearly $50 million in TV advertising time for the fall in 60 districts, mostly to protect seats held by their own members.

“Republicans are on offense and Democrats are running for cover,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “The Democrats are running from their own record.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and other party leaders insist they will hold onto the House.

Democrats are counting on their money advantage to stem the losses. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has nearly $17 million more available than the National Republican Congressional Committee to spend this fall. And most of the Democrats’ threatened incumbents have a 2-to-1 cash advantage over their GOP challengers.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, who is chairman of the Democratic House campaign effort, said his party is confident it will retain its majority. Still, he said, keeping such a comfortable majority will be difficult. The current breakdown is 255 Democrats, 178 Republicans and two vacancies. One of those is a Republican-held seat in Indiana; the other is a New York seat that likely will end up in GOP control.

“We’ve won 55 seats over the last two cycles, and we hold virtually every swing seat in the country. That’s what makes it a very challenging cycle, but that being said, we will win the majority,” Mr. Van Hollen said.

In 1994, the first midterms for Democratic President Bill Clinton, the party was stunned as Republicans swept to power, capturing the House after 40 years. Mr. Van Hollen said that, unlike 1994, Democrats knew from the moment Mr. Obama got elected that they would face a difficult 2010 election because they won seats in a slew of conservative districts.

In fact, dozens of Democrats were elected in 2006 and 2008 in swing-voting districts in a wave that booted Republicans. Now that the political landscape is tilting toward the GOP, most of those freshmen and sophomores are vulnerable.

Among the top GOP targets in districts Republican presidential nominee John McCain won two years ago are Democratic Reps. Betsey Markey of Colorado, Tom Perriello of Virginia and Walt Minnick of Idaho.

Also, given the anti-Washington strain coursing through a recession-weary electorate, some of the most senior Democrats who long have held conservative districts also are risk. They include 17-term Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton and 14-term South Carolina Rep. John M. Spratt Jr.

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