- Associated Press - Sunday, August 1, 2010

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.

Another worry for the Democrats is the political fallout of a likely September trial for Rep. Charles Rangel, the longtime New York legislator charged with 13 tax and disclosure violations.

“I’m not nervous at all” about Democrats’ prospects in November, Mrs. Pelosi told ABC’s “This Week” in an interview broadcast Sunday. Her party, she said, is “very proud” of its legislative record.

Yet to Rep. Pete Sessions, Texas Republican, who leads the committee charged with electing House Republicans, “No amount of spin or political attacks will save Speaker Pelosi and her party from being held accountable for their unpopular agenda.”

High on the GOP list are seats left open by retiring Democrats, including two in Arkansas and one each in Kansas, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin. The GOP also hopes to pick up seats in Illinois and Indiana, where an incumbent, Democrat Brad Ellsworth, is running for the Senate.

Democrats have only a few opportunities to win Republican-held seats.

They’re gunning for an at-large seat in Delaware and the 10th Congressional District in Illinois, where moderate Reps. Michael N. Castle and Mark Steven Kirk are running for the Senate from their respective states. Democratic presidential candidates typically carry Delaware and the Illinois district.

Republicans also consider Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao, the only Republican who voted for one version of Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul, virtually certain to lose in Louisiana. Mr. Cao represents a heavily Democratic New Orleans district; he won in 2008 after Democratic Rep. William Jefferson was indicted on bribery charges.

Democrats say there’s also little chance that Republicans will hang onto a Hawaii seat now occupied by GOP Rep. Charles Djou; Republicans don’t agree. Mr. Djou became the first Republican in nearly 20 years to be elected to the House from Hawaii in a special election. Two Democrats were on the ballot and split the vote.

Republicans also are worried privately about GOP Reps. Dan Lungren in California, Charlie Dent in Pennsylvania and Dave Reichart in Washington. And Democrats contend that GOP Reps. Mary Bono Mack in California and Lee Terry in Nebraska could be in trouble, and they’re also making a play for an open seat in Florida’s 25th Congressional District.

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