The Four Kinds of Democratic Losers

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 3 2010 1:01 PM

The Four Kinds of Democratic Losers

LAS VEGAS -- We're a few days away from knowing exactly how many Democrats have lost their House seats, and how many open seats were lost, but we can already start dividing these into four groups.

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The Never-Should-Have-Been Theres. Pennsylvania's Chris Carney and Ohio's Zack Space won their seats because their opponents melted down in scandals. New York's Scott Murphy, Illinois's Bill Foster, and Mississippi's Travis Childers won their seats in special elections, and in the latter two cases they held them in the Obama wave. Those seats don't make sense for Democrats and were just waiting for a good Republican wave. They got one.

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The Holdouts Who Didn't Hold Out. Missouri's Ike Skelton, South Carolina's John Spratt, Virginia's Rich Boucher, North Dakota's Earl Pomeroy, Florida's Allen Boyd, and Mississippi's Gene Taylor represented conservative seats for a long time, even their electorates grew more conservative. White Democrats held tough seats in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama for generations. Those seats are all gone and in all cases Democrats have been weakened at lower levels in their districts -- there are fewer Democrats representing state legislative districts.

The Swing Seats That Are Still Swing Seats (Depending on Redistricting). Republicans gained a number of seats thanks to angry voters in districts that Democratic presidential candidates have carried for years -- from Phil Hare, from Jim Oberstar, from Bob Etheridge, probably from Solomon Ortiz. Some districts, like Etheridge's, were carried in upsets by candidates that Democrats assumed were just bad fits for the district, like Florida's Allen West. And Ohio's Charlie Wilson lost because his divorce records came out and they revealed very ugly things.

The Could-Have-Beens. Nevada's Dina Titus was a prime example of a Democrat taking over territory that had been growing more suburban and blue, as was Pennsylvania's Patrick Murphy, as were Michigan's Mark Schauer and, Illinois's Melissa Bean. There will be Democrats who assume -- with reason -- that they were felled by bad top-of-ticket trends and bad turnout models.

Of course, underlying all of this is the fact that the House map will be different, and presumably more favorable to Republicans, in 2012. Democrats won the House in 2006 and 2008 on a map built for Republican dominance, so I think the assumption that they're going to fall into deeper holes is off base. But there are clearly 20 or so seats it will be very, very tough for them to compete in for a while, if they ever can, and there are almost as many seats that they need to immediately start targeting, some by convincing the surprise losers to run again, some with new candidates.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.