Republicans Don't Expect Big Gains in 2008 House Races

A leaked memo by House Republican Tom Davis showed his true feelings about the GOP's chances this Nov.

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House Republicans meet at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol: (L-R) House Minority Whip Rep. Roy Blunt (MO), Rep. David Dreier (CA), Minority Leader John Boehner (OH), Rep. Jerry Lewis (CA), and Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (MI).

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• A gain of six to 12 seats for Democrats, says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. He envisions three or four Democratic freshmen losing their seats, but the party making strides elsewhere, especially in light of the 27 open GOP seats. Only eight seats are open on the Democratic side. "This is going to be a bad year for Republicans," Sabato says. "The question is: 'Is it going to be bad, awful, or absolutely horrible?' I'm cautious by nature; I'm keeping it at 'bad.' "

• A gain of eight to 12 seats, says Stuart Rothenberg, editor of The Rothenberg Political Report, another nonpartisan election-watcher. "The Republicans argue, 'Oh, well, Democrats control Congress and it will be an anti-incumbent year,'" he says. "That's not the way it works. The president's party, fairly or unfairly, is at much greater risk."

• A gain of 10 to 20 seats, says David Wasserman, House editor for the nonpartisan publication, The Cook Political Report. "The Republican mantra is to 'stem losses' and a gain of any seats at all in November 2008 would be a surprise victory for the party."

At the NRCC, spokesman Ken Spain was guardedly optimistic—"We still believe we can pick up seats"—but acknowledged a "difficult political environment." He added: "Republicans need to be prepared for a tough election, whether they be incumbents or candidates running as challengers. They must be financially capable of running competitive races, and they must surround themselves with sound advisers and build strong grass-roots networks in order to effectively communicate with, energize, and turn out voters."

Spain declined to address boasts made only weeks ago: that the GOP could regain its House majority, which would now require a 19-seat gain. "We're playing to win," he would only say.

At the DCCC, chairman Chris Van Hollen, a House lawmaker from Maryland, won't divulge how many seats he expects to claim. There are too many uncertainties, he said, especially with respect to financial resources and the impact of the presidential contest. But Van Hollen, who derides the GOP as the "Party of No, Veto, and Status Quo," says his party is poised to beat history. A gain of one seat would prove him right. History shows that parties winning so-called wave elections, as his did with a win of 30 House seats in 2006, go on to lose seats two years later. One notable exception: Dems picked up a single seat in 1976 after massive wins two years earlier, thanks to President Richard Nixon's resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal.