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41 is the crucial number in 2010 battle for the House

By Paul Steinhauser, CNN deputy political director
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • GOP needs to win back 41 seats to regain control of House
  • Republicans target top Democrats who voted for health care reform bill
  • Democrats defending seats, going after Republican spots
RELATED TOPICS

Washington (CNN) -- In the battle for Congress, 41 is the crucial number. That's the number of seats the Republicans need to win back from the Democrats in next year's midterm elections to take control of the House of Representatives.

Next November, all 435 seats in the House, where Democrats hold an 258-177 advantage, are up for grabs. After winning back Congress in the 2006 contests and increasing their majorities in the 2008 elections, the Democrats will be playing defense next year. Making matters tougher for the Democrats, the country's political landscape has changed this year, mostly to the benefit of Republicans. But will it be enough to get them to 41?

"President Barack Obama's standing has weakened, Democrats are on the defensive on the economy, spending and health care, and key midterm voting groups, including seniors and Independents, are moving away from the Democrats and toward the GOP," says Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.

Of the 39 House Democrats who earlier this month voted against their party's health care reform bill, 31 come from districts that Sen. John McCain won in last year's presidential election. Of the remaining eight, six come from districts in which Obama won less than 55 percent of the vote.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is targeting some top Democrats who voted in favor of the health care bill steered through the chamber by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"The Obama-Pelosi agenda of government takeovers and fewer jobs is proving to be wildly out of touch with the needs of middle class Americans. The Democratic Party is losing independent voters by the day, which is why even some of the most senior members of their caucus are already finding themselves in tough races," said Ken Spain, NRCC communications director. "If Democrats continue down this path, Republicans are positioned to make substantial gains."

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee disagrees. They term the Republicans the "party of no."

"It's no wonder the American people don't trust Congressional Republicans when all they offer are false attacks on President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Congressional Democrats and a return to the failed Bush-era policies that left us with an economic catastrophe," said the committee's national press secretary Ryan Rudominer.

And Rudominer says that while the Democrats have a large majority to defend, they're not just playing defense.

"Despite facing a headwind this cycle, we are aggressively staying on offense by putting 20 Republicans seats in play, ensuring our members and candidates have the resources to get their message out, and most importantly, being the party of progress."

So what do Americans think, one year after the elections? According to a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation national poll, 49 percent of Americans say they'd vote for the Democratic candidate in their congressional district, with 43 percent supporting the Republican.

The generic ballot question asked respondents if they would vote for a Democrat or Republican in their congressional district, without naming specific candidates. The survey was conducted November 13-15.

"That six-point margin is unchanged from an early November poll taken just before the dramatic health care vote on November 7," said CNN polling director Keating Holland. "The Democrats would certainly like their number to be higher, but the lack of movement suggests no blowback yet from the health care vote on the party's electoral chances next year."

A lot could change between now and next November. The state of the economy, which remains the No. 1 issue on the minds of Americans, is crucial.

A strong recovery next year will benefit Democrats. But the party in power could be in political trouble if unemployment remains above 10 percent well into next summer.

The big question is whether the rough political climate, if it continues, will lead to a political tidal wave for Republican candidates.

Both Rothenberg and the Cook Political Report, another nonpartisan publication, suggest that Republicans will make gains in next year's elections, but neither predict that the GOP will win back control of the House.

One reason may be a lack of retirements so far by House Democrats. Even in a tough political climate, picking off incumbents isn't that easy.

On Monday Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore of Kansas announced he would retire next year, stirring discussion among political analysts.

 
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