Mapping the Political Terrain

In what type of political terrain are these recently acquired Democratic seats located? Primarily a mix of Republican-oriented districts that voted for John McCain in 2008 and George W. Bush four years earlier, or swing districts that voted for Democrat Barack Obama last time but supported Mr. Bush in 2004.

Among the recently elected Democrats who are considered in difficulty this fall are the controversial Alan Grayson of Florida (whose tongue-lashings of House Republicans are regular fare on MSNBC), Bill Foster of Illinois (who captured the seat previously held by former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert), and Travis Childers of Mississippi (who represents a constituency that favored Mr. McCain over Mr. Obama in 2008 by nearly 25 percentage points).

House control in November could come down to how well the Graysons, Fosters and Childers of the world are able to defend themselves. For the first time in their congressional careers, they will be running against the political wind, rather than with it. And in an environment that certainly appears unfavorable to Democrats in particular, and incumbents in general.

Yet unlike the Republican landslide of 1994, House Democrats will not be blindsided. They have had months to prepare for a difficult fall, which is seen in the large campaign chests that many Democratic incumbents have built.

Advantage of Incumbency

One of the more intriguing advantages that congressional Democrats, particularly the freshman members, may enjoy is something known as the “sophomore surge.” It is a concept noted by political scientists several decades ago, which basically says that new House members are generally stronger than conventional wisdom gives them credit for.