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Rumors of Dems’ death

Current Beltway conventional wisdom states that Democrats face a bloodbath this November. Once considered fantasy, many political observers and Republican activists now openly speculate about Republicans winning the 40 seats they need to take over the House. Election prognosticator Charlie Cook went so far as to predict, “[It’s] very hard to come up with a scenario where Democrats don’t lose the House.” 

Charlie, I love ya — but it’s really not that hard to imagine Democratic retention of the House. Here’s why.

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For starters, Republicans don’t have enough Democratic open seats for easy pickings. Republicans are competitive in up to 11 Democratic open seats. Democrats are solid bets in two Republican open seats. Assuming Republicans run the board on all 11 competitive Democratic open seats, and hold all their own incumbents (unlikely), they will still need to defeat another 31 Democratic incumbents. 

Defeating 31 incumbents is a tall order. As Chris Bowers noted at Open Left, Democrats won the national House popular vote by 6.49 percent in 2006, and 9.65 percent in 2008, yet managed to knock off only 37 incumbents in those two years combined. Looking at the current generic congressional ballot polls, the aggregate best-case scenario for the GOP (per Pollster.com) is a narrow 43.0 to 42.4 percent advantage. Remove from the aggregate results the right-leaning Scott Rasmussen, and Democrats lead 47.3 to 41.4 percent. (Rasmussen single-handedly props up GOP numbers in the generic congressional ballot, but that’s a topic for another column.)

Furthermore, the polling aggregate shows that Republican gains stalled out in early January and that Democrats began to rebound in early February, suggesting Democrats have already begun recovering from rock bottom. 

Furthermore, for the GOP to take control of the House, it has to win districts like Bobby Bright’s AL-02. Bright is a freshman Democrat in inhospitable territory — John McCain won his district 63-36 in 2008, and Bright is tops on the GOP’s hit list. Another freshman Alabama Democrat in a less Republican district, Parker Griffith, panicked and switched parties in December 2009. Yet an internal Bright campaign poll in mid-February found that he led potential Republican rivals by at least 24 points. Cook quickly changed his rating on this race from “toss-up” to “Lean D.”

Meanwhile, at least one highly touted Republican recruit has already quit the race. Unable to get fundraising traction, Springfield, Ore., Mayor Sid Leiken quit his challenge to Rep. Peter DeFazio in Oregon’s 4th congressional district — a seat that leans just slightly Democratic. Leiken isn’t the only Republican facing a steep fundraising climb. “The 12 freshman Democrats in House races rated as toss-ups by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report raised more than $14 million last year, compared with $8 million by their GOP rivals,” reported USA Today. “Nine of the freshmen collected more than $1 million each last year. None of their GOP rivals did.” Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee seriously lags its Democratic counterpart in cash on hand, $18 million to $4 million. 

Voter intensity could be a Republican advantage. As I’ve noted before, recent polling tells us that Republicans are far likelier to turn out than Democrats. But Democrats are poised to finally notch a dramatic healthcare victory, and Republican overreach — like Sen. Jim Bunning’s (Ky.) blocking of unemployment benefits for millions — is already firing up the Democratic troops and alienating independents.

Absent dramatic improvement in the economy, Republicans are still likely to make slight to moderate gains this November, but they’ve convinced themselves of so much more. And given their expectations and Beltway predictions, anything short of reclaiming the Speaker’s gavel would end up a crushing Republican defeat.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos  (dailykos.com).