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Follow the Money: What kind of wave will 2010 bring ashore?


Opinion polls and prognosticators alike suggest that Republicans are poised to make a major comeback in this year’s midterm elections. The comparison du jour is the 1994 “wave” that swept 54 Democrats in the House of Representatives out of office and the Republicans into power for the first time since 1956. A more accurate comparison, based on a Sunlight Foundation analysis of campaign finance disclosure information, would be the 2006 elections when Democrats won 31 seats and a bare majority in the House.

If incumbents lose at the same rate as they did in 2006 Democrats will lose approximately 30-31 seats this November, according to the Sunlight Foundation analysis. If, however, incumbents lose at the same rate as in 1994—which entails numerous other factors that will be revisited in later posts—Democrats would be in serious trouble, losing between 46 and 51 seats and their majority.

House Democrats are on pace to have more incumbents and incumbent party candidates pass a key threshold in fundraising to help their electoral prospects come November: when incumbents raise more than 70 percent of the contributions in their race, they rarely lose an election, even in wave elections.

We analyzed campaign contributions to incumbents and challengers in 2010, 2006 and 1994, and found that, with less than 100 days to the midterm election, Democrats have only 61 incumbent candidates who have raised less than 70 percent of the total campaign contribution haul in their respective races. This compares to 73 for both the majority Republicans in 2006 and the majority Democrats in 1994, the last two major wave elections. (See the infographic below to explore campaign funding percentages raised in individual races. Some races may be slightly out of order due to late night additions from Kansas, Michigan and Missouri.)

In 1994, of those in the majority party who exceeded the 70 percent threshold, only 3.3 percent of them lost. In 2006, those with over 70 percent lost even less frequently than in 1994—just 0.8 percent.

There are nine races listed as toss-ups by the Cook Political Report where incumbents have raised over 70 percent of the total campaign contributions. Reps. Suzanne Kosmas (FL-24), Dina Titus (NV-03), Bill Foster (IL-14), Tom Perriello (VA-05), Joseph Cao (LA-02) and Mark Schauer (MI-07) all may have given themselves a fighting chance in their tough races.

So have the incumbent party candidates running in the open seats left vacant by the retiring Reps. Brian Baird (WA-03) and Paul Hodes (NH-02), the latter of who is running for the Senate.

Some other races also targeted by Republicans where incumbents have given themselves a good padding in campaign funding include Reps. Kathy Dahlkemper (PA-03), Jon Adler (NJ-03), Gabrielle Giffords (AZ-08) and Martin Heinrich (NM-01).

Perhaps most protected of those listed in toss-up races is freshman Rep. Alan Grayson (FL-08), who has raised 88 percent of the total campaign contributions in his race. In 1994 and 2006 combined only two congressmen lost reelection when raising a percentage of campaign contributions comparable to Grayson’s.

Those two were both subject to unique circumstances. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, who was already imprisoned when he was on the ballot, and Rep. Dan Glickman, who’s natural constituency had been moved out of his district in the post-1990 census redistricting.

On the other side of the coin are those who raise far less than their challenger.

Those who raise below 40 percent of the total campaign contributions in their race are almost guaranteed to lose. In 1994, incumbents and incumbent party candidates lost 91 percent of the time. In 2006, they lost 83 percent of the time.

There are currently eleven incumbents or incumbent party candidates who have raised less than 40 percent of the total campaign contributions in their races. Ten of these are Democrats and one is a Republican.

All but three of these races are open seats targeted by the opposition. Those other three races should have the Democratic majority worried though. They include three incumbents thought to be relatively safe, Reps. Tim Bishop (NY-01), Marcy Kaptur (OH-09) and Betty Sue Sutton (OH-13).

Both Kaptur and Sutton are raising less than 30 percent of the total contributions in their races, which in both 1994 and 2006 is a near slam-dunk loss. (In 2006, all incumbents lost when raising less than 30 percent. In 1994, one incumbent survived out of seven meaning that 86 percent lost.)

The open seat races that fall into this category include four rated as toss-ups by the Cook Political Report. These are the seats vacated by Reps. Bart Stupak (MI-01), Dennis Moore (KS-03), Joe Sestak (PA-07) and the seat left open by the resignation of Rep. Eric Massa (NY-29).

The worst race for the incumbent party is occurring in Tennessee where the Republican challenger to fill the open seat vacated by retiring Rep. Jim Cooper is raising 86 percent of the total campaign cash. The campaign contribution analysis backs up the Cook rating of this race as a Likely Republican takeover.

The only Republican-held seat in this batch of likely losers is the open seat to be vacated by Rep. Mike Castle (DE-AL), who is running for the Senate. The Republican running to hold Castle’s seat is only pulling in 33 percent of the campaign contributions in his race. This looks like a likely pick-up for the majority Democrats.

With each 10 percent increase above the 40 percent mark comes a better chance at retaining your seat.

Those raising between 40 percent and 50 percent of the total campaign haul face significantly better odds than those under 40 percent in wave elections. Still, incumbents and incumbent party candidates in this range have a much harder time than those who raise more than their opponents.

In 1994, those who raised between 40 percent and 50 percent lost 50 percent of the time. In 2006, those raising in the same range lost 39 percent of the time.

There are currently nine Democrats and four Republicans who fall into this category. Six of the Democrats are members of Congress and all are either freshmen or sophomore congressmen. They include Reps. John Boccieri (OH-16), Jerry McNerney (CA-11), John Hall (NY-19), Mark Critz (PA-12), Harry Teague (NM-02) and Ron Klein (FL-22). Only Teague is listed as a toss-up in the Cook Political Report. Boccieri, McNerney, Hall and Critz are listed as Lean Democrat and Klein is listed as Likely Democrat.

Republican incumbent seats that could be in trouble include the seat of Rep. Dan Lungren and the open seat races in the seat of retiring Rep. Mark Kirk (IL-10), who is running for Senate, and the Alabama seat of Rep. Parker Griffith, who, after switching parties last December, was defeated in a Republican primary. Kirk’s former seat is listed as a toss-up in the Cook Political Report.

The victory of Michael Pompeo, who raised less than other candidates, in the Republican primary for the district being vacated by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (KS-04) left the Republicans with another open seat where their candidate has raised less than 50 percent of the total campaign contributions. This seat is likely not to switch parties as the district is strongly Republican.

The ranges just above the 50 percent mark provide more comfort for the majority, as the rate of members who lose are lower, but this is where they could lose the largest number of seats.

In 1994, those who pulled in between 50-60 percent of the total campaign dollars lost 38.9 percent of the time. That led to 14 out of 36 incumbents or incumbent party candidates losing. In 2006, eight out 30 incumbents or incumbent party candidates lost, or 26.7 percent.

There are seventeen Democrats and eight Republicans who have raised between 50-60% of total campaign contributions in their races so far. The Cook Political Report lists seven of these as toss-ups, all but one held by Democrats.

Rep. Charles Djou (HI-01) holds the one Republican toss-up seat. Djou won the traditionally heavily Democratic seat in a special election race earlier this year when two Democrats divided the vote.

Seats that do not look promising for Democrats include those of Reps. Glenn Nye (VA-02), Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15), Steve Driehaus (OH-01), Frank Kratovil (MD-01) and Travis Childers (MS-01). All are in difficult districts and are still not raising over 60 percent of the total campaign cash for their respective races. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01) is barely cracking the 50 percent mark, but may survive as she has previously won election twice without ever getting much further over the 50 percent mark than she currently is.

In 1994, among those raising between 60 and 70 percent of the total campaign contribution dollars, one third lost. In 2006, one fifth of those in the same percentage range lost. There are currently 25 Democrats and 12 Republicans in the 60-70 percent range.

This includes four toss-up races, all held by Democrats. These are the seats of Reps. Michael Arcuri (NY-24), Betsy Markey (CO-04), Bobby Bright (AL-02) and Earl Pomeroy (ND-AL).

There is only one open seat race (AZ-03) in this percentage range and it is likely to be held by the incumbent Republican Party.

Whether the 2010 midterms will look like 2006 or 1994, or somewhere in between, more incumbents will likely lose in this bracket than just the four who are in difficult toss-up races.

(See here for methodology.)