WASHINGTON – Republicans are luring new candidates into Congressional races and analysts say the number of seats up for grabs in November appears to be growing, setting up a midterm election likely to be harder fought than anyone anticipated prior to the party’s big victory in Massachusetts last week.
Republicans still face many obstacles, not least a series of potentially divisive primaries in coming months that will highlight the deep ideological rifts within the party. But in the days since Republicans claimed the Senate seat that had been held for decades by Edward M. Kennedy, upending assumptions in both parties about the political landscape for 2010, they have seen not just a jolt of energy and optimism but concrete opportunities to take on Democrats in more contests.
Just since Tuesday, half a dozen Republican candidates have expressed interest in challenging Democrats in House races in Pennsylvania, New York and potentially Massachusetts, party officials said.Stuart Rothenberg, a political analyst who follows Congressional races, said a report he will release Monday will count 58 Democratic House seats in play, up from 47 in December. The number of Republican seats in play has remained steady at 14 over the same period, he said. At the same time, Democrats expect more of their incumbents to retire, which could put additional seats at risk.
Republicans need a net gain of 40 seats to regain control of the House, a prospect that still seems unlikely, though hardly impossible.But the outlook for November remains hard to discern for several reasons. The Supreme Court decision last week overturning limitations on corporate money in campaigns holds the potential to alter the election in ways that are difficult to predict, though the conventional wisdom is that Republicans will benefit most.The Republicans could actually take back the House just a few years after a major party realignment. Quite astonishing.Across the country, Republican candidates are running as outsiders with the backing of conservative Tea Party activists, challenging Republicans identified with the party establishment. Several analysts said the victory of Scott Brown, a Republican who ran with Tea Party support, for the Massachusetts Senate seat, could encourage more challenges and could drive incumbents further to the right.