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Democrats, Republicans Fight for Control of the House

November 6, 2006 at 6:10 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: The big election and where things stand as of tonight. We begin with the House, and to Margaret Warner.

MARGARET WARNER: To win control of the House, Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats currently held by Republicans. For the latest assessment of the House race landscape, we’re joined by Amy Walter, senior editor of the Cook Political Report.

Amy, the Democrats have been on the offense pretty much throughout this season. How does it look now on the eve of the election?

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Well, you’re quite correct, Margaret, that this has been almost exclusively an offensive operation by Democrats. They have very few of their own seats in danger, and they’ve put something like 50 seats, maybe a couple more, held by Republicans in play.

I think, going into this election tomorrow night, it still looks as if Democrats are going to make significant gains, certainly more than the 15 they would need to pick up control of Congress. It’s just a question of how big this wave looks on election night, and that we don’t quite know yet.

But looking at the overall playing field, looking at where these seats sit right now, the polls, it looks like we’re going to see at least 20 seats, maybe significantly more, up to 30.

Democrats in the House races

MARGARET WARNER: Now, there are a couple of new national polls out that show that the Democrats lead in the so-called generic question -- who would you like to see take control of Congress -- has narrowed, in some polls significantly. Are you seeing that reflected in any House races, ones that looked competitive which have fallen back to the uncompetitive category?

AMY WALTER: Well, it's really important that we put these generic ballot questions in context. There were two polls in particular that showed a significant tightening, but there were a number of other national polls that still show Democrats with a significant lead. If you average them all, it's about a Democratic lead of something like 11 points on the generic, still a very significant lead for any party.

Where this impacts certain races -- if, in fact, what we are seeing with the tightening is that Republican voters are coming home, so to speak, that those Republicans who were sort of sitting out there not sure what they were going to do in this election, hadn't committed to the Democrat but still hadn't committed to the Republican, those folks may go home.

So in some of the very Republican, Republican-heavy districts where Democrats have been playing, those seats might be tougher for Democrats tomorrow night, but in so many of these districts, especially in the Northeast and Midwest, where independents really reign, I think that still makes things very tough for Republicans.


MARGARET WARNER: So if we take the 15 magic number as our benchmark, how many seats do even Republicans concede are pretty much lost versus how many remain toss-ups?

AMY WALTER: Right. Well, I think that you're looking at something like eight, 10 to 12 seats that we can quibble about. Those seats are the ones that Republicans are probably going to lose right now. Let's put it at 10 to 12. Then you have another 30 or so that are on the bubble. And how many of those break is the key.

MARGARET WARNER: So what will you be looking at early in the evening?

AMY WALTER: Here's what I'm looking for. The two bellwether states, Indiana and Kentucky, because their polls close the earliest. In Kentucky, I'm especially going to look at Anne Northrop's seat in Louisville. This is a Republican incumbent who sits in a Democratic-leaning district. She's held on for years because she runs such smart, aggressive campaigns.

This year, she's running against a political environment like she's never seen. If she loses, that's going to signify that Democrats are likely to gain on the higher end, probably in the 28-to-35 range.

Key states

MARGARET WARNER: Now, people have also pointed to a number of states right on the East Coast, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania. How key are they?

AMY WALTER: Those are very important to look at, too. Pennsylvania, I'm going to look at the Pennsylvania suburbs. They've been a bellwether here for the entire election cycle. I'm going to look at somebody like Mike Fitzpatrick in Bucks County, suburban area around Philadelphia. This is another race that should be -- if we just went candidate versus candidate, I think Fitzpatrick would have an edge, but in a wave, he gets wiped out.

I'm also going to look in New York, a place where not too long ago Republicans and even Democrats had said, "Well, maybe we're not going to make the going to make the gains there that we thought we were going to be able to make." Right now, it looks as if Democrats -- right now Democrats have put three seats in play. If they pick up three or more, you're going to, again, look at a big, big night for Democrats.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, well -- go ahead, quickly.

AMY WALTER: No, I was just going to say, very quickly. On the other hand, if we see that in some of these states Democrats are not picking up all of those seats, it's not going to necessarily signify that Democrats aren't winning control, just that they're going to get on the lower end.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. And we're going to hear more about Pennsylvania in just a minute. Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report, thanks.

MARGARET WARNER: Thanks, Margaret.