Updated: 5:04pm ET
There is little doubt that the economy is the biggest driver of voter sentiment in 2010. Poll after poll shows economic anxieties are a serious concern for Americans. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the economy will play the only role in the power struggle in the House of Representatives.
The 2010 election follows on the heels of two strong Democratic cycles — 2006 and 2008. And in a year where there is strong enthusiasm among Republican voters, some of the biggest changes in House may come simply because Democrats hold some seats they probably shouldn’t — in terms of cultural and economic values.
The best way of watching this trend may be watching the 52 culturally conservative districts that Patchwork Nation designates as Christian Conservative. Right now, these districts are split fairly evenly between Democrats (25 seats) and Republicans (27 seats) despite demographic data that suggest they shouldn’t be so tight.
More than two-thirds of the people in these districts label themselves as Born Again Christians — voters Democrats often have trouble reaching — and as recently as 2004 Republicans held a 9-percent bulge over Democrats in the congressional vote here.
This may be the year many of them flip their political allegiance in the House.
Big Battlegrounds for the Democrats
Of the 25 Christian Conservative districts held by Democrats, 19 are currently rated as being “competitive” by analyst Charlie Cook. That is 19 seats either only “lean Democratic” or are rated as a “toss up” and that is an extremely high number — roughly a quarter of all the competitive races Cook forecasts for 2010.
Considering that the Republicans need 39 seats to recapture the majority in the House, these Christian Conservative districts are critical. If the GOP can somehow run the table on these competitive races they would be almost halfway to their goal.
How Did We Get Here?
A lot of the Democratic candidates in these districts cannot be surprised that they face a tough fight this November. Many — such as Bobby Bright in Alabama and Travis Childers in Mississippi — only arrived in Washington in the last few years and replaced Republicans when they won.
There are also a few seats, like Arkansas’ First District, that are still holdovers from the formerly Democratic Solid South. They have somehow stayed Democratic as the seats around them all changed in recent decades.
Democratic representatives in these districts have voted along more conservative lines — many voted against the president’s stimulus plan and even more voted against health care reform.
The question in the Christian Conservative districts is whether that conservative bent will be enough to placate constituents in a year when voters are frustrated with status quo in Washington. Remember, the natural inclination of the voters in these districts shades toward the GOP.