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The 2010 landscape: Wide open

From NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro
This morning we laid out the map for the governors races. The past three weeks, we've looked at the 2010 House and Senate landscape. Here's a refresher on those, in case you missed them:

While they won't determine control of Congress, these contests will play a huge role in the politically charged redistricting process that will begin in 2011. Right now, Democrats have a 28-22 advantage over Republicans in the control of state governorships. In 2010, a whopping 37 states will hold gubernatorial contests -- 19 held by Democrats and 18 by Republicans. More importantly, due to term limits or retirements, about half of these are open seats, meaning excellent opportunities for the other party to take control of the governor's mansion. Republicans have great shots at picking up seats in red states like Kansas, Tennessee, and Wyoming, while top Democratic targets are in California, Hawaii, and Minnesota. 

In the House, Republicans have history, the map, and the political winds on their side. But the first two definitely AREN'T advantages when it comes to the 2010 Senate contests. Since the end of World War II, the president's party has lost an average of just 2.6 Senate seats in that president's first midterm, compared with 26 House seats. (If you don't count years when vice presidents assumed the presidency, that drops even lower to -- at most -- 1.3). The worst showing for the president's party was in 1946, when the Democrats lost 12 Senate seats. The second-worst showing was in 1994, when they lost 10 seats. The president's party's best showing came in 1962, when it gained three seats. In short, the party in control of the White House is much more likely to lose House seats in the midterms than it is Senate seats.

What's more, as we head into next year, the map certainly isn't on the GOP's side. Currently, Democrats have a 60-40 advantage in the Senate (with two independents, Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders, caucusing with the Dems). So Republicans will need to win 11 Senate seats to take back control of the chamber. But much of the 2010 Senate battleground will be fought on GOP turf. For starters, there are 19 Republican-held seats this cycle, versus 18 Democrat-held seats. More importantly, there are already six GOP-held open seats (FL, KS, KY, MO, NH, OH) -- and there will be seven if/when Kay Bailey Hutchison leaves her seat to run for Texas governor -- while Democrats have two (DE and IL). To put the GOP's challenge with this map into perspective, the Cook Political Report identifies six toss-up contests (in CT, IL, KY, MO, NH, and OH), but even if Republicans win them all, they'll net just two Senate seats. Of course, that would be enough to end the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority, but it wouldn't be close to getting back control of the Senate.

Focus on Missouri and Ohio: Without a doubt, the two biggest Senate battlegrounds next year will be in the Show Me State and Buckeye State, and they'll give us a good read on the health of the two political parties. If the Democrats lose both, it will suggest that the party's successes in these states from 2006-2008 -- including gubernatorial and senatorial wins in both states, as well as Obama winning in Ohio and narrowly losing in Missouri -- might have come to an end. But if Republicans lose both -- with well-known figures from Bush years at the top of the ticket (Roy Blunt in Missouri and Rob Portman in Ohio) -- that would suggest that the Bush and GOP brands are still major problems for the party. Bottom line: The best way to judge who "wins" or "loses" the 2010 midterms will be in these two states, pure and simple. And they will be the most dominant races the media will focus on next year.

Here are the numbers with '66, but not '46 or '74 (from the previous election cycle):
1954: Eisenhower -1 (48 senators in 1952 to 47 in 1954)
1962: Kennedy +3 (64 in 1960 to 67 in 1962)
1966: Johnson -4 (68 in 1964 to 64 in 1966)
1970: Nixon +2 (42 in 1968 to 44 in 1970)
1978: Carter -3 (61 in 1976 to 58 in 1978)
1982: Reagan +1 (53 in 1980 to 54 in 1982)
1990: H.W. Bush -1 (45 in 1988 to 44 in 1990)
1994: Clinton -10 (57 in 1992 to 47 in 1994)
2002: W. Bush +1 (50 in 2000 to 51 in 2002)
Avg. Loss: 1.3

Currently, Dems hold a 79-seat advantage in the House (256-177, with two vacancies). That means for Republicans, to regain the majority in House (i.e., get 218 seats), they must net 41 seats. While it's unlikely that the GOP will be able to pick up that many seats, Republicans have history, the map, and (it's starting to seem) the political winds at their back to regain a chunk of congressional seats in 2010. Below is everything you wanted to know about next year's House races but were afraid to ask. We'll take a stab at the Senate races next Monday, after the Senate has embarked on its August recess.

As for the history, the first midterm election for a sitting president hasn't been kind to that president's political party: Since the end of World War II, every president except one -- George W. Bush, after 9/11 -- has seen his party lose House seats. In fact, since 1946, an incumbent president's party has lost an average of 26 seats in his first midterm election (that includes 1974, after Ford had succeeded Nixon after Watergate). The worst performance was in 1994, when the Democrats lost 57 seats. The second-worst was in 1946, when Dems lost 55 seats. The best performance was in 2002, when Republicans actually netted two congressional seats. Now keep in mind, as true math freaks will tell you, we actually haven't had enough elections to make these numbers statistically significant. Still, it's a trend that does matter…

As for the map, Republicans appear to have more potential pick-up opportunities heading into 2010. There are 49 Democratic-controlled congressional districts that McCain won last year (most of them in the South, the very districts represented by those Blue Dogs). By comparison, there are 34 GOP-controlled congressional districts that Obama won (many of them in blue states like California, Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania). What's more, after their big gains in 2006 and 2008 -- in down years for Republicans -- Democrats may very well have hit a ceiling. Translation: Even with the 34 Republican-controlled districts that Obama won, Democrats have nowhere to go but down. But GOPers have this slight problem: Some of their very best incumbents in blue states (Mark Kirk, Jim Gerlach, perhaps Mike Castle) are running for statewide office, which means these seats will probably flip back to the Democrats next year.

Yet keep in mind that 2010 isn't 1994 in this one respect: The 1992 election actually provided hints of the 1994 tsunami (redistricting, strength of anti-establishment Perot etc.; Republicans actually did well in 1992 House races and picked up senate seats). So 1992's results scared a number of Dems and led to a lot of retirements -- making 1994 even more difficult for their party. Remember, MSNBC's Morning Joe won his Dem-held House seat in an open seat contest; the conservative southern Dem decided to retire. We're not seeing this same pattern for 2010 just yet. Democrats seem to have the ability to have insulated themselves from a 1994- or 1946-like result.