RNC Claims 130 House Seats In Play In 2010

House_of_representativesTalk about being optimistic:

House Republican leader John Boehner recently said the GOP could pick up 100 seats this November. Now, the Republican National Committee’s political director says the party has its eye on 130.

“Our scoring as of today has us looking at about 130 House seats as potentially competitive,” Gentry Collins said Tuesday. He hastened to add: “Just to be clear, I’m making no claim that we are going to pick up 130 House seats.”

Republicans see the potential for significant gains this November as support for President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats slide. The GOP needs to win 40 seats to reclaim control of the House. Currently, Democrats hold 254 seats and Republicans 177 with four vacancies.

Asked when the GOP will start to focus on races and cull the list to those most likely to produce Republican victories, Collins said it hasn’t yet started.

“I’ve been expecting (the list) to shrink, to be candid with you. It’s been growing,” he said.

The bravado was pervasive as Republican state party chairs gathered outside Washington. They compared the political climate to 1994 when Republicans captured control of the House and Senate in President Bill Clinton’s first midterm elections.

Bravado is barely an adequate word to describe the RNC’s new estimates when you consider the modern historical record:

  • In 1932, the Democratic Party picked up a net gain of 97 seats, after having picked up 52 seats in the 1930 elections
  • In 1938, the Republican Party picked up 81 seats in an election that was arguably the first backlash against the New Deal. The Republicans further whittled down the once-dominant Democratic majority when they picked up 47 seats in 1942
  • In 1946, the Republicans picked up an additional 55 seats, and regained control of the House for the first time since 1928
  • Two years later, in 1948, the Democrats picked up 75 seats and began a period of Congressional dominance that lasted, nearly unbroken, for four decades.
  • The Republican “Revolution” in 1994 was ushered in by a net gain of 55 seats for the GOP
  • Finally, in 2006 and 2008, the Democrats picked up a total of 31 and 21 seats respectively.

Given this, a triple-digit gain, or even a gain of more than 50 seats is an historical anomaly and, even in the current political climate, it’s hard to see how the GOP would be capable of pulling off anything close to the scale of the massive changes that took place during the 1930’s or 40’s. In fact, a change like that has only been seen once in American history — in 1894 when Republicans gained 130 seats in what turned out to be one of a decisive realignment of American politics.

There’s no sign that any of that is at play in 2010. In fact, given the current status of the Generic Congressional Ballot, which shows Republicans hold only a slight lead over Democrats, it’s hard to see 2010 resulting in anything other than a razor-thin GOP majority at best, and that assumes that the economy doesn’t improve sufficiently for some of the heat to be taken off the Democrats in close districts.

So are House Republicans being overly optimistic ? I’d say that’s putting it mildly.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Boyd says:

    OTOH, “Past performance is no indication of future returns.”

    Now, I’m not arguing that such huge gains by the Republicans is likely, Doug, but you seem more dismissive of the possibility than is justified.

  2. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Judgeing the future by comparing it with the past will surely lead you to the correct answer, NOT. If you do not think a large change is going to happen in both the house and the senate, you are not paying attention. A Republican sits in Ted Kennedy’s senate seat. Some part of that escape you? We have a Republican governor in New Jersey. Did you miss that one too? That is exactly what is wrong with calling political science a science. America will resist the leftward movement the Democrats have taken this nation suddenly. We used to have a saying in the military. Politely. Conceal yourself and observe. In other words hide and watch. After November 2010, Barack Husseing Obama will be a lame duck President. And that duck had better be careful as the Republicans my enforce the rule about a President being a natural born citizen. Obama’s papa was a subject of the Crown.

  3. Zelsdorf,

    I know I’m wasting my time, but letting you get away with these stupid swipes at Obama over his citizenship is BS: except where congress allows citizenship overseas (military kids, etc) a person’s parentage has absolutely nothing to do with their citizenship.

    Also, pretty much everything else you said is foolish too. It’s possible that the Republicans could gain 130 seats, but the likelihood is about the same as that of a Nigerian diplomat / aristocrat sending me millions of dollars when I share my bank information with him.

    The Republicans are running on nothing. No Contract with America, no ideas, nothing. The only things they have going for them right now are that they are not Democrats and that the Democrats are in power during a bad economy. That’s it.

    For God’s sake, does anyone believe they will cut Medicare? They accused Democrats of gutting it when they cut back on it to fund Obamacare. They won’t take on the seniors and they won’t raise taxes, therefore they have nothing to offer in terms of securing our future.

  4. Matt says:

    A Republican sits in Ted Kennedy’s senate seat

    A very moderate Republican that has already pissed off a lot of the tea party members that supported him. Personally I thought Martha was a TERRIBLE candidate just based on her record. Then there’s the fact that she didn’t really seem to realize she needed to campaign at all. Overall it was no surprise to me that she tanked.

  5. TangoMan says:

    There’s no sign that any of that is at play in 2010.

    Pray tell, what do these signs actually look like?

    Look, I find the topic interesting and I appreciate your historical contribution but I’d argue that you should construct your analysis on a probabilistic basis rather than declaring that no evidence exists for such a massive realignment.

    While such massive realignments are rare in the US and in Western nations, they do happen and they’re hard to predict. Look what happened in Canada when their electorate went to the polls to deal with a government that imposed a 7% VAT Tax. ObamaCare is a whole lot more significant and transformative than a 7% VAT tax. The degree of volatility there was not predicted in advance of that election. Only 2 incumbents from the governing party were reelected.

    The Canadian federal election of 1993 . . . It was one of the most eventful elections in Canada’s history, with more than half of the electorate switching parties from the 1988 election.

    . . . Campbell’s initial efforts helped the party recover somewhat in pre-election polls before the writs were issued. However, this momentum did not last, and the Progressive Conservatives suffered the most lopsided defeat for a governing party at the federal level, losing more than half their vote from 1988 and all but two of their 151 seats.

  6. Boyd says:

    Although I think you’re underestimating the “backlash reaction” that we’ll see in November, Doug, I have to admit you’re in good company. I think the proprietor of this esteemed blog takes a similar approach to yours. And though I consider him to be a good “Internet friend,” I think you’re both missing the boat on this one.

  7. Dodd says:

    Doug, I think you’re making rather a bit too much out of “about 130 House seats as potentially competitive” followed by an express disavowal of any expectation that they’ll actually pick up that many seats. There have been projections between 50 and 90 for months, so this notion that 130 are “potentially competitive” isn’t exactly a stretch. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of exuberance to rally the base. Believing you can is a key part of winning.

    Which brings me to this:

    A very moderate Republican that has already pissed off a lot of the tea party members that supported him.

    Maybe a few, but its not as if anyone expected him to be Ronald Reagan. Tea Partiers aren’t the mindless drones Democratic Underground would have them be. People understood from the get-go that a Massachusetts Republican would necessarily be more liberal than a Utah Republican. Meanwhile, a Utah Republican who already broke his pledge not to seek a third term and voted for the sort of bailouts at the heart of the Tea Party grievance list can clearly be improved upon. And will be. Somewhere in between is where most politicians fall, and few fail to understand that, no matter what the nutroots might wish.

  8. Alex Knapp says:

    Good Lord, the math isn’t even there for them to take 40 to have the majority! There aren’t 50 competitive districts, much less 130.

  9. yetanotherjohn says:

    I will gladly take a bet that the GOP won’t win 130 new seats this year. But it is very easy to find over 100 seats that could very well be in play. I haven’t seen 130 seats, but I don’t have access to the data they do.

    The generic congressional voter preference stands at +6 among likely voters. It is even higher among likely voters who are enthusiastic. Remember that even when the GOP is making gains, they usually lag on this indicator. The +6 (if it held) would likely put us in the 80 to 100 seats. For the first time, we are seeing a plurality saying they would vote to toss out their rep, not just the other guys in congress. Two powerful long term incumbents (one from each party) got their head handed to thim in the primary.

    This is a tidal wave election. All we are arguing about is how big the tidal wave. I have no doubt that the GOP can find 130 elections that given unlimited money and good candidates the 130 dem held seats would all be from safe republican to toos up or lean democratic. In other words, seats that could be taken. Money isn’t unlimited, quality candidates aren’t always where you want them, etc.

    6 months is a long time. It could just totally swing back the other way. It could get bigger. The GOP isn’t hitting on all cylinders at this point. But that doesn’t mean they can’t get something going to hit in the september/october time frame. Peaking now would be peaking just a bit too soon.

    I remember when the ‘reality’ of the cold war seemed permanent. You could do a similar analysis of history and say that the idea of the Berlin wall coming down and the soviet union collapsing where totally unrealisitic. I think the same thing could be said about your analysis.

    Take the 2008 house elections. Start by assuming a 2010 vote with a +6 swing for the GOP, based on the likely voter generic ballot. Add in the changes in the democratic voter turn out models (the dems won’t get the same turnout they had in 2008). With that, you can get over 100 and may well get to 130. All that says the 130 is possible, not probable.

  10. Herb says:

    So are House Republicans being overly optimistic ? I’d say that’s putting it mildly.

    Republicans are always optimistic about winning elections. It’s only when they get to governing that they become pessimists.

  11. just me says:

    If by competitive he means “close enough to put some real money into the race” verses “nominee running mostly to have somebody on the ballot.” Then I can see 130 seats being in play and I can see the GOP trying to win them.

    I am still not convinced the GOP will even win enough seats to take over control of the house. I think they will pick up seats, but I am doubtful it will be enough to assume control. The democrats have a pretty big majority and would really have to lose come November.

  12. Matt says:

    Maybe a few, but its not as if anyone expected him to be Ronald Reagan.

    Far more then just a few including his biggest supporters such as Beck and crew ugh…

    Tea Partiers aren’t the mindless drones Democratic Underground would have them be.

    Honestly I have no idea who you’re referring to but most Democratic bloggers paint them as Republicans which seems to be quite true in my area.

    People understood from the get-go that a Massachusetts Republican would necessarily be more liberal than a Utah Republican.

    Most rational people would understand that fact and that’s actually my point. Sadly the nuttier right wingers don’t see it that way (see ZRIII above)..

  13. sookie says:

    It’s possible that 130 seats may be in play. I think in their optimism they may be overlooking that it’s not the 130 they’d like.

    I’d love to see either the house and/or senate go back to the GOP and the remaining chamber to tighten up.. Under no circumstances do I want a clean sweep of the house, senate and whitehouse.

    Vote gridlock.

    They do way less damage that way.

  14. Dantheman says:


    “We have a Republican governor in New Jersey.”

    Considering that the Republicans have won 4 of the prior 7 elections for governor (remember Tom Kean? Christie Whitman? Both 2 term Republican governors in the last 30 years), and since the last time the party in the White House won the NJ governor’s race was in 1985, this is hardly surprising.

  15. Dave Schuler says:

    Alex made my comment for me above. Republicans will do well if they take more than 27 seats in the House. I can imagine their taking 30. I can’t imagine their taking 50.

    There’s a slightly stronger likelihood of getting the majority in the Senate. A seven seat increase is likely and another seat or so is within reach.

  16. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Robert, are you at all aware of what the requirement are to hold the office of President of the Unisted States. Clearly, your comments demostrate the failure of the educational system as it pertains to you. The governor of California is a citizen yet is not eligible to be President. Winston Churchill was not eligible to be President of the United States but had the same citizenship issues as Obama (mother an American citizen, father was a subject of the British Crown. Makes me wonder if you understand the difference between legal and illegal immigrant.
    Democrats are going to lose the majorities in both houses by a wide margin because they are on the wrong side of issues which are important to the electorate. Don’t believe it? Hide and watch.