WASHINGTON — In an election year full of uncertainty, one thing seems fairly sure: Republicans will retain control of the House of Representatives.
Democratic Party dreams of carving into the 240-190 majority that Republicans enjoy are meeting the harsh reality of many Republican-held seats being secure because of redistricting and a potential lack of congressional coattails from President Barack Obama, several election experts say.
But while control of the House isn't likely to change, the composition, tone and political tenor of the chamber probably will. Just as after the 2010 election, the chamber probably will have a huge influx of freshmen, thanks in part to contests for 39 open seats, 19 new seats and four vacant seats, according to David Wasserman, an analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which monitors congressional races.
Democrats could pick up anywhere from zero to five seats, some handicappers predict, well below the 25 needed to take control of the House, and fewer than the pickup of five to 10 seats some Democrats and political observers were projecting earlier in the campaign season.
"While there's not much change on the surface, there's plenty underneath," Wasserman said. "There's a whole lot of change and a whole lot of freshmen coming to Congress. We're headed for the most polarized Congress ever. There's a moderate exit in the Senate that extends to the House."
The House may become more partisan than the current 112th Congress because of the continued thinning of moderate ranks in both parties. The fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, whose ranks were halved to two dozen in 2010, are expected to shrink to the teens with the retirements of Reps. Heath Shuler of North Carolina, Dan Boren of Oklahoma and Mike Ross of Arkansas and anticipated losses on Election Day.
Another likely development, Wasserman said, is that the House could have 80 to 90 new members and nearly one-third of the 435-member chamber will have less than three years in office.
Here's a look at some races to watch on election night.
Democratic seats that could go Republican:
• North Carolina. An incumbent Blue Dog, Rep. Larry Kissell, is considered among the most endangered Democrats because of a strong challenge by Republican opponent Richard Hudson in a redrawn district that now tilts Republican.
• Georgia. Rep. John Barrow, another Blue Dog, is hanging tough, running in a new, less Democratic district against Republican state Rep. Lee Anderson in one of the more expensive House races in the country.
• Utah. Rep. Jim Matheson, another Blue Dog, is in a close contest with Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, who's bidding to become the first black Republican female Mormon elected to Congress.
• New York. Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul scored an upset victory last year in a special election in a Republican-leaning upstate New York district to replace Republican Rep. Christopher Lee, who resigned. Former President Bill Clinton stumped for Hochul, but that might not be enough in her race against former Erie County Executive Chris Collins.
• Massachusetts. Messy family legal problems may sink incumbent Democratic Rep. John Tierney and help make former state legislator Richard Tisei the first House Republican from Massachusetts since 1996.
Republican seats that could go Democratic:
• Florida: Rep. Allen West, a tea party favorite and one of two black Republicans in the House, is engaged in a battle with Democrat Patrick Murphy. Both candidates have used negative attacks.
• California: Dan Lungren, a nine-term Republican from the Sacramento area, and Democrat Ami Bera are in an expensive House race. More than $6 million in outside money has poured into the district, much of it to Bera's benefit.
• Illinois: Rep. Joe Walsh, another tea party favorite, found himself in a redrawn district, courtesy of the state's Democratic-controlled legislature. He faces Tammy Duckworth, a double-amputee Iraq war veteran, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention.
• Maryland: Roscoe Bartlett, an 86-year-old, 10-term conservative lawmaker, is having his toughest run in years in a redrawn Democratic-leaning district. He faces political newcomer John Delaney, a Maryland businessman.