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Judging the Republican wave

Political analysts of all stripes are attempting to forecast how many seats the Republicans will win in the next Congress. But that isn't the only — and certainly not the most sophisticated — way to measure the size of the Republican wave of 2010 that will break ashore Tuesday. • Below are 10 factors designed to gauge not just how many seats the Republicans win, but how deeply the GOP cuts into historically Democratic territory, how much their performance has improved compared to 2008, and how much strong GOP candidates are helping weaker candidates elsewhere on the ballot. • In addition, the following factors take into account several layers of government — not just Congress, but also the governorships, the state legislatures and state attorneys general. The intention is to give a genuinely broad-based measurement of how thorough the Republican domination of 2010 turns out to be. • Each of the 10 factors comes with a sliding scale of points that are awarded to the Republicans based on how impressive their record of victories is in the election. The idea is to tally up the points from all 10 questions and measure them against a composite scale to determine how large the wave is. The ranges of point values were constructed so that the midpoint represents roughly what would happen if the leading handicappers are correct. The outer ranges of the point scales represent what would happen if one party or the other runs the table with competitive seats. • Political junkies, sharpen your pencils. Here we go:

1 How many Democratic-held House seats does the GOP seize in states won by Barack Obama?

This calculation should give a good indication of how much Obama's presidency has been a burden on Democratic lawmakers in relatively friendly territory. As of Oct. 20, political handicapper Charlie Cook rated 13 Democratic-held seats in states won by Obama as Likely Democratic, 24 as Lean Democratic and another 28 as Toss-Up.

(0-9 seats: 0 points; 10-19 seats: 1 point; 20-29 seats: 2; 30-39 seats: 4; 40-49 seats: 5; 50-59 seats: 7; 60+ seats: 9)

2 How many GOP-held House seats do the Democrats flip?

If the Democrats can flip at least a handful of House seats, it will be an indication that there's an anti-incumbent undertow to this wave, rather than just an anti-Democratic sentiment. Cook rates three Republican-held seats as Lean Democratic, one Republican-held seat as a Toss-Up and five Republican-held seats as Lean Republican.

(9+ seats: 0 points; 6-8 seats: 1 point; 3-5 seats: 2; 1-2 seats: 4; 0 seats: 6)

3 How many more House seats in the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic states does the GOP hold after the election than before it?

As the GOP's Southern flavor has intensified in recent elections, the party's hold on congressional seats in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions has dwindled to just 16 House seats out of 89 in the region. Can the GOP gain ground this year even in such challenging territory? States are Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland.

(No change in seats: 0 points, increase of 1-4 seats: 1 point, increase of 5-9 seats: 2, increase of 10-14 seats: 4, increase of 15-19 seats: 5, increase of 20-24 seats: 7, increase of 25+ seats: 9)

4 Cumulative percentage points that 2010 GOP Senate candidates in competitive races exceed John McCain's percentage in states that Obama won in 2008.

(For instance, if McCain won 45 percent of the vote in a certain state in 2008, and if the Republican candidate for Senate wins 52 percent in the same state in 2010, it counts as a seven-point improvement. Add up the improvement in all the states in this calculation to get a composite total.) This factor and the following one should quantify how much difference it makes to Republicans to be running in a more favorable political climate, especially in states where Obama and other Democrats ran well in 2008. States are: California (McCain won 37 percent), Colorado (McCain won 45 percent), Connecticut (McCain won 38 percent), Illinois (McCain won 37 percent), Indiana (McCain won 49 percent), Nevada (McCain won 43 percent), New Hampshire (McCain won 45 percent), Ohio (McCain won 47 percent), Pennsylvania (McCain won 44 percent), Washington state (McCain won 41 percent), Wisconsin (McCain won 43 percent). However, we won't calculate Florida, since the results could be misleading as a three-way race.

(Less than 60 cumulative percentage points: 1 point; 60-70 cumulative percentage points: 2 points; 70-80 cumulative percentage points: 3; 80-90 cumulative percentage points: 4; 90-104 cumulative percentage points: 6; 105-119 cumulative percentage points: 8; 120+ cumulative percentage points: 10)

5 Cumulative percentage points that 2010 GOP Senate candidates in competitive races exceed the performance of 2008 Senate GOP candidates running in the same state. States are: Colorado (Republican won 42 percent in 2008), Illinois (Republican won 29 percent in 2008), Kentucky (Republican won 53 percent in 2008), New Hampshire (Republican won 45 percent in 2008), West Virginia (Republican won 36 percent in 2008).

(0-19 cumulative percentage points: 0 points; 20-39 cumulative percentage points: 1 point; 40-49 cumulative percentage points: 2; 0-59 cumulative percentage points: 3; 60-69 cumulative percentage points: 5; 70+ cumulative percentage points: 7)

6 In how many states does the GOP win a competitive Senate race and competitive gubernatorial race?

This factor gauges whether there's a strong correlation between Republican victories in Senate races (which are heavily subject to the national political environment) and gubernatorial races (which are more apt to be shaped by statewide factors). States are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, Wisconsin.

(0-1 states: 0 points; 2-3 states: 2 points; 4-5 states: 4; 6-7 states: 6; 8 states: 8)

7 How many governorships does the GOP win in states won by Obama in 2008?

This is another factor that gauges how deeply ingrained Republican victories are in relatively unfriendly territory. Obama-won states with competitive gubernatorial races in 2010 are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin.

(0-3 governorships: 0 points; 4-6 governorships: 1 point; 7-9 governorships: 2 points; 10-12 governorships: 3, 13-15 governorships: 4, 16-18 governorships: 6; 19-20 governorships: 8)

8 How many of the following blue-state governorships occupied by Republicans can the GOP hold onto in 2010?

If the GOP is able to maintain the governorships in such moderate-to-liberal states as these, it will be a sign that Republicans have benefited from a strong tide. But if the Democrats succeed in flipping these seats, it would show the limits of GOP gains in more challenging territory for the party. Governorships are of California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont.

(0 governorships: 0 points; 1 governorship: 1, 2 governorships: 2; 3 governorships: 3; 4 governorships: 5, 5 governorships: 6, 6 governorships: 8)

9 How many Democratic-held legislative chambers is the GOP able to flip?

If the national anti-Democratic trend pushes an especially large number of legislative chambers into the GOP column, it will be a sign of how deep the wave reaches, because legislative contests are often local and state-based.

(5 or fewer chambers: 0 points; 6-9 chambers: 2 points; 0-13 chambers: 3; 14-17 chambers: 4; 18-21 chambers: 6; 22-25 chambers: 7; 26-29 chambers: 8; 30+ chambers: 9)

10 How many of the following competitive state attorney general races are won by the Republican candidate?

If the Republicans can flip a large number of attorney general races — contests that are ordinarily pretty well removed from national trends — it will be a good indication that the GOP wave is significant. AG races are: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island.

(0-1 AG races: 0 points; 2-3 AG races: 1 point; 4-5 AG races: 3; 6-7 AG races: 4; 8-9 AG races: 6; 10-11 AG races: 7; 12-13 AG races: 8)

Composite score for all 10 factors:

0-10 points: Very disappointing wave, 11-24 points: Disappointing wave, 25-39: So-so wave, 40-52: Decent wave, 53-65: Strong wave, 66-77: Very strong wave, 78+ points: Massive wave

Louis Jacobson, a staff writer with, has handicapped state and federal races for publications that include the Cook Political Report, the Rothenberg Political Report, Roll Call, and Governing. He can be reached at

Judging the Republican wave 10/31/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 1, 2010 10:30am]
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