GOP upside in House 58 seats?

Not surprisingly, the New York Times buried this news towards the bottom of an analysis of an explosion of Republican candidates in Congressional races.  After stroking its chin over the calamity of competitive primaries in 2010, the Times mentions the incentive for GOP recruitment in the eighth paragraph:

Stuart Rothenberg, a political analyst who follows Congressional races, said a report he will release Monday will count 58 Democratic House seats in play, up from 47 in December. The number of Republican seats in play has held at 14 in that period, he said. And Democrats expect more of their incumbents to retire, which could put additional seats at risk.

Rothenberg elaborates further at his site:

After a stunning GOP Senate win in Massachusetts and a slew of new polls showing many Democratic incumbents in trouble, it’s hard to argue with the obvious: the Republicans unquestionably have momentum as 2010 begins.

We are adding a dozen new seats to our list of districts “in play” – all of them currently held by Democrats. In addition, we have moved 16 districts within our list – two held by the GOP and the rest currently represented by a Democrat. All of the moves benefit the GOP, either because Republican districts now look safer or Democratic districts appear more vulnerable.

Given that we expect more Democratic retirements in the next few months and anticipate that more Democratic-held districts will increase in vulnerability between now and the fall, we are raising our target for GOP gains to 24 to 28 seats, with higher Republican gains possible. Of course, changes in the national mood between now and November could also benefit Democrats.

This analysis includes another all-but-certain retirement announcement coming today:

Democratic officials said Sunday night that Representative Marion Berry of Arkansas was expected to announce plans to retire Monday, making him the first to quit since the Massachusetts election and opening up another competitive race.

Republicans need a net gain of 40 seats to regain control of the House. That still seems unlikely, though hardly impossible.

Unlikely?  The odds may not be 50-50 for a Republican takeover, but it certainly appears within range.  The Democrats now have 72 vulnerable seats, and the GOP just 14.  If the GOP holds their own seats and takes three-fourths of the Democrats’, they will have have gained 45 seats.  Given the anger in the electorate that has reached all the way into deep-blue Massachusetts, a pickup of 45 seats doesn’t seem out of range at all.

Listed among the Democratic holds are some questionable calls.  First, Anh Cao of New Orleans may well lose his seat after voters there finally cleansed themselves of William “Cold Cash” Jefferson, but Cao isn’t exactly a Tea Party favorite, either — and may well leverage his incumbency for a re-election.  Earl Pomeroy in ND is in big trouble, as he himself acknowledged in an angry rant in a caucus meeting two weeks ago.  Now, with Berry retiring in Arkansas and likely a few retirements coming in the next few weeks, unseating Nancy Pelosi suddenly looks rather attainable.

The Times discusses the divisiveness of primary fights, but that’s not likely to blunt voter anger at Democrats.  Primaries are hygienic devices in normal times, and in this case allows the enthusiasm to be channeled in productive ways.  The GOP base and independents will come out of the primary season fired up and ready to duplicate what Scott Brown did in Massachusetts, and unless the economy roars back to life and starts creating massive amounts of jobs by the summer, Democrats won’t be able to match it.  In fact, the one party that could benefit from primaries to rid themselves of incumbents is not the one that will pursue them.  The lack of challenges to non-retired incumbents on the Democratic side tells you all you need to know about their base’s enthusiasm in 2010.

Update: Rep. Marion Berry makes it official:

It’s one of those days for the Democrats. In addition to Beau Biden deciding not to run for his dad’s old Senate seat in Delaware, Rep. Marion Berry says he will not run for reelection in Arkansas.

In making his announcement, the 67-year-old Democrat cited health reasons. “As a lifelong farmer, time has taken its toll on my health and I am no longer able to serve the district with the vitality I once possessed,” Berry said. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette has a story about his announcement here.

Is Berry telling the truth about the health issue?  The Cook Report listed his seat as a likely Democratic hold, so it could very well be unrelated to the present climate against Democrats — but it certainly didn’t help.  Hopefully, Rep. Berry regains his health in retirement and enjoys many more years with his family.