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Daily Kos Elections is pleased to announce our first set of House race ratings for the 2012 election cycle:

A note on our color scheme: Blue and red seats are held by Democrats and Republicans respectively. Purple seats feature matchups between a Democratic incumbent and a Republican incumbent. Green seats are new seats created by decennial reapportionment pursuant to the census and are controlled by neither party.

Republicans currently control 242 of 435 seats in the House, Democrats 190. Three seats (all formerly held by Democrats) are vacant. 218 seats are needed for control of the chamber. All seats not listed on this chart are considered "Safe" for the party which currently controls them.

AZ-08 is asterisked because our rating refers to the June 12 special election to fill the remainder of ex-Rep. Gabby Giffords' term. The district number for this seat will change to AZ-02 for the regular November election.

Here's how we define our ratings categories:

Safe: Barring unforeseeable developments, one party is certain to win.

Race to Watch: A foreseeable but as-yet unrealized development has the chance to make an otherwise "Safe" race potentially competitive, or an incumbent faces a potentially competitive primary.

Likely: One party has a strong advantage and is likely to win, though the race has the potential to become more competitive.

Lean: One party has an identifiable advantage, but an upset victory is possible for the other party.

Tossup: Both (or all) parties have a strong (though not necessarily perfectly equal) chance of winning.

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