So far, it seems to me there are 14 highly competitive House races shaping up in 2006:
Colorado 7 - Bob Beauprez (R) running for Governor
This seat was created in 2002 to be highly competitive, and it is. Nestled in the suburbs around Denver, Beauprez squeaked out a win in 2002 (and only after a recount). While he faced an easy reelection in 2004, he has chosen to seek the open governor's mansion in 2006, which basically guarantees a hotly contested race for his seat (it is of note that both Al Gore and John Kerry narrowly won CO-07). The Democratic nominee will be either former State Sen. Ed Perlmutter or former State Rep. Peggy Lamm; the GOP nominee either Colorado Higher Education Commission Chair Rick O'Donnell or Jefferson County Treasurer Mark Paschall.
The other 13 below the fold...
Ever since Simmons upset 10-term veteran Sam Gejdenson in 2000, Democrats have been eager to return the favor. Simmons' seat in eastern Connecticut is the most Democratic held by a GOP Congressman in the entire nation. And 2002 nominee Joe Courtney, who got 46% against Simmons, is vying for a rematch. Expect another very hot race here.
Connecticut 4 - Chris Shays (R)
Shays should be stronger than Simmons - he has served since 1987 and is widely portrayed as a moderate in southwest Connecticut. But he is not strong. In 2004 Diane Farrell got 48% against the 9-term "moderate". And in 2006 she is running again. With a political climate more favorable to Democrats, she could well be able to topple Shays, given how close she came in Republican-friendly 2004.
Georgia 8 - Jim Marshall (D)
Republicans decided to redistrict Georgia before the 2006 elections, in a move directly based on 2003's Texas remap. Granted, the Georgia map is not as aggressive as the Texas map was, but it still spells trouble for Marshall. His old, slightly Democratic-leaning 3rd District was redrawn as the strongly Republican-leaning 8th running from the Atlanta suburbs deep into South Georgia. To make matters worse, former Rep. Mac Collins (1992-2004), whose house was placed in Marshall's 8th under the new map, is taking on Marshall. Expect a bloody, expensive race here.
Illinois 8 - Melissa Bean (D)
There is mixed news for Bean. On the one hand, the wealthy suburbs north of Chicago are Republican-leaning, and Bean's vote for CAFTA lost her a lot of support in progressive and labor circles (causing her to lose the support of many Democrats). On the other hand, she is raising money on a scale so rabid only Tom DeLay can outdo her. Also, her GOP opposition is rather weak. Still, she is going to need to win back progressives if she wants to be reelected.
Indiana 8 - John Hostettler (R)
The Bloody Eighth looks set to once again host a nationally-watched contest. Hostettler's vote against the Katrina aid package has not gone over well, and the local media in Southwest Indiana has given it heavy coverage. Hostettler's opponent, meanwhile, is an excellent recruit: Vanderburgh County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth, who is widely viewed as moderate and popular with voters in this region. To make matters worse for Hostettler, Ellsworth is outraising him...and by a lot. Despite IN-08's conservative trends, expect a highly competitive race here, and don't be surprised if Ellsworth pulls the upset.
Indiana 9 - Mike Sodrel (R)
If IN-08 was hot, IN-09 in Southeast Indiana, is smokin'. Former Rep. Baron Hill, who was barely defeated by Sodrel in a 2004 upset (probably thanks to Bush coattails), wants back. Hill's entry into the race provides for the third consecutive Hill/Sodrel race here. In 2002, without President Bush at the top of the ballot, Hill won. In 2004, even with Bush strongly winning the district Sodrel could barely make it. Hill's chances should be 50/50.
Iowa 1 - Jim Nussle (R) running for Governor
In a situation similar to CO-07, a Republican holding a competitive district has created a free-for-all by deciding to run for governor. IA-01, which is basically Northeast Iowa, actually leans more Democratic than does CO-07 (John Kerry got 53% in this district). The strongest candidates are State Rep. Bill Dix on the Republican side and attorney Bruce Braley on the Democratic side.
Louisiana 3 - Charlie Melancon (D)
Melancon eked out a 50-50 win in the 2004 runoff but was looking stronger for 2006...at least, before Katrina ravaged his district. Now, with the Katrina effect and with State Sen. Craig Romero taking him on, all bets are off. Melancon has raised a lot of money, and is supposedly taking strong steps to shore up his reelection, but every district in Louisiana has to be considered a question mark until we see some polls.
New Mexico 1 - Heather Wilson (R)
A star recruit was found in State Attorney General Patricia Madrid. Wilson has always narrowly survived in this competitive (but Kerry-won) district centered around Albuquerque, but always with the aid of the Green Party and never with someone as high-profile as Madrid. I won't call it for Madrid yet, as Wilson has shown a capability to over-perform, but it's certainly going to be a headliner.
North Carolina 11 - Charles Taylor (R)
The scandal-ridden Taylor should be a shoo-in in this conservative Appalachian seat, but after his closer-than-expected 2004 victory, conventional wisdom is not enough. And there's even more ominous news for Rep. Taylor: the Democrats are running, of all people, a former NFL quarterback, Heath Shuler. If Shuler can't win over the "beer and football" voters (aka middle- and lower-class white males), nobody can. This is exactly the kind of district that would elect someone like Shuler. Watch this one.
Ohio 6 - Ted Strickland (D) running for Governor
After GA-08 and LA-03, this should be the toughest seat to hold. Strickland would have easily won a sixth term, but he would rather be Governor of Ohio, and his chances at that are looking pretty okay right now. While OH-06, in the hills of Eastern Ohio, leans Republican, it's closely divided, and the climate in Ohio could be anti-GOP enough to elect State Sen. Charlie Wilson, the leading Democrat in the race. And of course, Strickland should carry the area in his gubernatorial run. Nevertheless, just the slightest laurel-resting here will mean a GOP victory, so fight for Wilson!
Pennsylvania 6 - Jim Gerlach (R)
Gerlach had this competitive seat in the Philadelphia suburbs drawn for him in 2002, but he has not yet managed more than a 51-49 win. And 2004 nominee Lois Murphy is ready for a rematch. She is raising money at a good pace, and is expected to compete at least as well as she did last year. Watch PA-06 closely, and give give give to Lois Murphy. Victory is an inch away here.
Texas 17 - Chet Edwards (D)
Edwards is considered highly vulnerable as the last Democrat holding a heavily GOP seat in Texas, but his opposition is...well...third-tier. True, he only managed a 51-48 victory in 2004 (after the DeLaymander), but what do you expect in this rural, Waco-based district that is nearly 65% Republican? Edwards has never had big reelection victories, at least not in recent years. I predict yet another narrow Edwards victory. But as soon as he retires, you can put TX-17 in the GOP column.
So, those are, in my estimation, the 14 highly competitive seats in 2006. 9 Republican-held, 5 Democratic-held. There are other races, like CA-50, IL-06, WI-08, CO-03, KS-03, UT-02, VT-AL, NC-08, GA-12, etc. that could be competitive, but all of them clearly lean to one party or the other. How these 14 swing will indicate the national mood, and therefore they are truly "ground zero" contests.