Missouri Republicans express confidence they can keep the majority in the House, though they admit they are playing defense this year.
Every two years, all 163 House seats are up for election. Republicans won the majority in 2002. Democrats kept losing seats until 2006, when they gained five seats, and then won two out of three special elections. Republicans still have the majority, but the margin has slipped to 89 seats to 70, with four vacancies.
Rep. Steven Tilley (R-Perryville) heads the Republican effort to retain the party’s majority in the House. Tilley acknowledges Republican prospects looked bleak earlier this year when Republican officials privately feared their numbers would slip to 85. Tilley isn’t as worried now.
"I think at the end of the day we’re going to come back in a strong governing majority and we’re going to surprise a lot of people," says Tilley.
Tilley credits the successful Republican National Convention and the addition of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to John McCain’s presidential ticket with injecting Republicans with more optimism.
Republicans have a big money advantage over Democrats. In the 30 days after the primary election reports filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission, The House Republican Campaign Committee reported receipts of more than $2 million and money on hand totaling more than a million dollars. The House Democratic Campaign Committee reported $740,000 in receipts with $236,000 on hand.
The financial advantage gives Tilley flexibility.
"We’re going to poll races. We’re going to see where we can be effective and where we think we can make a difference," Tilley says, "And I can assure you we are going to get involved in those races and when we do we do it 110%"
There is no doubt Republicans are in a defensive position this year, wholly apart from political trends across the nation that appear to favor Democrats. There are 67 state representative races in which there is no opposition; 44 Democrats and 23 Republicans. That leaves 96 contested races in the House; 49 Republican incumbents face opponents, 20 Democrats face opponents. It is, of course, difficult to unseat an incumbent, though both Republican and Democratic officials have at least a handful targeted. Most officials believe about seven or eight Republican seats are competitive with only three or four Democratic seats competitive. The 27 contested races without an incumbent in them will form the true battleground for control of the House. Democrats need to pick up 11 seats to win control of the majority.
There is one final number every observer of the House keeps in mind: 82. It takes 82 votes to pass bills and resolutions in the House. The closer the majority slips to that number, the less control it has over the body.