2010 Elections: Parties Draw Battle Lines in Campaign for Congress

It took Democrats 12 long years to fight their way back to the majority after their stinging defeat in 1994. And the party is in danger of handing control back to the Republicans after just four years at the helm.

Six months from now, a restive electorate suffering from economic anxiety, continued high unemployment and a strong distaste for the ways of Washington will head to the polls in what is shaping up to be a particularly brutal midterm election for the party in power.

ABC News 2010 Election Map: Follow the House, Senate and Governor's Races

"The success of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi's agenda is what we will give them credit for. And it is a miserable failure with continued unemployment, higher taxation and debt," said National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas at a recent campaign briefing with reporters where he was laying out the message strategy for the months ahead.

Democratic members of Congress and campaign operatives are fond of saying that 2010 is not comparable to 1994 because the party is prepared for a tough campaign for control of Congress. Republicans are quick to point out that they were prepared for 2006, but the national electoral wave against them was simply too strong to withstand.

"The choice is a pretty clear one," argued DNC Chairman Tim Kaine at a briefing with reporters last week.

"One party put the economy into a ditch, stood by and watched it collapse, not really willing to pull the rip-chord on the parachute," Kaine said. "The president has come in and taken bold action, often tough action, sometimes unpopular action, but necessary action, to turn the economy around to start climbing again, to tackle big problems that have bedeviled earlier administrations and earlier presidents like health insurance, because that's what he told the American public he would do and that's what he will do."

When asked to cite a recent historical precedent for a midterm election that was not a referendum on the party in power, Kaine could not think of one. He said that elections are always about choices.

"I'm fine with it as a referendum or a choice," Kaine added.

Our most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll showed nearly six out of every 10 voters looking around to elect a new member of congress in November.

House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, told NPR News last week that at least 100 House seats are in play this year. Our latest ABC News electoral outlook puts 115 House seats currently in play and about 50 of those are highly competitive races.

Republicans certainly need an expanded playing field if they are going to outperform the average first midterm losses for the president's party and win a net gain of the 40 seats they need to become the majority party in the House.

The Senate Showdown

Republican efforts to take control of the Senate would require a net gain of 10 seats for the GOP, which still appears somewhat elusive six months out from Election Day. However, Democrats of every stripe and from every region are in serious trouble as they are being forced to defend themselves even on what in some cases should be pretty hospitable turf.

The Democratic senate seats in Illinois, Delaware, North Dakota, Nevada, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Indiana could all potentially fall into Republican hands this year.

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