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House scorecard

OVERVIEW: On Nov. 5, Democrats need a net gain of seven seats to capture the Speaker's gavel and derail President Bush's legislative agenda. Here are 13 critical districts. If Democrats don't win most of these seats, it will be very difficult for them to seize control of the House.

Issue: "The 2002 vote," Nov. 2, 2002

South Dakota At-Large

South Dakota's musical chairs could lead to a shuffling of committee chairmen in Washington. GOP Rep. John Thune decided to give up his safe seat, and Gov. Bill Janklow, also a Republican, hopes to succeed him. But times are hard in the prairie states, and many voters are blaming the governor. That has created an opening for attorney Stephanie Herseth, the granddaughter of a former governor, to win her first political office. Polls suggest a very close finish.

Indiana 2

This seat is being vacated by Tim Roemer, a pro-life Democrat. To succeed him, the party has nominated Jill Long Thompson, a liberal former congresswoman from a neighboring district. The Republican hopeful is businessman Chris Chocola, who very nearly upset Mr. Roemer two years ago. Though the district leans Democratic, its large Catholic population tends to support pro-life candidates. Mr. Chocola will need those crossover voters to steal this seat from the Democrats' column. In a mid-October poll, Ms. Thompson led by just 1 point.

Ohio 3

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When President Bush tapped Democratic Rep. Tony Hall for a spot at the United Nations, Republicans got a shot at his seat for the first time in 24 years. Their standard-bearer is former Dayton Mayor Mike Turner, while the Democrats nominated Rick Carne, Mr. Hall's former chief of staff. Redistricting has created a seat that favors the GOP, and Mr. Turner has both more name recognition and more money than his opponent. Although neither side is releasing its polls, most political pros are looking for a Republican pickup.

Pennsylvania 17

Republicans outnumber Democrats by some 50,000 in this central Pennsylvania district, yet Rep. George Gekas may be the most endangered Republican incumbent anywhere in the country this year. That's because redistricting has matched him against another incumbent, Rep. Tim Holden, a pro-life Democrat with proven crossover appeal. Outside groups are spending $5 million to blanket the airwaves with negative ads, and both sides admit the contest is wide open.

Connecticut 5

Redistricting forced 20-year Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson into a contest with another incumbent, three-term Rep. James Maloney. Though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 2 percentage points overall, the new 5th District includes more voters from Ms. Johnson's old district than from Mr. Maloney's. Democratic polls show the race tied at 42 percent each, but an independent survey released Oct. 12 has Ms. Johnson up by 7 points.

Maryland 8

Rep. Connie Morella may be the most liberal Republican in the House, but Washington's northern suburbs have grown ever more Democratic, and redistricting added more voters from majority-black Prince George's County. Even with her liberal voting record, that could spell trouble for Ms. Morella. She's run TV ads accusing her opponent, state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen, of voting like a Republican-a scurrilous charge in this left-leaning district-yet she still trails by 3 points in the most recent independent poll.

Maryland 2

Republican Bob Ehrlich is running for governor, creating a tough race for his suburban Baltimore-based seat. Baltimore County Executive "Dutch" Ruppersberger looked like the early favorite, because redistricting had added Democratic voters to a toss-up district. But former Rep. Helen Bentley, the Republican nominee, has high name recognition and favorable ratings among her former constituents. She leads by 2 points in the polls, and a big turnout by Ehrlich supporters in his old district could help secure an upset win for the GOP.

West Virginia 2

This poor, heavily unionized state doesn't send many Republicans to Congress, and Democrats are working hard to prove that Shelley Moore Capito's narrow win in 2000 was nothing but a fluke. She's pitted against her challenger from two years ago, former state Sen. Jim Humphreys, who spent $6 million of his own money only to lose by 2 points. He's still got a fat checkbook, plus fervent backing by the state's powerful unions, so this race could go either way.

Mississippi 3

Democrat Rep. Ronnie Shows and Republican Rep. Chip Pickering were thrown into the same district when the state lost a seat in Congress. Both have earned endorsements from the National Rifle Association and pro-life groups, but Mr. Pickering is reminding voters just how crucial party labels can be: His father, a prominent judge, was denied a seat on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals by the Democrats in charge of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Illinois 19

A southern Illinois incumbent-vs.-incumbent race pits Rep. John Shimkus (R) against Rep. David Phelps (D). The men agree on issues like abortion (against) and guns (for), but Mr. Shimkus favors business interests while Mr. Phelps earns the backing of labor groups. The numbers appear to favor Mr. Shimkus, who got 60 percent of his old voters in the new district.

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