A Very Wide Playing Field

House Minority Leader John Boehner in Ohio October 2010/AP

House Minority Leader John Boehner in Ohio October 2010/AP

It was April 30 and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) was scheduled for an interview on National Public Radio with Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep.

Boehner then shocked Inskeep and most of institutional Washington by declaring that "at least 100 seats," or nearly a quarter of the entire House was in play in the midterm elections this fall.

Inskeep was incredulous.

"You think there are 100 seats in the United States that could change hands?" the host asked. Boehner said he did. And he went on to note that the playing field was particularly wide this year and shaping up to be unlike "anything we've seen around here during my 20 years."

"If Scott Brown can win in Massachusetts, there isn't a seat in America that Republicans can't win," Boehner added.

Welcome to two weeks before the most-pivotal midterm election in 16 years. And while many pundits suggested 2010 would be a trying year at the polls for Democrats, no one thought there would be nearly 100 seats in play. In fact, many Democrats openly scoffed at Boehner's suggestion as pure folly. Even some Republicans winced, accusing Boehner of setting the bar too high and seeding lofty expectations.

Political handicappers, ranging from the Cook Political Report to Politico to the Rothenberg Report to the New York Times now state that there are anywhere from 80 to 100 seats in play. And as Nate Silver, who handles the "538" blog for the Times suggests, "a gain of as large as 70-80 seats is not completely out of the question if everything broke right for Republicans."

Which leads people to concede that Boehner's April assertion wasn't that far off the mark.

Granted, even if political soothsayers believe the GOP will secure control of the House, it's unlikely that they could run the table with gains as significant as Silver mentions.

House Democrats face uphill climbs in races across core states, ranging from upstate New York, stretching west to Pennsylvania and into Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois.

The south is even worse with Republicans poised to make gains in Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Certainly Boehner went out on a limb back in April. But he's not that far off the mark today with the election creeping closer.

Could 100 seats change hands, as Inskeep asked Boehner? Maybe? But highly unlikely. But are there that many seats in play? Certainly.

Which makes for a very wide playing field this November.