CHRIS CANNON: COALMINE CANARY.

CHRIS CANNON: COALMINE CANARY. As we move closer to the midterms, the list of top targets produced by various prognosticators is congealing a bit, and this week NPR published a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey (PDF) of the top 50 most competitive districts, based on a pooled list taken from the Cook Political Report, the Stu Rothenberg Report, the Hotline and Larry Sabato�s Crystal Ball.

The fact that the pooled list includes 40 GOP districts to just 10 Democratic districts is telling enough. More striking are the opinions of these 50 districts� voters, who favor Democrats in the 10 Democratic seats by a 31-point margin but also favor Democrats by a 4-point margin in the Republican-held seats. Overall, �wrong track� voters outnumber �right track� voters by a whopping 30 points. Democrats are also more excited about the cycle. In short, the only good piece of news in the poll for the GOP is, well, nothing -- other than the fact that they don�t have more than 40 of the 50 seats on the list in the first place.

Though I still tend to find large-data reports more compelling than anecdotal evidence, a friend on the Hill who knows Utah politics pretty well pointed me to a recent Deseret News piece about what�s happening in the Utah races, none of which are on anybody�s top-50 target lists because all three incumbents there -- Rob Bishop (R-1), Jim Matheson (D-2), and Chris Cannon (R-3) -- are expected to win. What�s fascinating about the numbers in the state which gave George W. Bush his biggest margins in both 2000 and 2004 is that Democrat Matheson, not Bishop nor Cannon, has the highest re-elect number right now.

I don�t know enough about Utah politics to speculate on whether this is a function of Matheson�s greater effectiveness, constituency service or charisma. But what I do know is that, based on its presidential performance, Cannon�s is the most Republican-leaning congressional district in the country, with a partisan voting index of +26.2 Republican (according to the Cook Report). Neither Cannon nor Bishop will lose; nor will Matheson somehow win two seats* if he posts a landslide. The point is not that any of these three seats will change hands, but how stunning it is that the GOP incumbent in the most Republican congressional seat in America has a re-elect figure of only 56 percent right now.

It�s one of those anecdotal datum often overlooked by lists, yet provides an eerie coalmine canary for the GOP�s midterm fortunes.

*Junkies may recall that if the bargain to add two new seats to the U.S. House ever comes off, in addition to making D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton a voting member, Utah would get an additional seat�one that might just go Democratic?

--Tom Schaller

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