"When you don't have to think about the presidential [race]," Costantini said, "then the voter can think of things closer to home and come to a not-predetermined decision."
Among some of the more watched races listed in the Chronicle are:
-- Texas' 23rd Congressional District, where freshman Republican Francisco Canseco and Democratic state Rep. Pete Gallego are in a close battle in a majority-Latino district evenly divided between the two major parties.
-- New York's 19th Congressional District, where redistricting forced Albany-area Republican Chris Gibson to seek a second term in a more Democratic district that has a large bloc of new voters.
-- California's 52nd Congressional District, where San Diego Republican Brian Bilbray is trying to fend off Democrat Scott Peters, a one-time city council president, in a newly configured district nearly evenly split among Republicans, Democrats and Independents.
-- Minnesota's Democrat-leaning 8th Congressional District, where first-term Republican Chip Cravaack -- who dumped powerful Democratic committee chairman Jim Oberstar two years ago -- faces stiff competition from Rick Nolan, who once represented the state's 6th Congressional District.
Democrats say Romney's presidential campaign missteps have put Republican incumbents on the defensive all over the country, but most significantly in heavily Democratic states such as California, New York and Illinois.
Democrats are trying to hammer home Romney's "47 percent" comment whenever they can, hoping some of the fallout falls on down-ticket Republicans.
"This helps us in every swing district in America," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland told U.S. News. "Voters are looking to find a party that they believe cares about them, their interests and their future."
But Republicans warn Democrats not to measure for drapes just yet because redistricting also has given them the opportunity to pluck a couple of seats from Democrats, including as many as four in California and two in New York and Illinois. Plus, GOP insiders said, the party anticipates adding about a half-dozen seats in Republican states such as Utah, Georgia, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Case in point: Democrat Jim Matheson of Utah risks being the only Democratic incumbent to lose because of Romney's coattails, the San Francisco Chronicle said. Romney is expected to carry Utah by 50 percentage points and could sweep out Matheson, one of the most conservative Democrats left. If she defeats Matheson, Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, a speaker at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., who would become the first African American Republican woman ever elected to the House, along with being the first black Mormon.
"Republicans [are] poised to make huge gains in the South and perform well in traditionally blue states," Hunter told the Chronicle. "While Democrats were originally bullish on their chances of making huge gains in California, New York and Illinois, they're publicly lowering expectations now because Republicans have real offensive opportunities in these Democratic states."
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