THE GOP CAN COME UP SHORT, BUT STILL GET A MAJORITY…. It’s still hard to say with confidence how many seats House Republicans will pick up in the midterms. The GOP will need a net gain of 39 to win a majority for the next Congress, and while I still think the smart money says they’ll clear that hurdle, a lot can still happen in 27 days.

But let’s say Republicans come up short and win, say, 35 seats. Under normal circumstances, that would be a pretty good cycle for a discredited party that most the country neither likes nor trusts, but given GOP expectations about massive gains this year, failing to win a House majority would be a pretty devastating setback.

As it turns out, though, even if Republicans fell short of a +39 cycle, they wouldn’t necessarily wait until 2012 before trying to get that majority. Indeed, if the GOP came up a few seats shy of 218, they’d just try to flip some Blue Dogs.

House Republicans are already examining which Democrats might want to switch parties after Nov. 2 and are mapping out a strategy for how to persuade them to make the leap.

Republican aides and lobbyists said there are a handful of Democratic Members whom GOP leaders plan to target, with Member-to-Member conversations beginning immediately after the midterm elections. Incentives for switching sides could include a leadership-level position or seat on a powerful committee such as Appropriations or Ways and Means.

“You are looking for someone who has been there three, four or five terms who has a shot at going up the ladder,” said John Feehery, a GOP strategist who served as communications director to former Speaker Dennis Hastert. “One who is enticed by a committee chairmanship or one who their districts are so terribly bad that voting for Pelosi would be the end of them.”

Democratic Reps. Dan Boren (Okla.), Walt Minnick (Idaho) and Heath Shuler (N.C.) are all on the Republicans’ target list. Reps. Mike McIntyre (N.C.) and Gene Taylor (Miss.) are also considered potential gets.

I have no idea whether any of these conservative Dems would be amenable to this sort of outreach, though it’s worth keeping in mind that the context wouldn’t exactly play in the GOP’s favor. After the dust settles on the midterm cycle, if the expected Republican “wave” fails to materialize, those Blue Dogs — all of whom would just have won re-election as Democrats in center-right districts in an ostensible GOP year — wouldn’t exactly feel excessive pressure to betray their team and join up with a party that couldn’t deliver when the wind was at their backs.

Still, Dems seem to be well aware of the situation, and have begun taking steps to prevent party switches.

House Democrats, meanwhile, are working on a counterstrategy to try to thwart any GOP poaching, and they are even eyeing a few Republicans they think might be willing to join their ranks. “There are certainly contingency plans being put in place if in fact the ratio is two or three [lawmakers] in different directions,” a former Democratic leadership aide said.

Democratic leaders have been trying to make sure their vulnerable Members know how valuable they are to the Caucus by campaigning for them and contributing to their re-election efforts. After Nov. 2, Democrats also plan to stay close to potential party switchers to try to prevent any defections, the former aide said.

Also note, GOP leaders who reach out to conservative Democrats would no doubt say, “You’ll enjoy the party’s full backing in 2012.” But that shouldn’t resonate — when Rep. Parker Griffith (Ala.) switched to the Republican caucus, the party couldn’t prevent his primary defeat. Indeed, party backing seemed largely irrelevant in this year’s primaries, with plenty of establishment picks losing to challengers with Tea Party backing. One assumes Blue Dogs noticed, and would expect a similar fate if they crossed the aisle.

Still, it’s something to keep an eye on. Depending on the margin, the fight for the majority won’t necessarily end the first week in November.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.