In my next three posts, I’m going to take a look at the state of play in upcoming elections across the country. 2014 being a midterm year, the entire House of Representatives is up for election, along with 1/3 of the Senate and numerous gubernatorial races. I’m going to break those groups down one by one, starting with the House today. I imagine these posts are going to take me a while to write, so they may go up at a slower rate than normal.
First of all, let’s briefly recap 2013. In the most high-profile race in the country, Virginia Democrats claimed a sweep, winning all three races for Governor (Terry McAuliffe), Lieutenant Governor (Ralph Northam), and Attorney General (Mark Herring). Those winners were helped by weak Republican nominees in two of the races. In New Jersey, Chris Christie coasted to reelection against Democrat Barbara Buono (but then faced a scandal that many believe has harmed his chances in future elections). In Massachusetts, Democrat Ed Markey easily bested Gabriel Gomez to replace Secretary of State John Kerry in the Senate.
Heading into any midterm year, the main question is always whether the party in power can stay in power. Americans are a fickle bunch; we tend to want to balance power in the federal government by giving different parties control of Congress and the presidency in different years. Our preferences can change very quickly depending on what happens in politics each year. Currently, Republicans control 234 seats, and Democrats control 199, with 2 vacancies. The two vacancies are in Congressional districts that clearly lean Democratic, so they should pick up two more seats.
Analyzing House races is difficult for two main reasons: first, Congressional districts have become so gerrymandered that there simply aren’t very many competitive races. And even in the ones that are, polling and media about the candidates is so thin that it’s difficult to zoom in on any one race and drill down the specifics about it. So I’m going to mostly take a “big picture” approach to this post, with fewer specifics.
First off, there are five unique districts where the opposite party is favored to take over the seat. I’ll be making references throughout this post to districts’ Partisan Voting Index (PVI), which is a measure pundit Charlie Cook uses of how Democratic or Republican a district is compared to the country as a whole. A PVI of R+5, for instance, shows that a district is five points more Republican than the country as a whole (* denotes incumbent).
NY-11: Domenic Recchia (D) vs. Mike Grimm (R)*
CA-31: Pete Aguilar (D) vs. Paul Chabot (R)
WV-03: Nick Rahall (D)* vs. Evan Jenkins (R)
UT-04: Doug Owens (D) vs. Mia Love (R)
NC-07: Jonathan Barfield (D) vs. David Rouzer (R)
In order to favor a party switch, a House race generally has to have some interesting circumstances, especially if an incumbent is involved. In the latter three races (WV, UT, and NC), the partisan makeup of those respective districts are finally catching up to the candidates. West Virginia had been very Democratic for years until it surprised many by voting for George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. Ever since then, it has been trending red, and in recent years, Democrats are starting to loosen their grip on statewide federal offices and state-level offices. Alan Mollohan was the first Congressman to fall in 2010, and Nick Rahall could be next. His deft campaigning has allowed him to stay in office as long as he has, but the overall environment favors the Republicans. His district is also R+14 and over 90% white, a demographic that almost always breaks Republican.
Utah and North Carolina are in similar situations. Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) had managed to stay in office due to his excellent constituent services, and Rep. Mike McIntyre’s (D-NC) incredible campaigning allowed him to stay in office for two additional terms after his district was redrawn to become much more Republican (it’s at R+11 now). Both of those politicians are retiring from Congress, and their seats will likely revert.
The other two contests are more interesting. Rep. Mike Grimm is awash in scandal concerning illegal donations and Healthalicious , a restaurant he owns in Manhattan. The FBI has been investigating him for over a year and arrested him in April. Despite his trial being scheduled for October, he plans to run for a fifth term, but it’s hard to see him winning. I only hope he doesn’t throw me off a fucking balcony for saying it.
In California, Rep. Gary Miller saw the writing on the wall and retired rather than try to win an uphill battle. Miller was elected to Congress in 1998 and for most of his tenure ran in favorable Republican districts. However, he was redistricted into the D+5 31st district after the 2010 Census, and many thought he was a goner. However, he took advantage of California’s “jungle primary” system in which all candidates of all parties run on the same ballot, and the top two advance to the general election. Incredibly, the three Democrats in the field split the vote enough that Miller and Bob Dutton, two Republicans, advanced to the general where Miller won. Astonishingly, the prior scenario almost happened again, but Democrat Pete Aguilar edged out Republican Lesli Gooch by .4% for second place and a spot in the general election. Augliar and first-place finisher Paul Chabot will face each other in the general, with Augliar favored.
Now let’s break down some of the races where neither party is favored, and could go either way on election night.
AZ-02: Ron Barber (D)* vs. Martha McSally (R)
AZ-01: Ann Kirkpatrick (D)* vs. TBA
CA-52: Scott Peters (D)* vs. Carl DeMaio (R)
FL-26: Joe Garcia (D)* vs. TBA
NH-01: Carol Shea-Porter (D)* vs. TBA
NY-21: Aaron Woolf (D) vs. Elise Stefanik (R)
CA-36: Raul Ruiz (D)* vs. Brian Nestande (R)
CA-07: Ami Bera (D)* vs. Doug Ose (R)
FL-18: Patrick Murphy (D)* vs. TBA
NY-01: Tim Bishop (D)* vs. Lee Zeldin (R)
CO-06: Andrew Romanoff (D) vs. Mike Coffman (R)*
IA-03: Staci Appel (D) vs. David Young (R)
NY-19: Sean Eldridge (D) vs. Chris Gibson (R)*
NE-02: Brad Ashford (D) vs. Lee Terry (R)*
In a few of these races, we don’t yet know all of the candidates because not all the party primaries have been held yet. However, we can still break them down. Arizona’s 1st district has been a Republican target for years. Kirkpatrick recaptured the seat in 2012 after losing it in 2010, since her Republican opponent decided to run in the 4th district instead. The district tilts Republican, but Kirkpatrick’s incumbency advantage makes this race fairly even. Several of her prospective Republican opponents have been hampered by controversial comments, so I think Kirkpatrick has a small edge right now. Patrick Murphy faces an uphill battle in Florida’s 18th, since he no longer has the benefit of running against this guy. Joe Garcia will probably also face a similar challenge, as he defeated a scandal-drenched incumbent last cycle by 10 points in an R+1 district. Carol Shea-Porter’s prospects in New Hampshire’s 1st district will be strongly influenced by the identity of her opponent, as polling has told two different stories in her matchups with Frank Giunta and Dan Innis.
In some other races, 2012 candidate Martha McSally is taking another shot at Ron Barber, who has a penchant for pulling out close elections (he defeated McSally by .8%). McSally is helped by the district’s slight red tint. There are two other Republicans running, and if one of them wins, the race will look decidedly different. One may think there aren’t many Republicans in true-blue California, but since they decided to adopt bipartisan redistricting, we do have a few more competitive races there. None of the elections listed above has a PVI of more than 2 points toward either party. Incumbent Scott Peters got his first poll back in January, and the results weren’t promising. But one poll tells us next to nothing about the real state of the race. The Bera-Ose race is also interesting, as Ose represented CA-03 from 1999-2005. Oddly, the National Republican Congressional Committee has chosen to list the 59 year-old as one of their Young Guns. Both races in New York look to be about even, with Tim Bishop’s incumbency advantage canceled out by Elise Stefanik’s running in slightly better territory for Democrats.
Probably the most interesting contests in Republican-held seats above are the ones in Colorado & Nebraska. Incumbent Mike Coffman is trying to hold off a spirited challenge from former State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. Romanoff is a talented campaigner, having come within eight points of knocking off an incumbent Senator (albeit, an appointed one) in his party’s primary in 2008. In Nebraska, Rep. Lee Terry has faced some surprisingly close races in cherry-red Nebraska in recent years. The Second District has become more Democratic of late, as it contains the state’s largest city of Omaha. President Obama even managed to pluck an electoral vote out of the district in the 2008 presidential election. Terry should win this race, as it’s still a decently Republican district in a year that looks to be favorable to Republicans. But keep an eye on it.
In Iowa, Tom Latham retired from a district that is rated even by PVI, and should make for a very interesting race. Democrat Leonard Boswell held the seat for 16 years before Latham defeated him in 2010. NY-19 is a district that appears to be trending in a Republican direction, as evidenced by its recent move from the Toss-Up to Leans Republican category by Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball.
Finally, I’ll take a look at some other interesting races throughout the country.
GA-12: John Barrow (D)* vs. Rick Allen (R)
IL-12: William Enyart (D)* vs. Mike Bost (R)
AZ-09: Krysten Sinema (D)* vs. TBA
MA-06: John Tierney (D) vs. TBA
MN-08: Rick Nolan (D)* vs. Stewart Mills (R)
TX-23: Pete Gallego (D)* vs. Will Hurd (R)
VA-10: John Foust (D) vs. Barbara Comstock (R)
NY-23: Martha Robertson (D) vs. Tom Reed (R)*
MI-01: Jerry Cannon (D) vs. Dan Benishek (R)*
NJ-03: Aimee Belgard (D) vs. Tom MacArthur (R)
I’ve long thought that Virginia’s 10th District would be vulnerable to a Democratic takeover when Rep. Frank Wolf finally retired. John Foust is attempting to do just that. While the district contains all or portions of friendly Democratic areas such as Fairfax, Manassas Park, and Prince William, its red tint comes from the fact that it contains all of Clarke and Frederick counties, along with portions of Fauquier, which are very red. Barbara Comstock probably starts off as the favorite there, but Foust has a definite opportunity. In my other home state of Georgia, John Barrow is the ultimate political survivor. The last white Democratic Congressman in the South, he has survived election after election with relatively safe wins, with Georgia Republicans constantly gunning for him. They even underwent a mid-decade redistricting plan designed to push him and fellow Democrat Jim Marshall out. While they succeeded with Marshall, Barrow moved his residence into another district and continued to win. He has to be considered the favorite in this race despite the district’s R+9 status, if only for his resilience and his well-stocked war chest.
Arizona’s 9th District could feature a rematch between Kyrsten Sinema and Wendy Rogers, the 2012 candidate for the seat, unless Andrew Walter has anything to say about it. College football fans may remember Walter from his tenure as Arizona State’s quarterback, and he also played in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders for a brief stretch. Sinema’s incumbency status probably gives her an edge, but only a slight one in a district she only captured by 4 points in 2012.
In Illinois’ 12th, William Enyart claimed a solid victory last cycle, but he largely overperformed his district’s composition (it has an even PVI). Enyart has stuck to a more moderate Democratic voting record than most of his colleagues in Illinois, so he might be better positioned than a more liberal Democrat to retain the seat. He ranks 168th of the 204 Democratic House members in terms of frequency of voting with his party this year. Rarely are Democratic House members in trouble in Massachusetts, but John Tierney continues to be dogged by allegations over an illegal gambling outfit run by his wife and brother that he failed to disclose on his tax returns. His Republican opponent, Richard Tisei, is also somewhat liberal, and could be a good fit for the district. The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund has backed him in a rare departure from usual party lines. I have a feeling that Tisei will pull this race out, as the national mood is more Republican than 2012, when he only lost by around a point. I’m less optimistic about the prospects of Republican challengers in the Texas and Minnesota races, as neither election was particularly close in 2012, making the Republican 2010 wins in those districts feel more like a fluke produced by an atypical year. Will Hurd might have a bigger opening than Stewart Mills, as TX-23 has a PVI of R+3.
Probably the most likely of the Republican-held seats to flip is New Jersey’s 3rd, which only has a R+1 PVI and the incumbent, Jon Runyan, has retired. Runyan claimed fairly easy victories in 2010 and 2012, however, so Republican Tom MacArthur likely starts out ahead. Michigan’s 1st also looks like a possible pickup opportunity for Democrats. Dan Benishek only won reelection by half a point in 2012 despite the district’s five-point Republican lean. NY-23 looks like more of a stretch, as it became more Republican in redistricting and features an incumbent running.
You can see from the lists above that there are many more plausible targets for Republican pickups than there are for Democratic ones, and for this reason I am predicting that the Republican Party will retain control of the House. In fact, they will probably add to their majority. It is somewhat difficult to predict House races because of the factors I delved into at the beginning of this post. Also, predicting any election three months out makes the task harder. But, just for fun, I’m going to throw out an estimate. I believe the Republicans will add 2-4 seats to their majority in the 2014 House races. I’ll do a recap post in November to see if I was right. In the meantime, look out for my next two posts, on Senate and gubernatorial races. In those, I’ll be making picks in individual races, as well as analyzing them a little more.