House Dems Poised For Minimal Gains, But Little Else
By Scott Crass
Anyone willing to bet the House?
With Election Day now three months to the day away, Democratic leaders continue to publicly express optimism that they can retake control of the lower chamber. Republicans meanwhile are still exercising confidence but largely echo the cautious view of Speaker John Boehner that,”we’ve got a lot of work to do between now and November, but I’m feeling good.”
I don’t know of anyone well-versed in this environment that thinks that Democrats can gain even close to the 25 seats needed to wrest away the big gavel that Boehner selected. But numbers do matter and how well the party can do is quite important for Democratic morale, particularly revving up toward the next election.
Democrats initial hopes for major gains were predicated on the large number of freshman members of the 2010 class –87, and the fact that redistricting, which at it’s outset seemed destined to cost the party ten seats alone, ultimately ended very much a wash. But early indications of loopholes that for a time, seemed poised to give the party unlikely successes in states where the GOP controls the trifecta unravelled one by one — at least as far as this cycle is concerned.
Additionally, an increasingly neck’n'neck presidential race adds equal uncertainty to contests that may well fall into my “tossup and then some” classification, such as Colorado-3 and Wisconsin-7, where freshman GOP incumbents are trying to stave off determined and very credible challengers.
Let’s take redistricting first. How did it play out? Arizona,Colorado,and Nevada were spectacular success stories for the party, and if all the chips fall the right way, could yield as many as seven additional Democrats (see later).In other cases, buoyancy turned to heartache. An unlikely opportunity to get a referendum on Ohio’s districts failed when just enough Democrats in the Legislature joined with Republicans to block it.
In Texas, an initial plan by a judicial panel may well have yielded Democrats all four of the new seats the “Lone Star”State’s was gaining, with a plausible opportunity for 1-2 more. But the GOP appealed to the Supreme Court, which remanded the map back to the lower court. Now, Ds will gain 2 seats, but so will the GOP. A 3rd seat, TX-23, is genuinely competitive but Ds did get perhaps their biggest break of the cycle when the candidate they strongly felt was most electable captured the nomination in a runoff. This race is a tossup.
Democrats had also hoped that a voter adopted amendment mandating “compactness” of districts would yield them a 5-6 seat gain in Florida. That would be done by breaking up the elongated Tallahasse-Jacksonville based 3rd, and by merging communities from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge that connects Tamap and St.Petersburg. But a Judge decided that a hearing was necessary which would put any changes on hold until 2014.
It was not all bad in the “Sunshine State” for Democrats. The two new seats effectively went to Democrats, and several other GOP incumbents were weakened. But it’s no secret that the beneficiaries of those seats ,Alan Grayson and Lois Frankel have controversies within and pickups aren’t certain. Democrats also have an opportunity to wrest away Alan West’s seat. But West will never suffer for money and did win a seat that was even more hostile to the GOP in ’10, albeit a poor year for challengers..Expect a photo finish here.
Democrats are also hoping to take advantage of two scandal tarred incumbents,David Rivera and Vern Buchanan. Neither will be easy. The Cuban-American community is very loyal to Rivera, while Buchanan has reserved $4 million in air time for October. But there is widespread perception that Buchanan is letting the crisis define him, and an increasingly competitive Sarasota anchored district could well produce an upset.
Then there is California. Voters adopted an Independent Commission to draw their boundaries and the result was, chaos. Incumbents everywhere, even those who had been long immune to challenge. Democrats lost one ley — and likely opportunity but were spared similar outcome in CA-26. That will likely put that seat in their column, which would seem to ensure that at minimum, the party enters the 113th Congress with the same number of seats in the delegation – 34, that they have now.
Democrats also have a good opportunity to defeat the increasingly aloof Dan Lungren. In an open Riverside seat, Democrats are high on Mark Takano’s chances But the GOP took 54.6% in the all-party vote and Republicans are hopeful that their centrist, and well-known candidate, John Taviglione, can hold the seat. Still, given that the low primary turnout benefited Republicans and that California is not likely to be hospitable to Romney, winning the seat won’t be easy. Neither will holding CA-52, where Brian Bilbray took a measily 41% in the primary. But a newly created Central Valley seat that once held promise is now certain to fall to the GOP, and Democratic prospects of taking out freshman Jeff Denham are iffy at best.
Democrats are not immune to challenges in the “Golden State,”but John Garamendi, Jerry McNerney, and to a lesser extent Lois Capps seem poised to hold off moderately strong GOP challengers.
Beyond redistricting, Democrats feel good about low hanging fruit. Joe Walsh has embarrassed even some Republicans with his full-steam Tea-Party backing,and in a CD that gave Obama 61%, Tammy Duckworth is an absolute lock. Ann Marie Buerkle and Chip Cravvack of Minnesota scored the biggest upsets of Dem.incumbents. Neither is going down without a fight but given the Democratic leans of these districts, coupled with the fact that neither Buerkle or Cravvack’s ideology seems a strong fit, they may come through. And 86 year old Roscoe Bartlett, despite having adjusted to the rigors of a modern campaign, appears to be faltering. Republicans point out that Bob Ehrlich carried the district as he was getting swamped statewide, but a Presidential contest will put different dynamics at work.
Now let’s look at other GOP incumbents, as that’s where Democrats will have to make gains if they want to come anywhere near a future majority. In Illinois, Democrats drew three GOP incumbents into seats that gave Obama at least 60%, but Judy Biggert, Bob Dold, and Bobby Schilling are in no worse than tossups. And Democrats must contend with a fight for one of their seats in an area that Obama carried, but the Dem. base is shrinking.But Ds nominated a candidate with a strong resume, while the GOP nominee has weaknesses from his bid as the 2010 Lt. Gov. nominee.
New York may produce perhaps the biggest turnaround of the cycle. Not since an ex-Buffalo Bills quarterback named Jack Kemp captured the seat in 1970 had a Democrat held it. Kathy Hochul changed that in a special election last year.But when a special master made her district, already the most Republican in the state even more so, she seemed like a dead duck. But now her personal popularity and unease with her opponent now make her seem like a good bet to return and if that were the case, the GOP would lose both seats via redistricting.
Other “Empire State” freshman, particularly Nan Hayworth and Chris Gibson, may be more elusive.Redistricting increased Obama’s margin in both CD’s,though ironically, the party may have a better shot at ousting Hayworth (now 52% Obama) than Gibson (54%).Expect both to go down to the wire.
Democrats have a few members of the New York delegation who can’t take their eye off the ball either (Tim Bishop and Bill Owens). Both know they’ll have to hustle, but, neither appears to be in perilous shape in areas that remain at just below 52% Obama(Owens gained swing counties such as Warren and Washington, but lost very conservative Oneida). Another Democrat who can’t hustle — at least literally (she broke her leg earlier in the year) is Louise Slaughter. But she has regained her strength and is favored in a district that, while substantially less Democratic than her previous territory, still gave Obama 58%.
Rematches loom large in the House playing field as well and New Hampshire will be hosting two of them. Charlie Bass is a quintessential moderate who has done everything possible to appeal to his quintessential electorate. He also got his wish with a Romney nomination. But Bass was unseated once before and Kuster hasn’t stopped running since she fell a surprisingly 1% short in ’10. This time, she looks like a favorite. But a second New Hampshire seat may be more elusive. Frank Guinta has low approvals but the woman he unseated, Carol Shea-Porter, though a tenacious campaigner, appeals to some folks more than others in this unmistakbly mixed district. And yet another rematch looms in Michigan, where freshman Dan Benishek is trying to stave off Gary McDowell. Benishek’s margin in ’10 was 11%, but this district contains many seniors and,and even Republicans admit McDowell has improved from two years ago.
Ds insist that Wisconsin-7 will eventually start moving in their direction, but, Walker performed well in the district and though Pat Kreitlow is a former Democratic St. Senator, Duffy appears to have recovered from early missteps. Still, state and national environments differ, and in the final analysis, this will go down to the wire.
In Colorado, Mike Coffman’s old district fit him like a glove. But a Judge adopted the Democrats plan that carved Coffman out, and his rhetoric suggests he isn’t yet condusive to swing territory. The question is whether it’ll be vice-versa. Coffman has a big money edge but may have intimidated just enough swing voters for it not to matter. A second race in Colorado, where freshman Scott Tipton, may be a quintessential bellweather, and the national winds may loom large.
In a newly created Nevada seat, Democratic nominee Steve Horsford may require national party assistance in the end but so far at least, seems to be running at least one step ahead of his Republican opponent. Democrats are also high on a second Nevada seat but John Oceguera recently had a dreadful performance in an interview with Nevada political guru Jon Ralston. Democrats are counting on a strong Election Day turnout, but the momentum has to be with Heck.
And Arizona Dems are optimistic that Ann Kirkpatrick and the winner of a hotly contested primary for a new seat in the state will be able to start measuring drapes. They may, but again, the national climate will be very much ar work.
Finally, the remap gave Washington State one additional seat and Republicans concede the Democrats are a lock to seize it. And much to their relief,a moderate named Suzanne DelBene has better odds of squeaking into the general election in the seat Jay Inslee vacated to run for Governor, than the very liberal, and very polarizing Darcy Burner.
Now let’s look at the state’s where Democrats have an albatross around their necks. Right off the bat, the retirement of two ‘Blue Dogs” in Arkansas and Oklahoma will give the GOP two new seats, and with them, control of every seat in both delegations.
The “Tarheel State”was the GOP’s biggest success story.Mapmakers redrew the lines that, if successful, would make a 7-6 Democraic delegaion 10-3 Republican.For Republicans,two of those seats have all but officially come to fruition (NC-11 and NC-13). A third seat, held by Democrat Larry Kissell may also fall Republicans way but Kissell is proving at least somewhat more elusive than the GOP expected. Still, a hold would be a tall order. Both sides feel they can win NC-7, where Republicans put eight-termer Mike McIntyre in an unenviable position.A GOP poll has McIntryre leading by 4% while one for the Dems.shows him up by 18%.Romney will dominate voting here,so if folks mount a straight ticket vote ,McIntyre could be in trouble.
Ditto for John Barrow in Georgia.Republicans reversed the 54% Obama-McCain numbers, but Barrow can’t be called a liberal. He is currently awaiting his opponent, but this one might go down to how much the top of the ticket gets decimated.
In Utah,Matheson is forced to contend with a different kind of situation. Opponent Mia Love is an articulate, poised, and rare African-American Republican. Matheson will have to contend with Romney’s coattails. One incumbent Democrats do not believe will be coming back is Leonard Boswell. But another member vs. member race is giving the Democrats more optimism. A Libertarian who drew 7% against Renacci last time is on the ballot again, and that would come from Renacci. But while Obama won’t carry the district (he lost it 51-48%) last time, Sutton will need him to run at least semi-well, which is quite uncertain. Renacci has a slight edge but this one is far from over.
Oddly, Democrats are confronted with headaches in the region that should be far and away their strongest:the Northeast.Incumbents John Tierney and David Ciccilline have problems. The odds of Tierney returning grow dimmer every day but Ciccilline may get boost from the top of the ticket. Holding Connecticut-5 will not be the slam dunk the party once envisioned, but as long as early favorite Chris Donovan doesn’t get any further intwined in the scandal that’s already encompassed some top aides (provided he wins the nomination), he may ride this one out.
Democrats do have several surprise opportunities. Thad McCotter’s surprise, somewhat involuntay retirement and the likely nominee of a Tea-Party gives Ds big hope in a district that gave Obama. Snatching that seat would mean that the “Wolverine State’s” loss of a seat would come from the GOP column, not, as was previously certain, the Democrats.And the Democrats’ biggest hope of all, which would be worth 5 seats is a Bachmann defeat. MY cHRYSTAL Ball shows a 51-49% race either way. Incidentally, Steve king Vilsack’s husband carried the area in his 2002 Gubernatorial victory, but the evangelical community
The bottom line. When the dust settles,Democrats may still gain about 6 seats,but that would be less than half of what had been realistictly hoped for months ago.It may even resemble 1996, when Bill Clinton was winning re-election but the party was gaining less than half the seats necessary. Whatever the case, true Democratic faithful are likely to be disappointed and looking toward 2014.