Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 12, 2016

Rothenberg’s Dangerous Dozen Open House Seats

McIntyre is retiring, giving Republicans a strong opportunity to pick up his House seat in North Carolina. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

McIntyre is retiring, giving Republicans a strong opportunity to pick up his House seat in North Carolina. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

I wrote my first Dangerous Dozen open House seats column in this space 14 years ago, so I figured I might as well keep the streak going, though it isn’t nearly as impressive as Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.

As in my Jan. 17, 2000, column, the districts are listed in order of vulnerability. “All of the races on the list currently are worth watching, but I’ve concluded that the races at the top of the list are more likely to change party control than those at the bottom,” I wrote back then. The same applies now.

Utah’s 4th District (Jim Matheson, a Democrat, is retiring.)

Barack Obama received 41 percent of the vote in this district in 2008, but only 30 percent in his bid for re-election. No Democrat will begin with Matheson’s goodwill or moderate record, making the district impossible to hold for his party. After November, Republicans will control all four of the state’s House districts and both Senate seats.

North Carolina’s 7th District (Mike McIntyre, a Democrat, is retiring.)

In any other year, this seat would be the most likely open seat to flip. Obama drew 42 percent of the vote in 2008 and 40 percent in 2012, so Democratic prospects here are statistically identical with the party’s prospects in Utah’s 4th. Both parties agree that the open seat will go Republican in November.

Iowa’s 3rd District (Tom Latham, a Republican, is retiring.)

Obama carried this district twice — with 52 percent in his first run and with 51 percent when he sought re-election. Latham had the energy and resources to defeat fellow Rep. Leonard L. Boswell, a Democrat, and he would have been re-elected this time as well, so the retirement is significant. Former state Sen. Staci Appel, the early front-runner for the Democratic nomination, had two solid fundraising quarters, and party insiders are upbeat about her prospects. A number of Republicans are in or looking at the seat, but the possibility of a nominee coming out of the religious right doesn’t help GOP prospects here.

New Jersey’s 3rd District (Jon Runyan, a Republican, is retiring.)

Obama carried this district twice, with 51 percent in 2008 and 52 percent in 2012. Ocean County and Burlington GOP leaders will try to find a consensus candidate who can hold this seat, but unsuccessful gubernatorial nominee Steve Lonegan is promising to run in the primary anyway. Democrats are certain to make a major effort here, and Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard seems to be rallying support from Democrats. But the GOP plurality coming out of Ocean County will be a problem for any Democratic nominee.

Virginia’s 10th District (Frank R. Wolf, a Republican, is retiring.)

While Obama lost this district in 2012, albeit narrowly, the GOP could be divided after it selects its nominee, thereby improving Democratic prospects. But Democrats should remember that conservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli carried this district in his unsuccessful gubernatorial bid last year.

Pennsylvania’s 6th District (Jim Gerlach, a Republican, is retiring.)

A narrowly divided district, Obama won it by a substantial 7 points in 2008 but lost it by 2.5 points in 2012. Redistricting was a small help to the GOP here, and a mainstream, politically savvy conservative (like Gerlach) would be hard to defeat. But the prospect of a GOP meltdown in the Philadelphia suburbs due to the governor’s unpopularity makes Democrats quite hopeful about this district.

Montana’s At-Large District (Steve Daines, a Republican, is running for Senate.)

The state favors the GOP nominee, but Republicans have a primary, while state and national Democrats have lined up behind John Lewis, a personable and appealing former aide to outgoing Sen. Max Baucus. A breeze at the GOP’s back could make this a tough sell for Lewis, but this race bears watching.

West Virginia’s 2nd District (Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, is running for Senate.)

This is another district that favors the GOP nominee, but the party’s field is hardly intimidating. The likely Democratic nominee, Nick Casey, looks to have appeal, but the president’s weakness throughout this state could be enough to keep the district red.

Iowa’s 1st District (Bruce Braley, a Democrat, is running for Senate.)

This northeast Iowa district clearly leans Democratic, going easily for Obama twice (56 percent in 2012). Both parties have primaries, but the fundamentals favor a Democratic hold.

Maine’s 2nd District (Michael H. Michaud, a Democrat, is running for governor.)

This is Maine’s more conservative district, and it was represented by Republican Olympia Snowe before her election to the Senate. But Obama carried it twice (with 55 percent in 2008 and 53 percent in 2012), and Democrats certainly have the advantage. Both parties recruited credible candidates, and both will have primaries. But with Michaud running for governor, Democrats don’t seem particularly worried about losing his House seat.

New York’s 4th District (Carolyn McCarthy, a Democrat, is retiring.)

Obama carried this district twice (with 56 percent), and the New York suburbs are not as Republican as they once were. But this Nassau County-based district certainly has GOP pockets of strength, and candidate recruitment is only now beginning.

Arkansas’ 2nd District (Tim Griffin, a Republican, is retiring.)

Democrats are upbeat about this race, but I don’t yet understand why. The district has a Democratic base of African-Americans and some white liberals, but Obama drew only 43 percent of the vote in 2012. The Democratic nominee, former North Little Rock mayor and state Rep. Patrick Henry Hays, has a lengthy record (which can be both good and bad) and will turn 67 in May. Republican French Hill, 56, served in the George H.W. Bush administration and is a banker.

The bottom line: The first two districts on this list are certain to flip from Democratic to Republican, but it isn’t yet clear that any of the other seats will change party control.

  • Drew Pritt

    Mr. Rothenburg, I live in the 2nd Congressional District. There’s a number of reasons to be upbeat as Democrats.
    First of all, French Hill as a D.C. insider would like everyone to think he is the only Republican running, but you completely ignored the fact he has a primary with two candidates. One is Col. Conrad Reynolds who ran a stronger than expected Senate primary in 2010 and is the true Tea Partier in that race. But you also have State Representative Ann Clemmer who represents Saline County that has a large base of votes.
    Second of all, Pat Hays is beloved by Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. He is facing no primary opposition and while he has a long record, he has a record that gets the job done. Like Mayor Hays says, “There’s no difference between a Democratic pothole and a Republican pothole …. you just fix the pothole.” That pragmatism and ability to appeal to both sides makes him a strong candidate. Not to mention he is outraising the other candidates.
    Finally, outside of Ed Bethune from 1978-1984, Griffin is the only other Republican to hold this seat. So honestly, 26 yr. out of 36 yr. of Democratic representation, shows this is a Democratic seat. Stop using inside the beltway and get out to these districts. You all in D.C. don’t have all the answers. If you did, maybe our country wouldn’t be in all this mess!

    • robertthomason

      As a Republican in Alabama, I think you make a very good point. Sounds like the mayor might be one of those Truman-JFK style Democrats. As you and I know from past experience, that is the kind of Democrat who wins in the South. This will be an interesting district to watch.

  • ta111

    Any district that obama got less than 55% will probably go Republican. Obamacare will be the tipping point.

    • Rob_Chapman

      The GOP can mobilize its base running against Obamacare but as the Democratic state-wide sweep in the Virginia elections showed, that appeal does not extend beyond the base

      The public will respond to Obamacare favorably as it is implemented and more people come to understand it.

      The current situation of each party being a minority means that neither has a lock on the Congress.


      • BBWeekly

        Republicans nominated social extremists in Virginia. Talking about abortion is okay, because Americans are in the middle on that, but when you start to venture into contraception, rape, ultrasounds, etc then that’s a problem. The GOP must avoid candidates like that. Mainstream Republicans (like LT Gov Bolling) would have won easily in my opinion.

        • Rob_Chapman

          Great comment BB.
          We can agree that if the GOP nominates candidates with appeal beyond the party’s base, they improve their electability.
          That is an advantage that the purplish coloration that the gerrymandered districts give them.
          The GOP die hards are spread more thinly as they are spread over more districts.
          The Dem die hards are more concentrated making it a bit harder for the Dems to hear the moderates.
          But so far the GOP has squandered this advantage by nominating tons of social extremists.
          A large number of social extremists already serve as elected GOP officials.
          Cucinelli did not come from nowhere, and unlike Bolling had previously won statewide a election in his own right.
          Opening the door by voting GOP means putting social extremists’ hands on the levers of power.
          This will work against the GOP in 2014 and beyond.

  • theoLayers79

    Since a free nation cannot eliminate discontent due to envy, if we are to preserve liberty, we must not sanction envy with “social justice”.

  • Socialism is Organized Evil

    The Virginia Bill of Rights’ text that “all men are by nature equally free and independent”, has been largely replaced with a simplified expression of “free and equal” that conveys the idea of equal treatment before the law.

  • The truth is that …

    Since it mainly affects the invisible universe of human thought, the negative influence of those nefarious intellectuals attempting to subvert morality, liberty, and prosperity has only recently begun to be unveiled.

  • BBWeekly

    Where would you place Owens seat in New York, now that he is retiring? Probably top five? Also, hopefully Peterson in MN will step down.

    • Rob_Chapman

      Cuomo is running for re-election this year, he will want strong coat tails to assure his continued pre-eminence as deBlazio’s stature grows downstate.

      Also, the national GOP is toxic in NYS and a dem can win running against them.

      • BBWeekly

        If McCarthy is on this list, then Owens must be top five right? Owens’ district is much more Republican. Cuomo is a moderate, he’s like the opposite of Christie in that he governs from the middle and probably works better with Republicans than he does with Democrats. He’s a popular governor where I grew up, in the suburbs of Buffalo. And NY Republicans have stood on their own for a while … as long as the candidates are of a certain quality, they don’t get tied to the national GOP.

        • Rob_Chapman

          Thanks for the great comment BB.

  • ExVariable

    Those who harbor utopian delusions work very hard to undermine the institutions and traditions, such as private property, upon which civilization depends.

  • quiller51

    Nick Casey is looking better and better in WV with too many of the Republicans tarred by connections to Freedom Industries.

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