There have been so many of these, that at this point such introductions are tedious formalities. Basically, to contextualize what led to this diary was the constant discussion of how taking the House is pretty much impossible. How redistricting has doomed Democrats, etc etc. So, this has driven me to return to an earlier project, which seeks to outline how, if Democrats retook the House this cycle, it would happen, since some folks are so determined to say they can't even imagine the scenario.
The U.S. House has a current composition of 241 Republicans to 191 Democrats. To come up with a better picture at how many pick ups Democrats need, I have to also outline the specific effects of redistricting (seats eliminated):
New York: -1R, -1D
Ohio: -1D, -1R
New Jersey: -1D
Iowa: -1 (Undecided how the race between Latham and Boswell turns out)
Totals: -5R, -7D, -1undecided
Texas: +2R, +2D
Florida: (depends on which you count as new seats), +1D, +1tossup
South Carolina: +1R
Totals: +5R, +6D, +1tossup
Thus reapportionment actually favored Democrats, even though they bore the brunt of districts axed. That tossup is the new FL-18, where Allen West is running, (though really, you could say several other districts were also changed up.
Lastly, we need to take into account certain losses, like Heath Shuler's NC-11. Dan Boren's OK-02, and Mike Ross's AR-04. So let's just say Democrats are actually starting off in a 244 to 188 hole.
So, that's one base assumption out of the way. Now, let's get to business in a randomized district by district (or state by state, or regional, way). This is the first installment of a two or three part series, depending on how much commentary I feel driven to insert.
Rural Upper Midwest:
This is how I characterize the trio of Upper Midwestern seats that are absolutely must-wins for Democrats to take the majority. I rank them here in order of their likelihood to change hands:
Here are some breakdowns:
-No district saw a bigger upset in 2010 than MN-08, a traditionally Democratic-leaning, economically liberal district based in the Iron Range of Northern Minnesota, where 18-term incumbent Jim Oberstar, Chairman of the powerful and earmark important Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, lost by 1.6 percentage points (48.2-46.6) in a low turnout election, to a political neophyte and tea party activist, Chip Cravaack. Truly a case of getting caught napping. Obama won this district 53-45, apparently weak, but about the same margin Kerry and Gore both won the district, meaning their is a very high Democratic floor. Also, with the exception of Chisago, Isanti, Mille Lacs and Kannabec counties, as well as the southern reaches of Pine county, there's very little local base for Republicans. The district is dominated by monolithically Democratic St. Louis county (home to Duluth, MN), and Itasca and Carlton counties are also quite reliably Democratic. Democrats had a crowded and complicated 3-way primary, but in the end 68 year-old Minnesota politico Rick Nolan (who represented MN-06 from 1975-1981!!) won the primary and is probably the strongest of the options that ran. He's running a much more inspired campaign than Oberstar did, and though the exurban Minneapolis-St. Paul growth in the aforementioned southern counties of this district had expanded the Republican base a lot, (though that growth has come to a stand-still), and the Democratic counties are shrinking, this is still a fairly inelastic, Democratic leaning district that tends to deliver more for local Democrats than national ones like Obama. Senator Amy Klobuchar may likely receive 70% of the vote here, Obama should still win it comfortably, and the Minnesota Republican party is in shambles and their legislature is deeply unpopular. Cravaack can't expect lightening to strike twice.
-For MI-01 I will be a bit curter. After, despite his obsessive over-reach with ensuring the ACA's non-coverage of abortion and the considerable liberal criticism he took for that, Republicans, such as his fellow U.S. Representative Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), called him a baby-killer (Neugebauer's exact words, hurled out on the House floor), popular 8-term incumbent Bart Stupak decided he was sick of politics and up and retired leaving Democrats less than 10 months to put together a campaign to hold onto his conservative but traditionally Democratic seat. In 2010 they put up a solid effort, and Dan Benishek's controversial, drawn out 15 vote victory over State Senator Jason Allen in the Republican primary helped Democratic candidate Gary McDowell, but 2010's headwinds, especially in the Upper Midwest were too much, and McDowell lost 52-41. Since then however, the Republican brand has tanked in the UP (that strange piece of Michigan that is split off from the state by Lake Michigan), which makes up around 60-70% of the district. This is rural territory that has traditionally back Democrats anyway, and at the moment Rick Snyder and the Republican State Legislature are deeply unpopular here and at risk of losing 2-3 of the House Seats they picked up there in 2010. Democratic turnout in the UP for the unopposed Debbie Stabenow way outpaced Republican turnout in their contested Senate primary between Clark Durant and former Congressman (and failed 2010 Gubernatorial candidate), Pete Hoekstra. McDowell is back for a rematch this year, and is running a solid campaign, keeping financial parity with the incumbent Benishek. Polls have tended to give McDowell a slight lead, but lately I get the sense that he is starting to pull away, as seen by a 9 point lead in a recent poll. My thinking is actually pretty simple here. If the UP swings back to Democrats again, and Obama narrowly wins this district again, then McDowell will win with them, and should outperform Obama here.
-It's strange to call WI-07 the least favorable pick up opportunity among these 3 districts. WI-07 is more Democratic than MI-01. Incumbent and former Real World star Sean Duffy is the most underwhelming of the 3 Republican incumbents, and Pat Kreitlow appeared early on to be the strongest Democratic recruit between the districts. He was a nightly news anchor on one of the major local TV Stations in North Wisconsin from 1998-2005, giving him a lot of built in name recognition. He ran for a swingish state senate seat in 2006, unseating a 17 year incumbent, and lost by only 8 percentage points to Terry Moulton in 2010. But polling hasn't been as favorable here, and Kreitlow's fundraising has been weak. Undoubtedly the recall effort ended up hurting Democrats up and down the ballot by allowing Walker and Republicans to rehabilitate themselves and to appear less partisan and fervent than the Democratic side. National Democrats are still playing around with this district, but haven't made the kind of investment needed to win yet. As it is, if Obama manages to do well enough to win this district again, and a small tailwind from a modest lower-ticket Democratic wave builds, Kreitlow should win, even in the absence of the tailwind, if Obama wins WI-07, (which he won 53-45 in 2008 under the current configuration) Kreitlow has a good chance of pulling through as well. State Senator Julie Lassa made a good effort in 2010, coming up short by a 52-44 margin, and this is normally the swingish area of Wisconsin. Prior to 2010 it was represented for 42 years by Democrat David Obey, who was Chairman of the Appropriations Committee from 2007-2011, so I'm still relatively optimistic it will return into the Democratic fold.
-Steven Horsford versus "Baby Tark". 2008 Obama numbers: 56-41. New Democratic seat.
-NV-03, Rep Joe Heck, Republican. 2008 Obama numbers: 54-45. John Oceguera may not be the strongest candidate, and Obama might fall short a few points on his 2012 numbers here, but Heck is probably too conservative for this district, and the Democratic organization of Nevada too strong.
Really I shouldn't write anything here. Just go find the Dkos user Adnext. Like all of his diaries on this. I'd just embarrass myself trying to summarize all of his insights and updates on the two state parties and the situation on the ground.
WA-10: 57-41 Obama seat, contains the strongly Democratic city of Olympia and parts of the Tacoma suburbs. Denny Heck is a somewhat moderate Democrat with a lot of contacts and should win this easy. New Democratic seat.
WA-01: John Koster is extremely conservative and outspoken. Bad fit for this district which went for Obama by a 56-42 margin and includes a lot of Democratic trending suburbs and a bunch of rural territory north of Seattle. Susan Delbene, a moderate progressive with the resources to self-fund if needed, should win here with some room to spare (Koster did very poorly in the Top 2 primary last month). Delbene impressed me with her 2010 campaign against Dave Reichert as well, as she performed better than did Darcy Burner in 2008, despite the headwind of the cycle and the lack of Obama coattails. Do Google Koster to read about his escapades, including calling public educators anti-American. The inside fix that is the redistricting process in Washington's Bipartisan Committee shored up Rick Larsen (who nearly lost to Koster in 2010) at the expense of Jay Inslee's (who is running for Governor obviously) open seat. This would mark the 3rd time Koster has lost a congressional race in Washington, including 2000 and 2010.
Independent Redistricting really gifted Democrats a very favorable map here. So favorable that Jan Brewer tried to fire the Independent tie-breaker of the selected group that drew this map, until the State Supreme Court overrode her. Then the Republican State Legislature actually threatened to vote to eliminate the Independent Redistricting Panel and simply re-assume those powers. That's how pissed they were at a map which improved Gabby Giffords' old district for Democrats, improved AZ-01, and created a new, Democratic leaning suburban seat, (AZ-09).
-Giffords' old 8th was renamed the 2nd, and went from 52-46 McCain to 50-48 McCain, gaining more Democratic-trending areas and becoming more Tuscon-centered. Giffords' former Chief of Staff Ron Barber, who was injured in the shooting nearly 2 years ago, had a comfortable 7-point victory over the very unpleasant tea party activist Jesse Kelly (who nearly beat Giffords in 2010), in the special election back in June of this year, in the more Republican, older version of this district. He faces a slightly less baggage-ridden and conservative candidate in Martha McSally, but the race has mostly fallen off the radar. He's a centrist Democrat, and has a good reputation in the district.
-What does it say when the Republican incumbent who unseated Anne Kirkpatrick 49.7%-43.7% in 2010, chose to district hop over to the open AZ-04 rather than run here? Redistricting excised many of the fastest growing, exurban and Republican areas of the district. It went from 54-44 McCain, to 51-48 McCain, with a large contingent of conservative, rural, white, Pinto Democrats. Her opponent is former State Senator Johnathon Paton, who hasn't really represented much of this district before at any level. He was last seen getting upset in the 2010 AZ-08 Republican primary, losing to tea party activist Jesse Kelly who focused on, I kid you not (to mention him again), how past Republican candidates, including Paton (who served with Giffords in the State Senate), were too respectful and friendly with Giffords. Kirkpatrick is seen as a steady favorite.
-State Senator Kyrsten Sinema has had a few controversial statements, but she ran a good primary campaign and know faces former Paradise Falls Mayor Vernon Parker in the General Election. Paradise Falls is a very small suburb, and it isn't even contained with AZ-09, which voted 51-47 for Obama. She's a very interesting person, both in background and in her style as it compares to her politics, and at 36 would be the youngest member of the Arizona Congressional delegation. She's favored, but by a smaller margin than are Barber and Kirkpatrick.
The Hotel California
Here is where majorities will be won or lost. Democrats need, more than anything, a California wave to push them into a potential majority by running the gamut here. Please see DKE user Darth Jeff's earlier write up as a baseline, as I am deeply indebted to his insight and information: http://www.dailykos.com/...
Here are the seats where Democrats are on defense, listed from least competitive to most:
-John Garamendi, a former State Senator and Lieutenant Governor, had some struggles in 2010, particularly in his special election. Thus it boded poorly for many when, after the new maps were revealed, Garamendi's district received quite the remix, taking in a lot of rural and exurban territory and going from a 65% Obama district to a 55% one. However the district has a more solid Democratic baseline than meets the eye, partly due to how strongly Democratic Yolo County, the site of UC Davis, is. Still, Colusa County Supervisor Kim Dolbow-Vann was initially touted by national Republicans, but in the Top 2 primary Garamendi got 53% of the vote, without Presidential turnout in Yolo and other Democratic bases in the district. Dolbow-Vann hasn't run the best campaign, and national Republican groups have mostly dropped off here. Strangely enough, despite it being significantly more Republican than his previous district, Garamendi would appear to be much more comfortable here, and with his understanding of agriculture, he's doing better than Democrats normally do in Dolbow-Vann's more rural, northern base.
-I have less interest in CA-09. Three term incumbent Jerry McNerney, having just survived a stiff challenge in 2010 in a more Republican district, is opposed for reelection this time by a 25 year law student from a rich well-connected family that has helped him overstuff his coffers and get the eye of national Republicans despite the fact that he has no experience as a candidate and no natural base. Still, this candidate, Ricky Gill, seems impressive enough. But McNerney's now in a 56% Obama district that also voted for both Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer in 2010. McNerney is also not taking this for granted.
-Abel Maldonado, who briefly served as an appointed Lieutenant Governor following Garamendi's run for Congress, (and lost reelection to Gavin Newsom), a former State Senator with a reputation for being one of the Republican party's few moderates, probably looked like a stronger candidate than he's actually turned out to be. Relatively lackluster fundraising, an unfavorable district that both Barack Obama and Diane Feinstein appear set to do very well in, and the ongoing issue of his 4 million dollars in IRS back-taxes, have made national Republicans lose most of their early interest in this race. Incumbent Democrat Lois Capps has represented a large chunk of this district for nearly 20 years, and won hard-fought reelection campaigns in similar territory back in the 1990s, when it was much less Democratic than it is now. She certainly hasn't been taking this campaign for granted, nor shown any obvious rust. Her consistent rating as the nicest member of Congress can't hurt either.
-At first I had no hope for this district. It started when Rep. Jim Costa really left Democrats in a tight spot; he and his BFF, neighboring Rep. Dennis Cardoza got together after redistricting, and Cardoza decided to retire, allowing Costa to jump over from the 21st, which was mostly his turf, made a bit more Republican by redistricting, and run in the 16th. Costa would have won here in a normal cycle with relative ease; his close call in 2010 was an anomaly, as there was not only the national Republican wave, but low Hispanic turnout in the Central Valley and other local issues at play in a backlash against state Democrats (including water issues and high-speed rail). So, Rep. Costa left, Republicans got a top-notch recruit in State Assemblyman David Valadao, and none of the first tier Democrats got in. Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Head John Hernandez won the primary over better-funded Fresno City Councilman (Fresno is not in this district) Blong Xiong, the favorite of national Democrats. Still, as others have noted, this district is a lot more Democratic locally and historically, than its 52% Obama percentage suggest, an inverse of say, a suburban Orange county district where Obama got 52%. Hernandez is a conservative, well-connected Hispanic businessman, and seems to be in a slightly better position than many of us outside the area have assumed. Still, he will need very strong Hispanic turnout, and a lot of party-line voting.
Now for Democratic pick-up opportunities (just by district order):
Now you see why majorities will be made in California, because Democrats are capable of winning in any of those races, and really should win in several. They need to sweep them for a majority.
-Dan Lungren has been around a long time. From 1978-1990 he represented a coastal South California district, then narrowly won election as Attorney General, winning reelection in 1994, before getting crushed in a Gubernatorial race in 1998, by none other than Gray Davis. After a brief sabbatical, he returned to politics by winning election to Congress from the Sacramento area-based, North-Central California CA-03, renamed CA-07 after redistricting. This is an area that's come full circle. First, in the 1970s and 1980s, a much larger, rural and traditionally Democratic district around the urban Sacramento core turned Republican due to suburban growth and shifts in the rural voter allegiance. Then since the early 2000s, this area has rapidly began to shift back to Democrats, a trend that accelerated post 2004, when Kerry marked the low point for Democrats. Obama saw a 9 point shift in CA-03 in his favor, leading to a very narrow 49.3-48.8 victory for Obama there in 2008, which also saw Lungren come within 5.5 percentage points of losing to a low-visibility, mostly unfunded candidate. In 2010 Democrats sought to make up for this mistake, but it was, 2010, and their candidate Dr. Ami Bera, ran strong, but still came up seven points short. However, Dr. Bera is running again, and both candidates are campaigning heavily and have large coffers of cash to spend on ads. Lungren has a reputation for being very cerebral and amicable, which tends to downplay his stringent conservatism, but redistricting did him no favors. Population growth in Sacramento county led to the redistricting committee lopping off the extended branch of rural and exurban territory, essentially removing Lungren's strongest areas in his 2010 reelection. The shifting around did not impact enormously the top lines, going from 49-49, to 51-46 Obama, but the trends are worse for the incumbent here, and Democrats even managed to pick up a State Assembly seat in 2010 in this suburban territory. I have been very confident that Bera will narrowly come out on top here come November.
-Two term Republican Jeff Denham was an unexpected victim of redistricting. His old district, CA-19 was vaporized to some extent, and his new district, CA-10, contains only 38% of his old territory and went from a 52-46 McCain district, to a 50-47 Obama district. I'm a bit optimistic here, and I admit I'm a little over-exuberant. But the Democratic candidate is Jose Hernandez, a former Astronaut who will be listed as such on the ballot. His life story is inspiring. He's raised a lot of money. And in the Top 2 primary, Denham only received 48% of the vote, while Hernandez and several other Democrats and the strong independent candidacy of Chad Condit (son of the infamous Gary Condit) received 52% of the vote. What's more is Democratic turnout and Hispanic turnout will increase significantly in the November election. Denham is extremely conservative, and this district is a mix of historically Democratic territory, Hispanic areas, and some areas that are becoming more Democratic as retirees from other parts of urban North California, especially Sacramento, settle down there. Lots of Government workers there, and not a whole lot of sympathy to the entire Tea Party agenda. I'm optimistic about Jose Hernandez bringing this seat into the Democratic fold.
-In some ways this district (CA-26) is partially responsible for why Democrats dropped the ball on CA-31. They were very worried about not making the Top Two here, and spent big attacking independent candidate Linda Parks (she wasn't that independent, just a moderate former Republican and ardent Strickland-opponent). State Senator Tony Strickland is, again, the Republican candidate. He's had a long, and often combative career. He's also very conservative, even on social issues, which makes him a very bad fit for this moderate, suburban, Democratic-leaning district that gave Obama 56% of the vote, the former district of Elton Gallegly who retired after he saw what redistricting did to his district (went from 51-48, Obama, to 56-41 Obama). This area has a lot of growth in the Hispanic population and is trending more Democratic. The Democratic candidate, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley is running a pretty good, aggressive campaign, and she's been ahead in some of the D-internals recently released. It'll be close, but this district has a high Democratic baseline in normal cycles.
-Here's a late-breaking race that's really taken me, the eternal optimist, by surprise. Dr. Raul Ruiz, the Democratic candidate, has raised good money, but he's also running a much better campaign than I anticipated. I never thought I would be talking about this race as a competitive pick up opportunity for Democrats. Incumbent Republican Mary Bono Mack has been in office since the 1998 special election replace her celebrity-politician husband, Sonny Bono after his all-too-early death. She later remarried, divorced, and remarried again, this time Florida Republican Congressman (and Senate candidate this year), Connie Mack. Perhaps some of his fail, as it were, is rubbing off on her. Still, this Palm Springs-based district changed little. 75% of the territory is familiar to the 7-term incumbent, the partisan toplines changed little and in fact the changes favored the Republican party, as it dropped from a 52-47 Obama margin, to a 50-47 Obama margin. However, Bono Mack is one of the few members of Congress that can say their reelection percentage has dropped in their last 3 consecutive campaigns. There's a growing Hispanic population here, and the district is slowly getting more Democratic. Mary Bono Mack has never been as moderate as her husband was, and perhaps this is finally the cycle she loses. In 2010 Democrats put up highly touted Palm Springs mayor Steve Pougnet, but he came up 9 points short in the hostile environment (I wasn't especially impressed by his campaign at the time either). A 5-6 point shift in the generic congressional ballot in California in favor of Democrats, and a better campaign from Raul Ruiz than Pougnet would put this district in the Democratic column for the first time. So far, the last few weeks have really changed my perception. The DCCC, (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) which has been playing very conservatively this year, has recently been making some plays here, a recent Democratic internal had the race tied, and Bono Mack got into some hot water recently for some really nasty and disparaging comments she made towards a heavily Hispanic city in her district, Coachella, that have gotten some high profile negative play in the district.
-I'm not particularly well-versed with regards to CA-41. I feel Democrats are obviously favored despise an exceptionally strong Republican candidate in moderate, Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione who has raised good money and gotten the endorsements of a few local Democrats. In the end it won't matter in this Democratic-trending district that gave Obama a 21 point margin in 2008 (59-38). The Democratic candidate, Mark Takano, a long-time local politico who ran a close race against Ken Calvert in 1992 and serves on the Riverside Community College Board of Trustees, is seeking to become one of the relatively few successful, openly gay politicians in America. Obama should carry him over the finish line come November.
-State Senator Alan Lowenthal is the Democratic candidate, and he has the misfortune of being tied to the one institution that is more unpopular in his district than the U.S. Congress...the California State Legislature. His early fundraising was also pretty terrible, and Republicans got probably their top recruit in Long Beach City Councilman, Gary DeLong. National Republican groups are still kinda sorta targeting this district, but it's decidedly half-hearted. Lowenthal has shaped up as the campaign has gone on too, and this district, which voted 58-40 for Obama in 2008, is a fascinating, totally new political construction that only a nonpartisan redistricting committee could have thought up; a South Coastal CA district. It has a very high Democratic floor though; even Boxer won it 50-42 in 2010. Lowenthal will underperform, but nowhere near badly enough to lose.
-Last comes to last with a blast from the past. I say this because the Republican incumbent, Brian Bilbray, has been in this exact position before, back in 2000, when he faced a stiff challenge from Democrats in an increasingly Democratic and diverse San Diego-area district. He lost that race, to then State Senator Susan Davis, becoming one of only four incumbent Republicans to lose that cycle (if you guessed that the only one outside of California was Jay Dickey, who lost to Mike Ross in AR-04, then appreciate that irony and pat yourself on the back for knowing way too much about politics). After a few years out of elected politics, Bilbray managed to make a comeback, following the spectacular Randall Cunningham scandal and resignation back in 2005, eking out a special election victory over Democratic activist Francine Busby. Well, redistricting singed him pretty hard. Obama won his old district 51-47, which in the San Diego area, means the local Democratic baseline was much lower. After redistricting, the toplines shifted to a 55-43 district, that, again, Obama won. The trends are bad for Bilbray here, as is his own history of not overperforming the Republican base of his district by that much. The Democratic candidate is Port Commissioner Scott Peters. He's relatively moderate, and on the whole a business oriented Democrat, but that makes him a good fit for this district. He's personally wealthy, has invested 1.2 million dollars of his own money in this race already, and recently got the endorsement of former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher. Fletcher had been rated as recently as this year, as a leading moderate of the CA-GOP, and one of it's rising stars. Then he switched to independent to get traction in his campaign for San Diego mayor (lost out anyway), and hasn't returned to the Republican fold in the slightest. This sort of battle royal is fun to watch, but I feel the Democrat is solidly favored. As do some national prognosticators who have already moved this race to "Leans Democrat" already.
Democrats need a 29 seat gain to take control of the House. I have outlined so far a group of states and one region that account for a potential 15 seat gain that isn't at all out of the question. That's half-way there and I haven't even gotten to other states like Illinois, Florida and New York where Democrats have a large number of opportunities. I will address those states next time, as well as other seats Democrats will probably lose that will make it harder for them to take the majority. But my initial point here, is that, for all the mystified expressions one may find, especially on DKE, in regards to the potential for Democrats to take the House, there is a very real path to that end. It's a wave swing of toss up seats, no doubt, but some folks act like there aren't even enough opportunities on the board for Democrats to potentially win the house. (I'm skeptical that we dominate enough of the toss up districts to win the house, but I admit the potential the playing field offers).
Until next time,
P.S. While Dkos does have reader gauges, these aren't entirely accurate. I always appreciate users who vote in my poll as that gives a more accurate count of readership. Which is always nice to know for something you worked hard on; sucks to feel like you are talking to a wall.