One thing we do a lot of at Daily Kos Elections during the odd-numbered years is think about who might run for office in the next even-numbered year: who might challenge an incumbent, or who’s going to seek a promotion when there’s an open seat. This kind of speculative naming-of-names in the political media is such a well-established tradition that there’s even a term for it: the Great Mentioner.
The Great Mentioner is sometimes pure guesswork by pundits about which candidates seem like up-and-comers, but just as often, it’s the result of behind-the-scenes prodding by consultants or potential contenders themselves trying to float names into general circulation through media allies and see what sort of a bite they get. You might recognize this as part of what’s called the “invisible primary,” which gets a lot of coverage in the presidential context but happens in all manner of downballot races too, at the congressional and even legislative and municipal levels.
But we can improve on this process by adding a quantifiable layer to it. For starters, it helps to know which potential candidates actually have connections to a given district: Do they actually live there, and more generally, how big is their base of local supporters? And if, say, a member of the state legislature is looking at a bid for Congress, how much turf does their present district share with the one they might seek?
After years of wishing for some sort of table that might illustrate these overlaps, in 2019 we finally did something about it and built those spreadsheets ourselves! But thanks to the decennial redistricting process that followed the 2020 census, those versions are now out of date, so we headed back down into the Excel cave to produce fresh data.
After a whole lot of number crunching—and waiting for the last straggler, Montana’s legislative redistricting process, to cross the finish line—Daily Kos Elections is pleased to announce new versions of our data detailing the overlaps in all 50 states between:
To see how these spreadsheets operation in action, let’s take a look at a district that may soon host a special election: New York’s 3rd Congressional District. This, of course, is the seat represented by freshman congressman and noted fabulist George Santos, who has managed the rare feat of becoming the target of investigations at the local, state, federal, and international levels.
While Santos remains unlikely to face legal sanctions purely for his resume exaggerations, he is in considerable jeopardy over the less hilarious and more complicated campaign finance violations that he is alleged to have committed—the sorts of crimes have prompted many members of Congress to depart early.
The 3rd District is commonly described as being situated on Long Island, but it does contain a sizable slice of New York City as well. Popping open our counties and congressional districts sheet and heading to the “NY” tab, you’ll see the following data in the right-hand set of columns:
Scrolling down to “3” in the “CD #” column and reading horizontally, we can see that the 3rd District includes parts of two counties, Nassau and Queens. More specifically, the spreadsheet tells us that the 3rd is home to:
- 590,781 people who live in Nassau County, or 76% of the district.
- 186,190 people who live in Queens County, or 24% of the district.
These are both very populous counties, though, so what if we’d like to see what portion of those counties is actually in the 3rd? For that, we want to look at the left-hand set of columns, which tell us that:
- The 590,781 people in Nassau County who live in the 3rd District make up 42.3% of the county.
- The 186,190 people in Queens County who live in the 3rd District make up 7.7% of the county.
New York does indeed elect many officials at the county level, so we can see that someone who represents Nassau would start with three times as big of a base as someone from Queens. They’d also already be familiar to a sizable fraction of the 3rd District’s electorate—always a big advantage. Indeed, one such politician, Nassau County Comptroller Elaine Phillips, has been mentioned as a possible Republican candidate (though another, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, has already taken himself out of the running).
But plenty of candidates who currently occupy other offices might be interested as well. State legislatures, in fact, often serve as the farm teams for Congress, with state senators having the best chance of getting called up to the big leagues by virtue of their larger districts. So which senators might have a plausible reason to run for New York’s 3rd Congressional District?
Looking at the first group of columns in our congressional districts to legislative districts sheet, we can see that six different state Senate districts overlap the 3rd, which we’ve also illustrated in the map at the top of this post. According to our data, those six districts break down as follows:
- 157,780 people who live in NY-03 live in SD-05, or 20.3% of the CD.
- 40,750 people who live in NY-03 live in SD-06, or 5.2% of the CD.
- 325,409 people who live in NY-03 live in SD-07, or 41.9% of the CD.
- 66,842 people who live in NY-03 live in SD-08, or 8.6% of the CD.
- 152,443 people who live in NY-03 live in SD-11, or 19.6% of the CD.
- 33,747 people who live in NY-03 live in SD-16, or 4.3% of the CD.
One of those Senate districts, the 7th, looms much larger than the other ones. In fact, if you glance over at the next group of columns, you’ll see that 100% of its residents live in the 3rd Congressional District. The other five, by contrast, are all split between the 3rd and at least one other congressional district. For instance, the 5th is divided about half and half between the 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts (48.5% and 51.5%). On the other hand, the 11th is much more fragmented: 47.7% of its residents are in the 3rd Congressional District, but 24.3% are in the 5th, 10.4% in the 6th, and 17.6% in the 14th.
The senator who represents the 7th, Republican Jack Martins, may therefore have a leg up on the competition in a 3rd District special election. That’s not just by virtue of already representing 42% of the district’s residents but also because he previously ran to represent the 3rd, losing to Democrat Tom Suozzi in the 2016 election. Martins, however, didn’t sound enthused about a congressional bid when asked about the prospect in January, so Republicans might need to go in a different direction. (In New York special elections, nominees are chosen by party leaders rather than in primaries.)
The other five Senate districts are represented by a mix of Democrats (the 6th, 11th, and 16th) and Republicans (the 5th and the 8th). But again, those overlaps are all much smaller, and the largest among them, the 11th, is a seat represented by 83-year-old Toby Ann Stavisky, who likely isn’t looking for a promotion.
So what if we look at the state Assembly? This gets a little more complicated, since there are 14 different Assembly districts that overlap the 3rd Congressional District! Nine of those Assembly members are Democrats (including one, David Weprin, who already has experience with losing a congressional special election—in his case, the 2011 special in the old 9th District to replace Anthony Weiner, which he improbably lost to Republican Bob Turner).
But since there are more than twice as many districts in New York’s lower legislative chamber compared to the upper, those Assembly districts all have much smaller populations. As a result, none of these overlapping districts make up more than one-fifth of the 3rd District. In fact, we can see that only three of those 14 districts—the 13th, 15th, and 16th—are fully contained within the 3rd. The rest partly overlap at least one other congressional district, with one taking up as little as 0.4% of the 3rd (Assembly District 11). Of those three districts wholly inside the 3rd, however, two are held by Democrats, Charles Lavine in the 13th and Gina Sillitti in the 16th, while the 15th is represented by Republican Jake Blumencranz.
But perhaps Martins were to run after all and emerge victorious. That would leave the 7th Senate District vacant in turn, leading to yet another special election—a phenomenon known as “special election musical chairs.” Members of the Assembly would be particularly likely to want to succeed Martins, and no fewer than five of them already represent parts of the 7th District, as shown on the map below:
But looks can be deceiving. You simply can’t tell just by poring over this map how many people in each Assembly district actually live in Martins’ 7th District. But that’s where our upper legislative/lower legislative sheet comes in especially handy. It tells us that:
- 7,978 people who live in SD-07 live in AD-10, or 2.5% of the SD.
- 65,482 people who live in SD-07 live in AD-13, or 20.1% of the SD.
- 67,045 people who live in SD-07 live in AD-15, or 20.6% of the SD.
- 138,770 people who live in SD-07 live in AD-16, or 42.6% of the SD.
- 46,134 people who live in SD-07 live in AD-19, or 14.2% of the SD.
The electoral math here would be especially favorable for Sillitti, who represents the only Assembly district (the 16th) that is 100% within the 7th Senate District. In contrast, the sheet shows only half of Lavine’s and Blumencranz’s respective districts are in the 7th. And of course, if Sillitti were to win a race for Martins’ seat, a special election would be necessary for her district. At that level, you’d likely be looking at politicians who hold local office, and there our data runs out.
But this is all just one example of the many potential rabbit holes you can go down using this set of spreadsheets; a little innocent Great Mentioning can easily turn into an endless vortex of districts within districts, with huge ripple effects.
Note: The population figures in 44 states use 2020 census data. Six states, however—California, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, Virginia, and Washington—engaged in redistricting in 2020 using “prison-adjusted population data,” which seeks to locate incarcerated people at their home residences rather than where they are incarcerated in an effort to combat what is known as “prison gerrymandering.” For these states, we obtained block-level population data from the states themselves. In the cases of both 2020 census data and prison-adjusted data, block-level population data was then joined with block equivalency files (which show which congressional district and legislative district each block is in) from state redistricting authorities.
You might also be wondering, “Hey, what about congressional district overlaps with towns and cities? That sounds more interesting than all these endless numbered districts.” Practically speaking, we wouldn’t want to generate full lists of every incorporated place; in many rural areas, that would mean hundreds upon hundreds of place names per district. However, we’ve already put together a condensed version: Our congressional district geographic descriptions data set that we released last August includes the three largest places per congressional district and the percentage of the district that they represent.