By Jim EllisJuly 30, 2019 — In the past week, three Republican House members made public their intention not to seek re-election including one this weekend. The action brings the grand total of open seats to 13, still a low number but one that is beginning to grow exponentially.
Now joining Reps. Paul Mitchell (R-MI) and Pete Olson (R-TX) in the recent retirement category is Alabama Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery). The congresswoman released an electronic message indicating that she will not seek a sixth term and thanked her family and the people of her state’s 2nd District for the opportunity of serving in the US House for what will be a full decade.
Unlike in 2018, Roby looked to have a clear path to re-election. In the last campaign cycle, she drew a significant primary challenge because of negative comments she made about President Trump during the 2016 electoral contest. But the president endorsed her in the ’18 GOP nomination campaign and she scored a solid 68-32 percent win opposite former Democratic Congressman Bobby Bright in the Republican run-off.
Against four primary opponents, however, Rep. Roby only managed 39 percent of the vote, thus forcing the run-off. She rebounded nicely in the secondary election, and then went onto post a 61 percent victory in the general election. So far, no one from either party has come forward to challenge her, thus, Roby announces her retirement devoid of political pressure.Alabama’s 2nd District occupies the southeastern corner of the state, from the capital city of Montgomery to the Florida border on the south and Georgia to the east. It contains 14 whole counties and almost two-thirds of Montgomery County.
The seat is solidly Republican. President Trump posted a whopping 65-33 percent win here against Hillary Clinton, even topping Mitt Romney’s 63-36 percent margin over President Obama in 2012. In her five congressional general elections, Roby averaged 58.4 percent of the vote, but that figure is a bit misleading. She unseated then-Rep. Bright in 2010 with 51.1 percent and then survived a surprisingly close call in 2016 when she defeated a relatively unknown Democrat with only a 48.8 – 40.5 percent point spread. In her other three generals, she recorded victory percentages of 64, 67, and 61.
While the open seat figure is creeping upward, the majority of what will be incumbent-less campaigns are still non-competitive for next year’s election season. The overwhelming number of the 13 opens are Republican-held (10R-3D), and it appears at this early point in the election cycle that five of the districts will feature seriously contested general election contests, including four currently in GOP hands.
Those competitive open seats are: GA-7 (Rep. Rob Woodall-R), IA-2 (Rep. David Loebsack-D), MT-AL (Rep. Greg Gianforte-R), NC-9 (special election, Sept. 10, 2019; vacant seat because no winner was declared in 2018), and TX-22 (Rep. Pete Olson-R).
An additional issue is arising in Alabama because the Roby seat and the adjacent AL-1 district will now both be open. Coupling with Rep. Roby’s retirement, 1st District Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile) is running for the US Senate. With both south Alabama incumbents leaving the House in 2020, the 2021 redistricting situation becomes more volatile. Since two freshmen will represent the state’s entire central/southern region, south Alabama may find itself in a precarious position.
It appears the Yellowhammer State may lose one of their seven seats in the 2020 apportionment. This means the southern region will have no seniority in arguing which seat should be sacrificed. Republicans are sure to be the party that loses because the Democrats have only one Alabama seat, which is a Voting Rights district. Furthermore, freshmen members tend to fare poorly when it comes to arguing for a more favorable district, or, in this case, having a district at all.
Therefore, it appears that Roby’s retirement and Byrne’s run for statewide office will leave southern Alabama in peril come the next redistricting negotiation session, which could potentially result in most of these two districts collapsing into one.