By Jim Ellis
Feb. 7, 2018 — Continuing our look at the 53 open seats, today we look at those in the Lean R & D categories. It is here where Democrats will have to score big if they are to claim the House majority.
The US Supreme Court declined to hear the Pennsylvania Republicans’ arguments earlier this week to move the live redistricting case to the federal level. To review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the current congressional map a political gerrymander, but without citing any election law statute violations. State Senate Republicans are refusing to provide the court with their requested data until the legislative bodies are informed about what is legally wrong with the current map.
In the meantime, the court has already appointed a special master from Stanford University to draw a new plan, and moved the congressional candidate filing deadline from March 6 to March 20. Additionally, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is already saying he will veto the legislature’s map, so all of these developments suggest that a new, Democrat-friendly map will likely be in place before the 2018 elections.
In our overview of the current House open seat configuration, two of the Pennsylvania seats are either in the Lean D category (PA-7; Rep. Pat Meehan-R) or Lean R (PA-15; Rep. Charlie Dent). With a new map likely to collapse most, if not all, of the four open Republican seats, it is likely that both of the aforementioned districts will find themselves in the Democratic column after the next election.
Currently, the Lean Democrat column consists only of Republican seats. In addition to PA-7, and probably adding at least PA-15 post-redistricting, retiring GOP Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) are leaving seats that are also trending toward the Democratic side of the political ledger.
Republicans, however, may have recently recruited a credible candidate in the person of Grammy Award winning songwriter and charity organization fundraiser Angie Chirino, the daughter of singer Willy Chirino. Willy Chirino and his parents escaped Castro’s Cuba in the early 1960s. Six other Republicans are in the candidate field including Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro. Democrats have eight candidates including two sitting state legislators and two local officials. President Trump losing this district 58-39 percent, after the Florida state Supreme Court re-drew the seat before the election, makes this seat a prime Democratic conversion opportunity.
With Republicans still trying to find a highly competitive candidate to replace veteran Rep. LoBiondo, Democrats have the inside track to converting the southern New Jersey district in the person of state Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May). The senator is quickly becoming the consensus Democratic candidate. The party leaders previously attempted to persuade Van Drew several times to challenge Rep. LoBiondo, but each time unsuccessfully. Once the seat opened, however, the senator quickly declared his candidacy.
The Republicans have only five open seats currently in the Lean R category, and the Democrats need to run the table here in order to position themselves for a majority run. As described above, one of those is Rep. Charlie Dent’s PA-15 seat, and that will likely become a Democratic seat once the new redistricting plan comes to fruition.
Rep. Lynn Jenkins (KS-2) retiring leaves her Topeka anchored seat open. Republicans have seven announced candidates including three state legislators and a local official. Democrats are coalescing around former state House Minority Leader Paul Davis who was the party’s 2014 gubernatorial nominee. Davis lost that campaign to Gov. Sam Brownback (R) by a close 50-46 percent margin. This congressional seat did flip in 2006, when Democrat Nancy Boyda upset veteran Rep. Jim Ryun, but came right back to the Republicans two years later when Jenkins defeated the freshman incumbent by almost five full percentage points.
In Michigan, two-term Rep. Dave Trott’s (R-Birmingham) surprise retirement opens a Detroit suburban seat that appears politically marginal on paper but hasn’t elected a Democrat since it was created in this configuration back in the 2001 redistricting plan. Republicans have seven announced candidates, and Democrats’ five. The field includes a one-term congressman, Kerry Bentivolio, four current or former state legislators, two former administration officials, and a co-chair for the Trump campaign.
New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce’s (R-Hobbs) run for governor makes the second time he has vacated this seat for a statewide run. He ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2008. The Democrats captured his seat that year, but Pearce returned in 2010 to re-claim the district. Each party has four announced candidates, with the Republicans’ having the two who appear strongest: ex-state Republican Party chairman Monty Newman, a former Hobbs mayor, and state Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-Alamogordo).
In Washington, Rep. Dave Reichert’s (R-Auburn) retirement opens another district that looks marginal on paper, but hasn’t ever elected a Democrat since its original creation in the 1981 redistricting plan. Republicans have recruited their first choice in former state legislator and gubernatorial nominee Dino Rossi. In 2004, Rossi lost the closest gubernatorial campaign in modern American history, a 129-vote deficit from more than 2.8 million ballots cast. He would then return to lose again in 2008, this time by six percentage points in the first Obama year, and then would challenge Sen. Patty Murray (D) in 2010 and lost by four. But, in each of his statewide elections he carried the 8th District. Democrats are encouraged here because Hillary Clinton carried the seat by three percentage points, and President Obama won the district in both of his elections.