Sept. 24, 2015 — The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) commissioned Harper Polling (HP) to conduct surveys in presumed vulnerable incumbent districts for next year. In five of the situations where the Democrats have already recruited credible candidates, the preliminary data is favorable for the party office holders. Still, an eventual shift in the political tide could easily make these campaigns highly competitive for 2016.
The quintet of released polls feature representatives Martha McSally (R-AZ-2), Mike Bost (R-IL-12), Tim Walberg (R-MI-7), Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21), and John Katko (R-NY-24).
Rep. McSally won the closest of all 2014 elections, a 167-vote victory over then-Tucson Democratic incumbent Ron Barber. Though the Harper data projects McSally with a discernible lead, there is little question that the succeeding 2016 contest will again be close.
All four of these polls were conducted during the Sept. 12-16 period. In Arizona’s 2nd District, 484 likely general election voters were sampled. The sample’s partisan division was a reflective 39 percent Democratic, 36 percent Republican, 25 percent Independent, which is an accurate depiction of the district as a whole. Today, HP finds Rep. McSally holding almost identical leads over her two Democratic opponents, both of whom have state legislative experience.
Against current state Rep. Victoria Steele (D), McSally has opened a 47-40 percent advantage. If former state Rep. Matt Heinz (D) were her general election opponent, McSally’s edge would be a similar 48-40 percent. The 2nd CD’s marginal political nature suggests that figures such as these are expected early in the election cycle.
Southwestern Illinois Rep. Bost (R-Murphysboro/Carbondale) defeated freshman Democrat Mike Enyart in the one Dem district that the 2011 state redistricting map didn’t strengthen. Bost took advantage of the voting patterns and political climate last November to score a sweeping 52-42 percent victory over the vulnerable incumbent.
Now, Harper Polling finds him to be in very good shape among the 400 likely voters surveyed last week. Here, Bost enjoys a healthy 51-35 percent advantage over local attorney C.J. Baricevic (D), who has not previously run for office but comes from a locally prominent political family.
Michigan Rep. Walberg was one of the few freshman Republicans elected in the Democratic wave election of 2006, but he fell to then-state House Minority Leader Mark Schauer (D) two years later. In 2010, Walberg returned to oust Schauer by five points. The 2011 redistricting plan presented Walberg with a better Republican district, and he has held serve in both 2012 and 2014. The congressman will now likely face state Rep. and former Saline Mayor Gretchen Driskell (D), a top Democratic recruit.
The HP survey here interviewed 404 likely southwestern Michigan voters and found Walberg to be holding a healthy 17-point lead, 49-32 percent. Of those 7th District voters polled, 70 percent believe the country is on the wrong track. This could be viewed as good news for a Republican candidate because the question is normally asked to gauge a presidential administration, but it also carries a warning signal for any incumbent.
Two Upstate New York Republicans replaced Democrats in 2014, and it is clear the latter party will mount strong efforts to re-capture the districts next year. Elise Stefanik, at 29 years of age, became the youngest member of the House with her impressive 53-32-11 percent open seat victory in 2014 returning the North Country 21st District to the Republican column. The Republicans lost the seat in a 2009 special election when then-Rep. John McHugh (R-Watertown) was appointed US Army Secretary.
The approaching election cycle also places Stefanik in strong re-election position. In what could again be a three-way race because Green Party nominee Matt Funicello again says he will run, the new congresswoman enjoys a 58:22 percent job approval rating and a strong 51-17-13 percent re-election margin. Her prospective opponents are retired Army officer Mike Derrick (D) and Funicello. HP polled 464 likely voters.
Then-District Attorney John Katko (R) swept returning Rep. Dan Maffei (D) from office with a stunning 59-39 percent win last November. Maffei first won his Syracuse-anchored seat in 2008, but lost two years later in one of 2010’s biggest upset results. He returned to the House in 2012, but failed to win re-election for the second time and says he will not again seek elective office.
HP surveyed 456 likely voters in this Upstate district and found Rep. Katko registering a strong 59:18 percent favorability index. He holds a 51-28 percent lead over announced Democratic candidate Eric Kingson, a Syracuse University professor.