Jan. 12, 2016 — Just before Christmas, and including three more such announcements that occurred last week, five House members made public their intention not to seek re-election in the fall. The sudden jump in the number of congressmen choosing either to retire from politics or run for a different office now makes 2016 an average election cycle when examining the vacancy rate.
Representatives Richard Hanna (R-NY-22), Robert Hurt (R-VA-5), Jim McDermott (D-WA-7), Steve Israel (D-NY-3), and Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA-3) all making their political plans known in the last three weeks creates a total of 36 open seat elections for the coming year (21R-15D); an average number based upon 21st Century electoral trends, and a return to normalcy. The last two election cycles have yielded an unusually large open seat numbers: 62 in 2012, and 48 in 2014.
Interestingly, heavy competition appears to be building in only a small number of these incumbent-less US House campaigns. Based upon our internal calculations, only three of the 36 open seats are in the pure toss-up category, those of representatives Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ-1), Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18) and John Kline (R-MN-2). Another six, three for each party, can be considered in the “Lean” category. This means, at our early point in the campaign cycle, that only nine open districts, or one-quarter of the total number, are not definitively headed toward one party camp or the other.
Of the six “Lean” seats, only one is clearly tilting to the opposite party. Because of the new court-mandated redistricting plan in Florida, Rep. David Jolly’s (R) open 13th District will likely fall to the Democrats probably in the person of former Gov. Charlie Crist. The other five: CA-24 (Lois Capps-D), MI-1 (Dan Benishek-R), NY-3 (Steve Israel-D), NY-19 (Chris Gibson-R), and PA-8 (Mike Fitzpatrick-R) would see major campaign competition but, more likely than not, will yield a close win for the nominee of the outgoing incumbent’s party.
Exactly half of the retiring group (18) is running for a different office while the remainder will leave active electoral politics. Fourteen are running for the Senate, three for governor – two potentially in the 2018 cycle – and one, Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA-44), is a candidate for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
As we begin to approach candidate filing deadlines in the various states, we may see a few more retirements. The court redistricting action in Florida and Virginia could force out three additional members.
In the Sunshine State, representatives Gwen Graham (D-FL-2) and Daniel Webster (R-FL-10) saw their districts so radically changed that neither can win under the new configurations. Both may choose to run in adjoining districts that would be more hospitable to their particular political party, but neither has particularly obvious choices.
In southern Virginia, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA-4) also may be forced into retirement. From a panel of three judges who intend to enact their plan for the 2016 election, Forbes district is transformed into a heavily Democratic seat giving him no realistic chance of winning. The US Supreme Court, however, has agreed to consider arguments in a legal challenge to the new map, and may stay any changes until the 2018 cycle.
Though the number of open seats is enlarging, and considering their party complexion and the individual political situations, the Democrats still have little opportunity of making substantial gains in 2016. This is one key reason why the Republican majority is safe irrespective of what may happen in the presidential or US Senate contests.