FEB. 13, 2015 — The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) released its first group of Frontline program incumbents for the 2016 election cycle. These 14 representatives are viewed to be the most vulnerable of Democratic House incumbents, and a group that the DCCC is highlighting for increased outside support.
Some are more endangered than others, in addition to a group of four who is at least entertaining the idea of running statewide next year. Not having an incumbent in these marginal districts may be the Committee leadership’s greatest fear.
Clearly Competitive (in vulnerability order)
NE-2: Rep. Brad Ashford is likely the most endangered Democratic incumbent. The new congressman unseated eight-term Rep. Lee Terry (R-Omaha) in a vote that may have been more about the previous incumbent’s unpopularity than Ashford. The 2016 race, in a year when the district should vote Republican at the presidential level, could be more difficult for Ashford than his original election.
FL-2: Freshman Rep. Gwen Graham ran a strong campaign against a weak Republican incumbent. She will undoubtedly draw strong opposition, and the district will almost assuredly go Republican for president. The national trends at the time of the next election will play heavily upon how this congressional race unfolds.
CA-7: Rep. Ami Bera survived the most expensive US House race in the country by less than 1,500 votes. Though the district should vote more Democratic in a presidential election year, expect this congressional campaign to again be highly competitive.
AZ-1: Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick’s 53-47 percent win proved stronger than most were projecting. The district is primed to vote Republican for president, so Kirkpatrick is far from safe in 2016. The quality of her eventual opponent will be critical in determining her re-election chances.
CA-52: Widely viewed as being the most endangered Democratic incumbent in the 2014 cycle until San Diego Republican candidate Carl DeMaio self-destructed, Rep. Scott Peters could face an even tougher race in 2016 assuming the Republicans field a stronger contender.
CA-26: This Ventura County district was deliberately drawn as a swing seat, so Rep. Julia Brownley will never be able to rest easy. She deflected a strong challenge, 51-49 percent, in 2014 and her prospects should be brighter next year.
All of the succeeding incumbents have not closed the door on running statewide in 2016, meaning these House districts become competitive in an open situation:
AZ-9: Two-term Rep. Kyrsten Sinema has hinted about challenging Sen. John McCain (R). Deliberately drawn to be a marginal swing seat, the 9th district should continue to become more Democratic as the decade progresses.
FL-18: Sophomore Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) is a potentially serious contender for US Senate, particularly if incumbent Marco Rubio (R) decides not to seek re-election in order to run for president. If open, this district could be the top Republican conversion opportunity in the country.
IL-17: Though this rural seat is decidedly Democratic, a Rep. Cheri Bustos run for the Senate could open the door for a strong Republican.
NH-2: There is a good bet that Rep. Annie Kuster runs for either senator or governor, depending upon what Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) decides is her next political move. Sen. Kelly Ayotte could be vulnerable in a state that has been trending more Democratic, and swung violently between the parties since 2004. The 2nd is becoming more Democratic, but still attainable for a Republican in an open seat scenario.
Should Be Stronger in ’16
Because of presidential voting trends, the following incumbents should have an easier road to re-election in 2016:
MN-8: Rep. Rick Nolan will likely take advantage of the strong Democratic voting history of his northeastern Iron Range district. If he draws an opponent other than businessman Stewart Mills, who came within one point of beating him last year, Rep. Nolan will be in a stronger political position.
NY-18: Former Rep. Nan Hayworth (R) finishing within two points of Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D) is likely as close as anyone is going to get, and particularly so in the coming presidential election year.
CA-31: This San Bernardino district is an anomaly in that it votes far more Republican than its demographic composition would suggest. The GOP didn’t strongly support retired Navy officer Paul Chabot in 2014, yet he still attracted over 48 percent of the vote. He’s challenging Rep. Pete Aguilar again, but the presidential year turnout model should greatly help the new incumbent. Still, this race could become competitive.
Out of Danger
CA-36: Rep. Raul Ruiz’s strong 54-46 percent margin against a viable GOP opponent should only increase in the presidential year. Rep. Ruiz is likely the strongest of the 14 members chosen as a Frontline protection target.