The House Opens – Part I

By Jim Ellis

May 7, 2021 — With the number of House open and vacant seats continuing to grow, today we open a two-part series to update the status of each and begin to project where the most competitive incumbent-less districts might lie in 2022.

Adding the most recent retirement announcements or declarations for a different office, we see 16 districts that will introduce freshman members from their next election, eight from the Democratic side and an equal number of Republican seats. Of the 16, five are vacant and in special election cycles.

Today, we look at the Democratic open seats and tomorrow, the Republicans. The eight Democratic seats come from six states with another potential candidacy announcement coming shortly, at least based upon reading the Florida political tea leaves in association with this week’s gubernatorial race declaration from Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL).

Three of the five vacancies are on the Democratic side and will be filled in elections conducted from June 1 through Jan. 11 of next year. The other five Democratic openings result from retirement decisions (3) and members seeking a different office (2) with an additional open seat announcement apparently coming imminently in Florida as all indications suggest that Rep. Val Demings (D-Orlando) will soon announce her gubernatorial bid.

AZ-2 – Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick – retirement

Rep. Kirkpatrick had represented the 1st District for three non-consecutive terms beginning in 2009. She then ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2016 and returned in 2018 with a victory in the 2nd District. She was re-elected in 2020 with 55 percent of the vote. In March, Kirkpatrick announced that she would retire at the conclusion of the current Congress.

The reapportionment picture drastically changes the 2nd District political outlook. Originally, Arizona was projected to gain a seat, but did not once the official population figures were announced. Therefore, the Tucson anchored CD-2, expected to significantly change, is likely to remain closer to its current configuration.

If so, then the re-draw process will likely keep the 2nd in the Democratic column. The two leading early contenders to replace Rep. Kirkpatrick are state representative and surgeon Randy Friese (D-Tucson) and state Sen. Kirsten Engel (D-Tucson).

• President Biden carried the 2nd with a 54-44 percent margin.

FL-10 – Rep. Val Demings – potential Governor’s race

When Rep. Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg) announced his gubernatorial campaign earlier this week, Orlando Rep. Val Demings simultaneously released a video about her career and resume. The production was financed through her congressional campaign committee, so it didn’t obviously refer to the impending 2022 governor’s race, nor did it contain a re-elect message. Therefore, we can soon expect an official announcement that Rep. Demings will enter the governor’s campaign and leave her Orlando district as an open seat in the next election.

Currently, Rep. Demings’ 10th District has become safely Democratic, but without her in the 2022 congressional picture the whole Orlando area, which is projected to gain the state’s new seat, could be drawn differently. Therefore, the 10th could possibly again become a more competitive political district.

Already, state Sen. Randolph Bracy (D-Orlando) has said he will abandon his own campaign for governor if Rep. Demings enters the statewide race. He would then run for the open congressional seat.

• President Biden carried the 10th last November with a 62-37 percent vote spread.

FL-13 – Rep. Charlie Crist – running for governor

The 13th District, wholly contained within Pinellas County on the western Tampa Bay peninsula, is a competitive district. With incumbent Crist now embarking on his third gubernatorial campaign, watch for the Republican map drawers, who will control the 2022 redistricting process, to make this seat more to their liking. It will always remain competitive, but a couple of percentage points moving the Republicans’ way could well change the outcome.

Two candidate announcements were made upon Rep. Crist declaring for governor. Anna Paulina Luna, the 2020 GOP nominee who held the congressman to a 53-47 percent re-election margin, said she will enter the open seat campaign. So did former Obama Administration Defense Department official Eric Lynn. We can expect crowded primaries in both parties.

• President Biden captured the 13th with a 51-47 percent margin.

FL-20 – Rep. Alcee Hastings – passed away April 6 – special election

Rep. Hastings’ death from pancreatic cancer vacates this South Florida district that occupies much of the area between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has set a long special election cycle, with a partisan primary scheduled for Nov. 2 and the special general on Jan. 11, 2022.

A total of 11 Democrats have announced their candidacies, including three sitting state legislators and two Broward County Commissioners. This will be a highly competitive Democratic primary with the winner easily claiming the seat in January.

• President Biden took the 20th District with 77 percent of the vote.

IL-17 – Rep. Cheri Bustos – retirement

Last week’s surprising retirement decision from five-term Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Moline) leaves this western Illinois district in a state of flux. Her 52-48 percent November re-election victory over Republican Esther Joy King was indicative of the competitive potential under the current draw. The Democratic map drawers will attempt to strengthen the CD, but with the state losing a seat in reapportionment such a task might be easier said than done.

King has already announced that she will return for an open seat race. No Democrat has yet declared, obviously waiting to see how redistricting will affect this Quad Cities anchored congressional district.

• President Biden actually lost the district, 48-50 percent.

NM-1 – Rep. Deb Haaland – Interior Secretary – special election

Rep. Deb Haaland’s (D-Albuquerque) appointment as Interior Secretary vacates New Mexico’s 1st District that now has become decidedly Democratic. The two political parties nominated their candidates in caucuses, and the deciding special election is scheduled for June 1.

The Democratic nominee, state Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-Albuquerque), is the clear favorite to capture the special election. Her opponent is Albuquerque Republican state Sen. Matt Moores, but the seat, which was once competitive, now appears well out of the GOP’s range. We can expect Stansbury to win the seat on June 1 in the high 50s.

• President Biden scored a 60-37 percent win here in November, well beyond his 54-44 percent statewide victory margin.

OH-11 – Rep. Marcia Fudge – HUD Secretary – special election

The second of President Biden’s House cabinet picks will see her Cleveland-Akron based congressional district filled on Nov. 2. The key vote, however, will be in the Democratic primary on Aug. 3.

Ten Democrats are running in the special election, including five ex-state legislators and a Cuyahoga County councilwoman. The leading candidate appears to be former state senator and Bernie Sanders’ campaign national official Nina Turner, who has captured key endorsements and raised over $2.2 million through the end of March.

The seat is safely Democratic and will remain in the party’s column after the election.

• President Biden secured 80 percent of the vote here in November, and Fudge recorded the same percentage in her last re-election campaign.

OH-13 – Rep. Tim Ryan – running for Senate

Redistricting will be a key determining factor here. With Rep. Ryan opting for the Senate race, and his district needing more people coming from Akron simultaneously with the 11th CD, the least populated seat in the state, needing even more residents from the same city, the 13th CD could well become the eliminated district in reapportionment. The district also includes the Youngstown and Warren areas. Ohio lost one seat in the Census Bureau’s April 26th apportionment announcement.

Rep. Ryan was re-elected in November with a 52-45 percent margin over moderate competition. Therefore, should the 13th remain as a district on the new map the chances increase that it will become more competitive. This campaign will evolve slowly as redistricting will largely determine which potential candidates see the greatest opportunity.

• President Biden eked out a 51-47 percent win here.

TX-34 – Rep. Filemon Vela – retirement

The Texas-Mexico border congressional districts returned surprising 2020 results. In two long established Democratic seats, Rep. Vela was re-elected with a closer-than-expected 55-42 percent victory margin, and adjoining 15th District Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-McAllen) scored only a 50.5 percent win. Moving to the west, Republican Tony Gonzales won an open border district that most analysts had predicted as a Democratic conversion seat once incumbent Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio) decided not to seek re-election in 2020.

In March, five-term Rep. Vela announced that he will retire at the end of the current Congress. With the increased Republican performance in the border area, and the situation deteriorating even further since the election, the region’s redistricting prospects becomes very interesting.

The 34th, anchored in Brownsville, will certainly remain, but weather one of the two Democratic border districts becomes more favorable to the GOP remains to be seen. Don’t expect any candidate movement here until the new map is adopted.

• President Biden carried the 34th with only a 51-47 percent vote split.

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