The House Majority PAC, run by a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee political director who served under then-chairman Rahm Emanuel, released the findings of Public Policy Polling vulnerability surveys for eight Republican-held congressional seats (all conducted during the Jan. 18-23 period). It is not known in exactly how many districts the PAC polled, but these eight will undoubtedly be competitive and obviously fare the best for Democrats among those tested.
Though the release was done in the context of making the GOP incumbents look as vulnerable as possible, looking beyond the numbers and overlaying the new district lines tells, perhaps, a different story in many of these targeted CDs.
The eight are:
• CO-3: Rep. Scott Tipton (R), 46% vs. Sal Pace (D), 39% – The 3rd District of Colorado is commonly described as the Western Slope seat. The region encompasses the mountainous western part of the state but comes east along the state’s southern border to capture the Democratic city and county of Pueblo. Because the split-control Colorado legislature was unable to produce a new congressional map, the subsequent de novo court map kept the integrity of the district intact and made the swing seat lean just one more point toward the Democrats. Sal Pace is the state House minority leader and expected to be a strong challenger. Scott Tipton is a freshman who defeated three-term Democratic Rep. John Salazar in the last election 50-46 percent. This is expected to be a close race, but since the Republican presidential nominee usually carries this region, Tipton might get a point or two bump. At this point, a 46-39 percent spread for numbers released by a Democratic Super PAC are not too bad for the incumbent Republican in a district that traditionally features tight congressional contests.
• IL-8: Rep. Joe Walsh, 35% (R) vs. Generic D, 49% – The two Democratic contenders in this new district are former US Department of Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth and ex-Deputy State Treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi. The generic ballot question suggests that Democrats have a strong chance of unseating freshman Rep. Joe Walsh here, in a Democratic redraw that was designed to do just that. Walsh’s decision to run in the new 8th instead of facing a GOP incumbent pairing with fellow freshman Randy Hultgren (R-IL-14) is highly questionable. Despite House Republican leadership promising to raise Walsh millions of dollars if he were to run in the 8th District, the demographic and political numbers paint an unpleasant picture regarding the freshman’s chances. Expect the Democratic nominee, likely Duckworth, to romp in the general election. The PPP generic poll has a high probability of being accurate.
• IA-4: Rep. Steve King (R), 49% vs. Christie Vilsack (D), 43% – Rep. Steve King’s 5th District, now labeled #4, is quite different under the new redistricting design, as the state lost a seat in reapportionment. Instead of occupying the entire western side of Iowa from north to south, the new 4th CD keeps only his north-central western base and now travels as far east as Mason City, Charles City, and New Hampton. The seat is generally Republican, but King has drawn a challenge from Christie Vilsack (D), wife of US Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. She will have all the campaign resources she needs to run a competitive race. Since Vilsack likely has higher name ID throughout the entire district than does Rep. King, a 49-43 percent spread in the congressman’s favor is not particularly bad news for he and the GOP.
• MD-6: Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R), 42% vs. Generic D, 42% – One of the biggest redistricting victims in the United States is 85-year old Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R). He has seen his district go from a 58 percent McCain performance to a 56 percent Obama number with the addition of more highly Democratic precincts in Montgomery County. Under the new district lines, Rep. Bartlett is a clear underdog in the general election, assuming he survives an eight-person Republican primary. Considering the drastic nature of the redraw, pulling dead even in what is now a decidedly Democratic district is actually a surprisingly good showing for the GOP incumbent.
• MI-1: Rep. Dan Benishek (R), 41% vs. Gary McDowell (D), 46% – Rep. Benishek is trailing by five in a new district that is slightly more Republican than the one in which he defeated then-state Rep. Gary McDowell (D) 52-41 percent in 2010; and that is a sign of trouble. Though the seat was held by Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak for 18 years, the voting history of northern Michigan is hospitable to Republicans. Therefore, a poll showing Benishek already trailing McDowell, who just announced he was going to run again in September, should be a cause for concern among Benishek and the northern Michigan Republican party.
• OH-6: Rep. Bill Johnson (R), 42% vs. Charlie Wilson (D), 41% – Though Ohio loses two congressional districts, the configuration of the 6th District that hugs the Pennsylvania and West Virginia borders all the way from East Liverpool and Steubenville down to and through Scioto County stays virtually intact under the new Buckeye State map. The seat juts west on I-70 at Cambridge in order to pick up some new Republican voters to give Johnson some help. The freshman congressman’s opponent is former two-term Rep. Charlie Wilson, who Johnson defeated 50-45 percent in 2010. A one-point polling margin is what one would expect in this district featuring two well-known candidates at such an early point in the election cycle. The new OH-6 race is likely to remain close all the way to Election Day.
• OH-7: Rep. Bob Gibbs (R), 42% vs. Generic D, 43% – The new 7th District is a radical redraw from the current 18th CD that elected freshman Rep. Bob Gibbs. Instead of stretching south from the central part of the state, the new 7th moves north to grab the city of Canton, sweeps around new District 16 in a horseshoe-shaped fashion to pick up the city of Ashland on the west, and then travels north all the way to Lake Erie. The new district should elect a Republican, but Gibbs is unfamiliar to a large number of voters. The fact that he is virtually dead-even on the generic ballot question is not particularly bad news for the new congressman. Once he becomes better known throughout the entire new district, and is paired with a live Democratic candidate instead of a party label, his ballot test numbers should dramatically improve.
• OH-16: Rep. Jim Renacci (R), 46% vs. Rep. Betty Sutton (D), 46% – The 16th District doesn’t much resemble either GOP Rep. Renacci’s current 16th CD, nor Rep. Sutton’s 13th District. Renacci represents a greater proportion of the new district, but it only slightly leans Republican. Therefore, it is not particularly surprising that the two candidates are starting on even footing. This is another race that will be hard-fought. Because Sutton’s political base was split among several districts, forcing her to begin again from scratch, she faces the more difficult path to re-election. OH-16 is one of just three districts in the nation so far that features an inter-party incumbent pairing. The other two are CA-32, with Reps. Grace Napolitano (D) and David Dreier (R) facing off – though it is highly unlikely that the Republican will run here – and IA-3, with Reps. Leonard Boswell (D) and Tom Latham (R) lining up against each other.