House: Looking Ahead

Aug. 17, 2015 — With the presidential contest dominating the political news coverage on a daily basis, very little attention has been paid to the US House races. Having what appears to be a secure Republican majority and a low number of open seats, the congressional campaigns will not likely bring much drama in 2016. The states under court-mandated mid-decade redistricting: Florida, Virginia, and possibly Texas, are unlikely to threaten the Republicans’ majority status either, though we could see several seats shift between the parties.

Coming off a 2014 election that sent 59 freshmen into the House and features 239 members who had served three full terms or less when they were sworn into the 114th Congress, the coming election promises much less turnover. In the 2012 election cycle, 62 seats were open followed by another 47 in last November’s vote. (The figures count districts in which an incumbent was defeated in a primary.) So far this year, we see 20 open seats (10R; 10D), not including two vacant districts that were filled in 2015 special elections.

According to our own Ellis Insight political forecast, 234 seats are safe (182), likely (36), or lean (16) Republican, while Democrats see 179 districts coming their way: 155 in the safe category, 16 likely landing in their column, and seven more leaning in their direction.

Just six are currently considered Toss-ups, three held by Republicans, with the Democrats possessing an equal number. At least 17, however, are cast in the redistricting column and therefore not factored into the previous forecasting calculations. This number will undoubtedly grow, as the legislators and courts begin to make some extensive boundary changes, particularly in Florida. Right now, 10 Republican and seven Democratic seats are sure to be redrawn. The parties will keep most of the adjusted districts, but a relatively small number will change hands.

The half-dozen toss-up districts feature three open seat campaigns, the sprawling Arizona 1st district of Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) who is running for the Senate, Rep. Patrick Murphy’s (D) Palm Beach County-anchored CD in Florida, and Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick’s Bucks County 8th District. Like Kirkpatrick, Rep. Murphy is running for the Senate, while Rep. Fitzpatrick is retiring after serving four non-consecutive terms.

Three incumbents are likely to fight razor-thin re-election campaigns. Illinois Rep. Bob Dold (R-IL-10), who was first elected in 2010 but lost in the presidential year of 2012 with Illinois favorite son Barack Obama leading the top of the ticket, will likely see a re-match with former Rep. Brad Schneider (D).

Freshman Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA-1) converted the most Democratic district in Iowa last November in a major upset. He may again draw the man he defeated in that election, former state Rep. Patrick Murphy (D), but the latter is no guarantee for the Democratic nomination. The increased presidential turnout, and the lack of national party support because he refused to support Speaker John Boehner for re-election, makes Blum highly vulnerable.

Finally, freshman Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford, who defeated veteran Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE-2) last November, is also highly endangered. Not concentrating on fundraising during his first months in Congress has left him in a bit of a campaign hole. Republicans view this swing district as possibly their top national conversion target.

Two Republican seats are already in the Lean Democratic category. Nevada freshman Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-NV-4) will have a difficult time holding his central state district in a presidential year. Already several top Democrats are lining up to challenge him.

With bad publicity and division existing within the party ranks relating to Rep. Frank Guinta’s (R) FEC violation and fine, and whose eastern New Hampshire district has proven to be the most volatile seat in country since 2006, the congressman must be considered an underdog for re-election, yet again. He was first elected in 2010, but lost in 2012 only to return last November.

Other races are sure to develop as the election cycle progresses, but the quiet early start certainly rings a positive note for majority Republicans.

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