Completing our two-part series examining the congressional political picture (the July 8 Political Update covered the Senate outlook), today we look at the House.
Currently, 234 Republicans and 201 Democrats comprise the body’s membership. Three seats are slated to soon become vacant: Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA-5) will be sworn into the Senate upon official certification of his late June special election victory; Rep. Jo Bonner (R-AL-1) announced his resignation effective in mid-August to accept a position at the University of Alabama; and Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC-12), should he be confirmed, will become the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency thus leaving the House at an undetermined date.
In contrast to the 2012 cycle when 62 seats were open, at this point only 14 members have announced their retirements, accepted new positions, or are running for a different office. Three others: representatives Robin Kelly (D-IL-2), Mark Sanford (R-SC-1), and Jason Smith (R-MO-8), have won special elections since the current 113th Congress began making a grand total of 17 seats that have opened, or will open, since the 2012 general election. Of the fourteen currently projected open seats, eight are Republican held and six Democratic.
Attributable to a tight national redistricting model, only eight seats are now in this column. Six of those belong to Democrats (representatives Ron Barber (AZ-2), Scott Peters [CA-52), Patrick Murphy (FL-18), Joe Garcia (FL-26), Mike McIntyre (NC-7), and Jim Matheson (UT-4)], while only two are Republican-held [representatives Gary Miller (CA-31) and Mike Coffman (CO-6)]. Therefore, the GOP is in a slightly better position to gain a small number of seats.
Both parties have just about an equal number of “lean” seats. Majority Republicans have 18 of their members or open seats rated as Lean Republican, while Democrats see 17 of their districts similarly categorized.
Some of the campaigns that could move quickly into the toss-up column when campaigning actually begins are the Republican seats held by representatives Steve Southerland (FL-2) who faces Gwen Graham, daughter of former governor and Sen. Bob Graham, Rodney Davis (IL-13) who won with the lowest percentage of any House member in 2012, Jackie Walorski (IN-2) claiming her seat with only a plurality of the vote, Joe Heck (NV-3), drawing a challenge from Erin Bilbray, daughter of former Rep. Jim Bilbray, Michael Grimm (NY-11) facing competition from New York City Councilman Domenic Recchia, and Keith Rothfus (PA-12) who may soon find himself in a re-match situation versus former Rep. Mark Critz.
Lean Democratic seats that could be headed toward the toss-Up category are Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-1), who is another member winning only with a plurality, Raul Ruiz (CA-36), already drawing a challenge from state Assemblyman Brian Nestande, Brad Schneider (IL-10) in a re-match with former Rep. Bob Dold, Cheri Bustos (IL-17) also in a re-match situation against former Rep. Bobby Schilling, and Rep. Bill Owens (NY-21) and Rep. Dan Maffei (NY-24) who both represent marginal New York CDs.
The biggest disparity between the two parties comes in the “likely” categories. Democrats have only 14 seats rated as “Likely D,” as compared to 59 in the commensurate Republican categories. It is here where Democrats will have to score several long-shot upsets if they hope to have any chance of wresting the House majority away from their GOP counterparts. Rounding out the House scorecard, Republicans are rated as “safe” in 155 seats; Democrats in similar position in 195 of theirs.
Turning to primary challenges, several are in the making. On the Republican side, Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (MI-11) and Rep. Scott DesJarlais (TN-4) appear headed for serious renomination contests. For the Democrats, Rep. John Tierney (MA-6) and Rep. Cedric Richmond (LA-2) have already drawn announced primary opponents.
At this time, we appear headed into a calm, incumbent-favored election cycle, but the national mood can quickly change. The Republican majority today looks to be secure, but modern campaign politics is nothing if not volatile.