The Crystal Ball:
Points of Disagreement

By Jim Ellis

July 31, 2017 — University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato has released his latest “Crystal Ball” political ratings, but further arguments must come to the forefront about some of his individual race categorizations.

In the first part of his latest report, Sabato illustrates that the number of Democrats already running for Congress shatters the new candidate rate of previous off-election years. Currently, 209 Democrats have declared themselves as US House candidates at this point in the election cycle, obliterating the mean average of 42.6 derived from the period beginning in 2003 to the present. For Republicans, 28 non-incumbent candidates have currently declared, well below their non-election year average of 42.8 within the same post-2003 time frame.

But, so many Democratic candidates are declaring in the same districts, thus skewing the situation. For example, in the 14 seats where a GOP incumbent voted in favor of the healthcare legislation sitting in a district that Hillary Clinton carried, 57 Democratic candidates have already declared. In the seven competitive California Republican seats where national Democratic Party leaders pledge to heavily contest, 34 Dems have become candidates, though duplication does exist to some extent between the two aforementioned categories. In three more sites featuring presumed competitive 2018 campaigns: AZ-2 (Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson), FL-27 (open seat; Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami), and VA-10 (Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-McLean), an additional 23 candidates are competing within this trio of CDs.

Therefore, we find in these 16 unique, prime, targeted congressional seats, a total of 72 individuals who are active Democratic candidates. We also know today that 56 of these competitors will lose their primary because, of course, every district can only nominate one candidate per political party.

The increased activity within these challenger primaries could actually hurt the eventual Democratic nominee because they will be pushed so far left in order to win the intra-party contest. Doing so would then allow the respective Republican incumbent or candidate an easier time making a post-primary move to capture the ideological center.

Race Rating Changes

The Sabato Crystal Ball has changed the previous outlook for 13 campaigns. Our comments pertaining to each alteration are added:

• AZ-2: Rep. Martha McSally (R) – Changes from Lean R to Toss-up
Disagree: While Hillary Clinton was carrying this southeastern Arizona seat by five percentage points, Tucson freshman Rep. Martha McSally romped to a 57-43 percent re-election victory after winning the closest election of the 2014 campaign (161-vote margin). She also raised an impressive $7.7 million for her 2016 campaign. Seeing this, with now eight Democrats already competing for the party nomination through a campaign that will drive the eventual winner far to the left, seemingly better positions Rep. McSally. Until new numbers suggest a further tightening, a Lean R rating is more reflective of the congresswoman’s political strength.

• CA-48: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) – Lean R to Toss-up
Disagree: Rep. Rohrabacher has won 15 elections in his sector of Orange County and scored 58 percent last November. Seven Democrats are already in the candidate field, along with two Republicans. None of the Democrats have ever been elected to any office, nor do any have significant name identification. The presence of other Republicans suggests that Rohrabacher and another Republican candidate could conceivably advance to the general election in the jungle primary format because the smaller Democratic vote could become so fractured. At this point in the cycle, there is little reason to rate CA-48 a toss-up campaign even though Hillary Clinton posted a 48-46 percent victory over President Trump, one of the first times this district has ever backed a Democrat in a competitive race.

• IL-12: Rep. Mike Bost (R) – Changes from Safe R to Likely R
Agree: Though this is another district where a large number of Democrats have already declared themselves (seven), the likely nominee would appear to start in a slightly stronger position than did the 2016 party candidate.

• KY-6: Rep. Andy Barr (R) – Changes from Safe R to Likely R
Agree: It is likely that Barr will draw his strongest re-election opponent to-date in 2018.

• NV-3: Open Seat: Rep. Jacky Rosen (D) – Lean D to Toss-up
Agree: Without an incumbent running, this swing district could go either way in any election year.

• NJ-7: Rep. Leonard Lance (R) – Changes from Likely R to Lean R
Disagree: Rep. Lance has never fallen below 54 percent in any election since his initial victory in 2008. Looking at the list of announced candidates against him, with none having ever won any previous political office, there doesn’t appear any clear present reason to move this to Lean R. A presumed bad climate for 2018 Republicans should not yet be assumed as fact.

• NJ-11: Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R) – Likely R to Lean R
Possible: Certainly, Rep. Frelinghuysen is drawing more political attention than he has during his entire eleven terms in office. Though the 11th was conceded as a relatively safe Republican seat in 2011 redistricting, the region continues to change over time. Therefore, the Lean R rating may well be a reasonable one.

• NM-2: Open Seat: Rep. Steve Pearce (R) – Safe R to Likely R
Disagree: Though Rep. Pearce has made this seat safe for himself, such would not necessarily be true for another Republican in this majority minority district that encompasses New Mexico’s entire southern sector. When Pearce vacated the seat in 2008 to run unsuccessfully for Senate, Democrats won the succeeding open seat election. Therefore, a Lean R rating might be more accurate.

• NY-22: Rep. Claudia Tenney (R) – Likely R to Lean R
Agree: Tenney won a three-way race in November with 44 percent of the vote and could possibly face a similar opponent configuration in 2018. Therefore, it is difficult to see how the outlook here would have ever been rated as Likely R.

• PA-6: Rep. Ryan Costello (R) – Changes from Likely R to Lean R
• PA-7: Rep. Pat Meehan (R) – Changes from Likely R to Lean R
Agree with both new ratings: Reps. Costello and Meehan could be greatly affected if the Democrats’ state redistricting lawsuit is successful. Both Districts 6 and 7 should be considered potentially competitive at least until the redistricting situation becomes clearer.

• VA-2: Rep. Scott Taylor (R) – Changes from Safe R to Likely R
• VA-5: Rep. Tom Garrett (R) – Changes from Safe R to Likely R
Agree with both new ratings: The Virginia Beach anchored 2nd CD and the Charlottesville centered 5th can stray to support Democrats from time to time. Each are reliably Republican districts, but saying they are already safe for two freshmen is probably a stretch.

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