14 Open House Seats, Few Takeover Opportunities

by Nathan L. Gonzales June 2, 2015 · 9:00 AM EDT

More than 90 percent of House incumbents routinely get re-elected, so open seats are a hot commodity. Five months into the 114th Congress, 14 House members have announced their departure, but just four of the seats they are leaving behind can be considered competitive.

At this stage in the cycle, Republicans have two vulnerable open seats: Chris Gibson’s 19th District in New York and Mike Fitzpatrick’s 8th District in Pennsylvania. President Barack Obama carried Gibson’s district twice and Fitzpatrick’s district once, in 2008, but both incumbents locked down their turf to the point where Democrats didn’t put up much of a fight last cycle.

But the open seats present Democrats with fresh opportunities. The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report has New York’s 19th rated as a Tossup and Pennsylvania’s 8th as a Tossup/Tilts Republican contest.

Democrats have two vulnerable open seats: Patrick Murphy’s 18th District in Florida and Ann Kirkpatrick’s 1st District in Arizona. Obama won Murphy’s district with 51 percent in 2008, but Mitt Romney carried it with 52 percent four years later. Romney won Kirkpatrick’s district with 50 percent in 2012 and Sen. John McCain (whom Kirkpatrick is challenging) won it with 51 percent in 2008. The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report rate both races as Tossups.

The 10 other open seats aren’t at risk of a partisan takeover in a presidential year and are currently rated safe for one party.

Romney received at least 55 percent of the vote in Florida’s 6th (represented by Ron DeSantis), Indiana’s 3rd (Marlin Stutzman) and Michigan’s 10th (Candice S. Miller) in 2012. In the same cycle, Obama received at least 57 percent in six of the seven safe Democratic open seats including California’s 44th (Janice Hahn) and 46th (Loretta Sanchez), Illinois’ 8th (Tammy Duckworth), Maryland’s 4th (Donna Edwards) and 8th (Chris Van Hollen), and New York’s 13th (Charles B. Rangel). The president received 54 percent in Lois Capps’ 24th District, but Republicans have struggled to take advantage of opportunities in California over the past few cycles.

At this rate, Stu may never have enough competitive open-seat races to fill out one of his traditional Dangerous Dozen Open Seats column. But there actually are more competitive open House seats now than there were two years ago.

In June 2013, there were 10, but Obama or Romney received at least 55 percent in all of them. By Election Day, 12 of the 42 competitive races were open seats, in addition to Democratic open seats in Utah, North Carolina and New York, all considered safe takeovers for Republicans, and California’s 31st, a safe takeover for Democrats, before November.

On Election Day in 2012, 8 of the 68 most competitive House seats were open — not counting another half-dozen open seats that were newly created during the redistricting process.

There is still plenty of time this cycle for members to retire or decide to run for other office and grow the number of competitive open seats. If GOP Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada runs for the Senate, he would leave behind a competitive open seat. GOP Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado would have left behind a competitive seat, but he announced his re-election bid on Monday instead of challenging Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.

But it’s unlikely Democrats will be able to put a significant dent in the 30 seats they need to gain for the majority simply by picking off open seats. They’re likely going to have to defeat a couple dozen GOP incumbents as well. Democrats knocked off 17 House Republicans in 2012, but a handful of those victories can be attributed to redistricting.