House Strategists Continue Search for 2014 Candidates

by Nathan L. Gonzales September 24, 2013 · 9:10 AM EDT

Roll Call's Kyle Trygstad nearly declared the end to the Senate recruitment season recently, but House strategists on both sides of the aisle still have their work cut out for them.

With a little more than a year before Election Day, Republican and Democratic operatives are searching for quality candidates in more than a handful of districts. Both sides want as many offensive opportunities as possible to keep the other side pinned down in their own territory.

Down 17 seats, Democrats need more GOP takeover opportunities to make up for any losses and so they don’t have to win all of the competitive seats to get back to the majority next November.

In some districts, Democrats have identified a single candidate for whom they are waiting to make a decision, such as California’s 21st (Amanda Renteria), Arkansas’ 2nd (Bill Halter) and Florida’s 10th (Val Demings).

In another batch of districts, Democrats have focused their private recruitment efforts on single candidates whose names aren’t public yet. Those seats include Michigan’s 11th District, Indiana’s 2nd, New York’s 2nd and New Jersey’s 3rd.

But in a few other districts, the recruitment process is more of a wide-open search:

Arkansas’ 1st District: President Barack Obama received 36 percent in this district in 2012 and 39 percent in 2008, but that’s not stopping Democrats from actively searching for a challenger to GOP Rep. Rick Crawford. From the 1st and 2nd districts to the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races, Democrats are surprisingly bullish about their prospects in the Razorback State next year.

Minnesota’s 3rd District: Republican Erik Paulsen was first elected in 2008 in a very competitive open-seat race against young veteran Ashwin Madia with just 48 percent. But the congressman has been re-elected twice with 58 percent in the last two cycles. Obama carried the district narrowly, 50 percent to 49 percent, so Democrats have to consider this as a target. Finding a candidate is the next challenge.

Nebraska’s 2nd District: Democrats love to target GOP Rep. Lee Terry, and Obama’s victory in the district (and a single electoral vote) in 2008 just fanned the flames. The Omaha-based district went 53 percent to 46 percent for Romney in 2012 and Terry squeaked out a 2-point victory. Democrats will take yet another shot at the incumbent if they can find a credible recruit.

Ohio’s 16th District: Republican James B. Renacci defeated incumbent Democrat John Boccieri in 2010 to get to Congress. The Republican defeated Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton 52 percent to 48 percent in 2012, and the close margin of victory made him an attractive target. But the fact that Romney carried the district by 8 points, its partial overlap with the Cleveland media market and the current lack of a candidate make this a lower-tier opportunity.

Washington’s 3rd District: Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler took over a Democratic open seat in 2010 and was re-elected easily last year in a redrawn district and a non-targeted race. Democrats don’t plan on letting her slide by again. Obama narrowly carried this district in 2008 and narrowly lost it in 2012.

Wisconsin’s 7th District: Obama carried the district with 53 percent in 2008 but it flipped to Romney (51 percent) in 2012. Republican Sean P. Duffy won the open seat with 52 percent in 2010 but won re-election with 56 percent last year against a very credible challenger. Democrats are looking for someone better this time around.

Republicans don’t have to expand the field but are still trying to play offense as part of their defense of the House majority.

In some districts, Republicans have a candidate who is likely to run but hasn’t yet announced for 2014. The best example is former state Sen. Richard Tisei in Massachusetts’ 6th District.

GOP strategists have identified potential candidates but are waiting for decisions in a few other districts. This includes Adam Hasner in Florida’s 18th District, Gabriel Gomez in Massachusetts’ 9th, Scott Van Binsbergen in Minnesota’s 7th, and unnamed potential recruits in New York’s 1st and Connecticut’s 5th.

But in another quartet of seats, Republicans are actively searching for a candidate but haven’t come up with a clear contender yet.

California’s 24th District: Rep. Lois Capps was re-elected with 55 percent over Republican Abel Maldonado in 2012. It was the Democratic congresswoman’s lowest re-election percentage in a dozen years. Obama carried the district with 54 percent, so there is the potential for a Democratic drop-off in the midterm. But Republicans still need to find a quality candidate.

Minnesota’s 1st District: Rep. Tim Walz has been a slippery target for Republicans. The Democrat was first elected in 2006 and won a second term easily two years later. GOP nominee Randy Demmer held Walz to 49 percent in 2010, but the congressman won again easily last year. Republicans thought they had their candidate for 2014 in cardiologist Scott Wright, but now they’re back to the drawing board. Obama carried the district by just 2 points over Romney in last year’s presidential race.

Nevada’s 4th District: Democrat Steven Horsford won this newly created seat in 2012 after Nevada gained a district through reapportionment. But he only won 50 percent to 42 percent against Danny Tarkanian, who was considered a flawed GOP nominee. Obama won the district by 10 points in 2012, so it’s not a great opportunity, but Republicans are eager to see what might happen if they got a stronger candidate.

Texas’ 23rd District: The Lone Star State is the nation’s second-most populous, but this southwest Texas seat is its only competitive congressional race out of 36 districts. Democrat Pete Gallego defeated GOP Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco, 50 percent to 46 percent, in 2012 in a district Romney carried by 3 points. Canseco could try for a comeback, but Republicans are still actively searching for a candidate.

In total, 49 House districts are rated as currently in play by the Rothenberg Political Report. That’s roughly the same number of competitive seats as a decade ago.