Rothenberg’s Dangerous Dozen Open House Seats
January 16, 2014 · 10:05 AM EST
I wrote my first Dangerous Dozen open House seats column in this space 14 years ago, so I figured I might as well keep the streak going, though it isn’t nearly as impressive as Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.
As in my Jan. 17, 2000, column, the districts are listed in order of vulnerability. “All of the races on the list currently are worth watching, but I’ve concluded that the races at the top of the list are more likely to change party control than those at the bottom,” I wrote back then. The same applies now.
Utah’s 4th District (Jim Matheson, a Democrat, is retiring.)
Barack Obama received 41 percent of the vote in this district in 2008, but only 30 percent in his bid for re-election. No Democrat will begin with Matheson’s goodwill or moderate record, making the district impossible to hold for his party. After November, Republicans will control all four of the state’s House districts and both Senate seats.
North Carolina’s 7th District (Mike McIntyre, a Democrat, is retiring.)
In any other year, this seat would be the most likely open seat to flip. Obama drew 42 percent of the vote in 2008 and 40 percent in 2012, so Democratic prospects here are statistically identical with the party’s prospects in Utah’s 4th. Both parties agree that the open seat will go Republican in November.
Iowa’s 3rd District (Tom Latham, a Republican, is retiring.)
Obama carried this district twice — with 52 percent in his first run and with 51 percent when he sought re-election. Latham had the energy and resources to defeat fellow Rep. Leonard L. Boswell, a Democrat, and he would have been re-elected this time as well, so the retirement is significant. Former state Sen. Staci Appel, the early front-runner for the Democratic nomination, had two solid fundraising quarters, and party insiders are upbeat about her prospects. A number of Republicans are in or looking at the seat, but the possibility of a nominee coming out of the religious right doesn’t help GOP prospects here.
New Jersey’s 3rd District (Jon Runyan, a Republican, is retiring.)
Obama carried this district twice, with 51 percent in 2008 and 52 percent in 2012. Ocean County and Burlington GOP leaders will try to find a consensus candidate who can hold this seat, but unsuccessful gubernatorial nominee Steve Lonegan is promising to run in the primary anyway. Democrats are certain to make a major effort here, and Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard seems to be rallying support from Democrats. But the GOP plurality coming out of Ocean County will be a problem for any Democratic nominee.
Virginia’s 10th District (Frank R. Wolf, a Republican, is retiring.)
While Obama lost this district in 2012, albeit narrowly, the GOP could be divided after it selects its nominee, thereby improving Democratic prospects. But Democrats should remember that conservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli carried this district in his unsuccessful gubernatorial bid last year.
Pennsylvania’s 6th District (Jim Gerlach, a Republican, is retiring.)
A narrowly divided district, Obama won it by a substantial 7 points in 2008 but lost it by 2.5 points in 2012. Redistricting was a small help to the GOP here, and a mainstream, politically savvy conservative (like Gerlach) would be hard to defeat. But the prospect of a GOP meltdown in the Philadelphia suburbs due to the governor’s unpopularity makes Democrats quite hopeful about this district.
Montana’s At-Large District (Steve Daines, a Republican, is running for Senate.)
The state favors the GOP nominee, but Republicans have a primary, while state and national Democrats have lined up behind John Lewis, a personable and appealing former aide to outgoing Sen. Max Baucus. A breeze at the GOP’s back could make this a tough sell for Lewis, but this race bears watching.
West Virginia’s 2nd District (Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, is running for Senate.)
This is another district that favors the GOP nominee, but the party’s field is hardly intimidating. The likely Democratic nominee, Nick Casey, looks to have appeal, but the president’s weakness throughout this state could be enough to keep the district red.
Iowa’s 1st District (Bruce Braley, a Democrat, is running for Senate.)
This northeast Iowa district clearly leans Democratic, going easily for Obama twice (56 percent in 2012). Both parties have primaries, but the fundamentals favor a Democratic hold.
Maine’s 2nd District (Michael H. Michaud, a Democrat, is running for governor.)
This is Maine’s more conservative district, and it was represented by Republican Olympia Snowe before her election to the Senate. But Obama carried it twice (with 55 percent in 2008 and 53 percent in 2012), and Democrats certainly have the advantage. Both parties recruited credible candidates, and both will have primaries. But with Michaud running for governor, Democrats don’t seem particularly worried about losing his House seat.
New York’s 4th District (Carolyn McCarthy, a Democrat, is retiring.)
Obama carried this district twice (with 56 percent), and the New York suburbs are not as Republican as they once were. But this Nassau County-based district certainly has GOP pockets of strength, and candidate recruitment is only now beginning.
Arkansas’ 2nd District (Tim Griffin, a Republican, is retiring.)
Democrats are upbeat about this race, but I don’t yet understand why. The district has a Democratic base of African-Americans and some white liberals, but Obama drew only 43 percent of the vote in 2012. The Democratic nominee, former North Little Rock mayor and state Rep. Patrick Henry Hays, has a lengthy record (which can be both good and bad) and will turn 67 in May. Republican French Hill, 56, served in the George H.W. Bush administration and is a banker.
The bottom line: The first two districts on this list are certain to flip from Democratic to Republican, but it isn’t yet clear that any of the other seats will change party control.
[Editor's Note: This column was written before New York Democrat Bill Owens announced his retirement. His 21st District is now a good Republican takeover opportunity.]