Search for Competitive House Open Seats Comes Up Empty

by Nathan L. Gonzales June 18, 2013 · 9:14 AM EDT

Open seats are supposed to be opportunities. Without longtime incumbents on the ballot, these districts should be easier to takeover. But six months into the 2014 cycle, that just isn’t the case on the House side.

So far, there are 10 districts slated to be open seats because the member is running for higher office or retiring in 2014. Either President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney won all of them with at least 55 percent last year.

On Election Day in 2012, eight 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 more than enough time for Members to announce their retirement or decide to run for another office, but there is very little chance there will be as many competitive open seats as last cycle.

Of the current open seats, President Obama did well in Hawaii’s 1st (70 percent), Iowa’s 1st (56 percent), Michigan’s 14th (81 percent) and Pennsylvania’s 13th (66 percent). Romney swept Georgia’s 1st (56 percent), 10th (63 percent) and 11th (67 percent) districts as well as Louisiana’s 6th (66 percent), Minnesota’s 6th (57 percent) and West Virginia’s 2nd (60 percent).

Since Rep. Michele Bachmann’s retirement made her Minnesota seat safe for Republicans, just one of the 49 races listed as competitive by The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call is an open seat.

The immediate future for competitive open seats isn’t much brighter.

Obama nominated Melvin Watt to a post in his administration, but North Carolina’s 12th went for the president with a mere 79 percent. And if Democrat Edward J. Markey is elected to the Senate from Massachusetts at the end of the month, as he is expected to, his district went 66 percent for Obama.

Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Ala., is expected to resign in August, but he would leave behind a 62 percent Romney district. And if Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., runs for the Senate, his district went for the former Massachusetts governor with almost 62 percent as well.

The lack of competitive open seats is one reason why House turnover could be relatively low in 2014 — and why Democrats are underdogs to win back the majority next year.

Democrats started the cycle hoping that Florida Reps. C.W. Bill Young (50 percent Obama district) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (53 percent Obama district) would retire, and Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers (51 percent Romney district) would run for the Senate. But Rogers just announced that he won’t give up his House seat, and Ros-Lehtinen has made it clear that she will seek re-election next year. Young has not announced his plans, but GOP strategists believe he will seek a 23rd term next year.

Republicans had hoped Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., would jump into an open seat Senate race, figuring that his 12th District (55 percent Romney district) would have been a likely Republican takeover. But he decided against a statewide bid. Now, House Democratic strategists hope Rep. Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., is angry enough with GOP attempts to pressure him into retirement that he runs for another term. Romney won his district with 54 percent.

The most (and maybe only) competitive open seat could be in Maine’s 2nd District. On Thursday, Rep. Michael H. Michaud announced an exploratory committee for governor. If he follows through with a statewide bid, he would leave behind a seat that Obama won twice, but with 53 percent and 54 percent, and John Kerry won with 52 percent in 2004.

It looks like time for strategists on both sides to dust off their copies of How to Defeat an Incumbent.