Sabato's Crystal Ball

Hard Targets?

Just 25 House members hold districts that the other party's presidential candidate won, and not all are vulnerable

Kyle Kondik, House Editor April 4th, 2013

One needs little more than just fingers and toes to count the number of House members who represent districts won by the other party’s presidential candidate in 2012. As mentioned here previously, just 25 House members — nine Democrats and 16 Republicans — hold such “crossover” districts. Compare that to 2004, when there were 59 such seats, or 2008, when there were 83.

Both Democratic and Republican strategists are going to start with these seats as they try to identify targets for the upcoming campaign, but as is clear from a district-by-district analysis, many of them are not particularly vulnerable.

Although the historical data are incomplete, the 25 crossover seats are probably the fewest number after a presidential election in nearly a century. The group includes some of the longest-serving members of the House, who have established deep roots that have allowed them to fend off challengers and build strong identities in their districts. In many of these districts, the challenging party simply must play a waiting game, hoping for a retirement that creates an open seat contest.

The nine Democrats can generally be put into two categories: newish members who barely won in 2012 and who present the most attractive targets for Republicans in 2014, or moderate-to-conservative lifers whose seats will be particularly vulnerable if the incumbent retires. The 16 Republicans, meanwhile, are a bit more varied. A handful of these representatives — like Reps. Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Mike Coffman (R-CO) — are relatively new members who were elected to favorable districts that became more Democratic in last cycle’s redistricting; others are long-time Republicans who dissuade challengers through their seniority, but whose districts would also present attractive targets in the event of a retirement; still more are members elected as part of the 2010 wave — like Reps. Chris Gibson (R-NY), Joe Heck (R-NV) and Scott Rigell (R-VA) — or through bad Democratic challenges (California Reps. Gary Miller and David Valadao stand out in this category).

One cannot stress enough how the lack of crossover seats benefits the Republicans; despite the fact that they hold a greater number of crossover seats — 16 for them to only nine for the Democrats — the Republicans could lose all their crossover seats and still hold a 218-217 House majority. Democrats need to net a gain of 17 seats to win control of the House next year.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the average length of service for House members at the beginning of the current 113th Congress was 9.1 years. The 25 crossover district holders have, on average, served slightly longer — 10 years — than the average House member. The 25 names below have widely varying years of service, though. More than half (13/25) were in the House for four years or less as of January. These, generally, are the more attractive targets.

Chart 1: The 25 “crossover” members of the House

Notes: *Years of service are as of the opening of the 113th Congress (January); ^ Miller’s opponent was a Republican because California has aa primary system where the top two finishers, regardless of party, advance to the general election.

Source: Obama/Romney district results from Daily Kos Elections; other figures from Crystal Ball research and the Almanac of American Politics.

What follows is a full analysis of all 25 crossover seats in the House. If Republicans have a good night in the House, some of the Democrats below will lose or will have retired before the election; likewise for the Republicans on this list if the Democrats have a good night.

Democrats in seats Mitt Romney won (9)

Ron Barber (AZ-2; 2012 presidential result: Romney 50%, Obama 48%) — One of the surprises of Election Night 2012 was how close Barber, who won a special election to replace his former boss Gabrielle Giffords (D), came to losing to Air Force veteran Martha McSally (R). McSally is considering another run, and if things turn sour for Democrats in 2014, this swingy district would presumably be among the seats that would flip, particularly if McSally again runs a strong challenge. TOSS-UP

John Barrow (GA-12; Romney 55%, Obama 44%) – Barrow appears to be seriously considering a run for the Senate; if he did, Republicans would be strongly favored to take this seat. The five-termer Barrow saw his district become much more Republican in redistricting last cycle, though he ended up winning fairly comfortably over former state Rep. Lee Anderson (R), one of the weaker challengers fielded by either party in a competitive seat. Based on National Journal’s 2012 ratings, Barrow is the most conservative Democrat in the House. LEANS DEMOCRATIC

Pete Gallego (TX-23; Romney 51%, Obama 48%) – After hustling to win what has to be one of the largest (geographically) districts in the nation, Gallego sticks out as a natural target for Republicans, though the former state legislator has a long history of winning elections on unfavorable turf. Texas’ district maps might end up being tweaked for next year, and it’s possible that this district will effectively become more Democratic as a result. LEANS DEMOCRATIC

Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-1; Romney 50%, Obama 48%) – A 2010 casualty who bounced back to reclaim her seat last November, Kirkpatrick — like Barber — will likely attract a strong challenge. Of the 24 states that Mitt Romney won in the presidential race in 2012, Arizona is the only one where Democrats control a majority of the U.S. House delegation (they hold five seats to the Republicans’ four). That fact alone, combined with the fact that Romney narrowly won both Barber and Kirkpatrick’s districts and that neither are deeply entrenched, tells us that they are highly vulnerable. TOSS-UP

Jim Matheson (UT-4; Romney 67%, Obama 30%) – Matheson’s 2012 challenger, Mia Love (R), is “seriously looking” at a rematch, although the national hype she generated last year did not necessarily translate to her congressional district, where she ran 19 points behind Mitt Romney (but only lost to Matheson by less than 800 votes). LEANS DEMOCRATIC

Mike McIntyre (NC-7; Romney 59%, Obama 40%) – Not only is McIntyre’s 2012 challenger, former state Sen. David Rouzer (R), giving him another challenge, but McIntyre also has a potential primary opponent, county Commissioner Jonathan Barfield (D). It’s unclear how credible of a challenge Barfield might run, but here’s a hypothetical possibility — what if New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been making news with his pro-gun control SuperPAC, heavily intervened in primaries featuring pro-gun Democrats? If Bloomberg supported an anti-McIntyre primary campaign — McIntyre has an “A” rating from the NRA — he could effectively end up delivering the seat to a Republican. LEANS DEMOCRATIC

Patrick Murphy (FL-18; Romney 52%, Obama 48%) – National tides could decide the fate of freshman Murphy, who beat ex-Rep. Allen West (R) in a vicious, high-profile race last year. However, Florida might see some interesting cross-trends because Gov. Rick Scott (R) is highly vulnerable, and may remain that way no matter what happens nationally. Perhaps a strong showing by former Gov. Charlie Crist (D-FL), an ex-Republican potentially running for governor, could help down the ticket. TOSS-UP

Collin Peterson (MN-7; Romney 54, Obama 44%) – Republicans hope Peterson retires, which would hand them a presumably easy pickup. The 12-term Democrat can probably stay in the House as long as he wants, though. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC

Nick Rahall (WV-3; Romney 65%, Obama 33%) – Rahall, like Barrow, could run for a Senate seat (in the West Virginian’s case, it would be the one of the retiring Democrat Jay Rockefeller), although he reportedly is leaning against it. Rahall, who is one of the longest-serving House Democrats (36 years), won 54% of the vote in 2012, his third-worst showing in his long career. Rahall is probably the only Democrat who can hold this seat. LEANS DEMOCRATIC

Republicans in seats Barack Obama won (16)

Mike Coffman (CO-6; 2012 presidential result: Obama 52%, Romney 47%) – The political terrain changed under Coffman’s feet last cycle when his district became much more Democratic in redistricting, and he barely hung on in November. Former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) is a top-tier recruit for Democrats, and he has apparently cleared the field of credible primary challengers. Meanwhile, Coffman is tacking to the center, at least on immigration, which could be helpful in a district where nearly one in five residents is Hispanic. TOSS-UP

Jeff Denham (CA-10; Obama 51%, Romney 47%) – Denham, like Coffman, first was elected to a district that became considerably more Democratic after last cycle’s redistricting, which will make him a perpetual target. LEANS REPUBLICAN

Chris Gibson (NY-19, Obama 52%, Romney 46%) – Gibson, who in 2012 was the most liberal Republican in the House according to National Journal, has drawn an interesting potential opponent: Sean Eldridge, a wealthy 26-year-old investor who is married to Facebook co-founder and New Republic magazine owner Chris Hughes. Money presumably will be no object to Eldridge. LEANS REPUBLICAN

Michael Grimm (NY-11; Obama 52%, Romney 47%) – There’s some question whether this Staten Island-centered district is getting more Democratic or whether President Obama’s victory there — he lost this district narrowly in 2008 — was more a product of irregular turnout because of Hurricane Sandy. In any event, Grimm is a top Democratic target, and New York City Councilman Domenic Recchia (D) has already launched a campaign. TOSS-UP

Joe Heck (NV-3, Obama 50%, Romney 49%) – Heck’s 2012 challenger, former state House Assembly Speaker John Oceguera (D), ran a widely panned campaign, although Heck only barely cleared 50% of the vote. DNC Committeewoman Erin Bilbray-Kohn (D), daughter of ex-Rep. Jim Bilbray (D), appears likely to run. LEANS REPUBLICAN

John Kline (MN-2, Obama 49%, Romney 49%) – This district represents a “what if” from last cycle; Kline’s challenger, former state Rep. Mike Obermueller (D), ran a decent race but was outraised three-to-one by Kline. House Majority PAC, a SuperPAC that supports Democratic House campaigns, made a late, $75,000 investment in the race, but the outside groups largely stayed out and Kline won 54% to 46%. It’s impossible to say whether greater outside spending would have changed the result, but this is definitely a race on Democrats’ radars. Kline, whose 54% of the vote was his smallest share since his initial election in 2002, has flirted with a possible Senate or gubernatorial run, but it would be a surprise if he didn’t run for reelection; Obermueller, meanwhile, is mounting another challenge, although there could be a primary. Obama won this district by only a few hundred votes in 2012. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

Tom Latham (IA-3; Obama 51%, Romney 47%) – Now that Latham has ruled out a run for the Hawkeye State’s open Senate seat, Democrats will have a very difficult time winning this seat. Despite its Democratic lean, Latham ran about five points ahead of Romney in this district, defeating ex-Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) in a member-vs.-member contest. One potential Democratic challenger, businessman Mike Sherzan, decided against a campaign; another, ex-state Sen. Staci Appel, might run. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

Frank LoBiondo (NJ-2; Obama 54%, Romney 45%) – For what it’s worth, LoBiondo’s 58% of the vote was the worst performance of his career, despite facing a no-name opponent who he outspent $1.3 million to $48,000. There’s been little buzz about potential Democratic challengers here; surely the district would be a top pickup opportunity whenever LoBiondo leaves the House, but he’s not particularly old (66). LoBiondo voted against his own party’s majority the second-most times of any Republican so far this year. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

Gary Miller (CA-31; Obama 57%, Romney 41%) – After finishing third in last year’s top-two primary here (Miller ended up beating another Republican to win this seat), Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar (D) is taking another run at the most Democratic seat held by a Republican (although he might have company). Miller, a developer, got a ton of financial help last year from the National Association of Realtors (three combined entities associated with the group spent more than $2 million on his behalf, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.). Republicans probably have no business holding this seat, but Miller might not be so easy to dislodge. TOSS-UP

Erik Paulsen (MN-3; Obama 50%, Romney 49%) – Paulsen, who like his colleague John Kline is sometimes mentioned as a possible statewide candidate, occupies a similar district to Kline, but he did several points better in 2012 and Paulsen “appears to be a lower priority for Democrats,” Minnesota Public Radio recently reported, than Kline or firebrand Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who occupies a considerably more Republican district than either Kline or Paulsen. SAFE REPUBLICAN

Dave Reichert (WA-8; Obama 50%, Romney 48%) – Democrats failed to defeat Reichert from 2004 through 2010, and after his district became more Republican in redistricting last cycle he appears to have moved off the list of credible Democratic targets. SAFE REPUBLICAN

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27; Obama 53%, Romney 46%) – A few months ago, we noted that Ros-Lehtinen was a potential retirement that Republicans would dread; she used our speculation as part of a fundraising appeal: “Unlike New Coke, disco music, or your first e-mail address, I’m not going anywhere,” she wrote. The 60-year-old has generally cruised to reelection in this district, which in its current form is 74% Hispanic. SAFE REPUBLICAN

Scott Rigell (VA-2; Obama 50%, Romney 49%) – Rigell fought off a strong challenger last year in this perpetually swingy district and has developed a moderate profile. This will remain a tempting target for Democrats, but Rigell is formidable. It will probably take a considerable Democratic wave to dislodge him. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

Jon Runyan (NJ-3, Obama 52%, Romney 47%) – On paper, Runyan should be beatable, but a challenge by Shelley Adler — wife of the deceased former Rep. John Adler (D), who Runyan unseated in 2010 — never caught fire, and Runyan won by nine percentage points. There’s been little buzz about a potential challenger so far this cycle. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

David Valadao (CA-21, Obama 55%, Romney 44%) – Freshman Valadao won this seat in a walk against a weak Democratic opponent, which has led some Democrats to believe that Valadao, like Gary Miller in the aforementioned CA-31 district, was a fluke winner. LEANS REPUBLICAN

Bill Young (FL-13, Obama 50%, Romney 49%) – Like so many of the other names on this list, Young is a deeply entrenched incumbent, although, as the longest-serving Republican in the House, it’s a legitimate question as to whether he’ll run again. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

As an aside, it’s possible that veteran Rep. Peter King (R, NY-2) will be the 26th House member who holds a district won by the presidential candidate of the opposing party, but complete results from his Hurricane Sandy-ravaged Long Island district are, incredibly, still pending. In any event, King is safe.

Crystal Ball House ratings changes

We’re making only slight changes to the House ratings this week. Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) probably should have been on our initial ratings; California Republicans are going to have trouble picking up any seats in the deeply Democratic Golden State, but Brownley and some others could be beaten under the right circumstances; former state Sen. Tony Strickland (R), who the freshman Brownley beat by slightly more than five points in 2012, is running again.

The seats of Reps. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Kristi Noem (R-SD) are now listed only because they have been mentioned as possible Senate candidates. If the seats became open, Democrats could potentially compete in either; if they do not, both incumbents should be fine in their reelection bids. Meanwhile, after former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s (R) runoff primary victory on Tuesday in the special election to replace appointed Sen. Tim Scott (R), Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch (sister of comedian Stephen Colbert) has an outside chance to win the seat, given Sanford’s baggage. However, the Republican has to be considered a favorite right now; if Colbert Busch somehow won, she would hold the fourth-most Republican district (based on the 2012 presidential results) of any Democrat in the country.

Our full House ratings are available here.