Dissatisfaction + redistricting = huge turnover in Congress

August 5, 2011

New polling shows that Congress is at record lows of popularity. That data point has people already predicting the possibility of political pain for lots (and lots) of incumbents.


Taken together, it’s a recipe for a major turnover in an institution that’s already seen a good share of it over the past three elections.

Of the 435 seats in the House, nearly 40 percent feature incumbents elected since the 2006 election. And by the end of 2012, that number could rise significantly.

Over the last five decades, the elections with the most turnover have often been the years ending in ‘2’ — i.e. the vote directly after the nationwide redistricting process.

In 2002, 20 members lost reelection, including four in member-versus-member matchups in the general election and eight in primaries.

In 1992, 48 members lost reelection, including 24 in either primaries or member-versus-member matchups.

In 1982, the numbers were 45 and 16 respectively and in 1972, they were 29 and 16.

That means that in three of the past four post-redistricting elections at least half of the losses by incumbents can be directly tied to the results of redistricting. Members either got roped into races against other members or were put in a district so new to them that they couldn’t manage to win a primary.

In 2012, the bipartisan Citizens Redistricting Commission in California and aggressive maps passed by partisan legislatures in other big states — Illinois, for one — means there are many members who are going to be running in districts that contain territory that is new to them.

And if the voters in those districts don’t like Congress, why are they going to vote for a member of Congress that they have no personal connection to and have never cast a ballot for before? That sentiment goes double when there’s an attractive young state lawmaker or businessperson as an alternative.

In California alone, the redistricting commission drew 29 of the state’s 53 members into districts with one another. In actuality, many will simple move to nearby districts that don’t have another incumbent living within their borders. There are relatively few seats where it’s likely that no incumbent member of Congress will run — only about four or five, according to The Fix’s calculations.

But either way, that means more than a dozen members in California will have to run in districts where they a)don’t live and b) contain significant amounts of new territory.

Already, that reality has has sparked potential primary challenges from up-and-coming lawmakers. A great example is Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas (D), who is in the race for the majority-Hispanic 29th district in the East San Fernando Valley. There had been talk of Rep. Howard Berman (D) running for that seat, but the new territory would not be as friendly as his current one, and Berman is signaling he will instead challenge Rep. Brad Sherman (D) in a primary in the 30th district.

While this is a somewhat extreme case, there are others like it all over California and — to a lesser, but still significant extent — across the country.

And in fact, redistricting changes have already made it so that at least 10 seats are already looking like they will switch party control next November.

With that in mind, and with several important states having wrapped up their redistricting efforts, we thought it would be a good time to bring back, for the first time this year, The Fix’s Friday Line of the top 10 House seats.

This Line will change significantly as other states finish their redistricting processes, but for right now, these are the 10 seats that are already looking like they will change hands. As always, the number one ranked race is considered the most likely to flip.

Thoughts? The comments section awaits below.

To the Line!

10. Oklahoma’s 2nd district (D): The retirement of Rep. Dan Boren (D) is bad news for Democrats, who are now underdogs in their quest to keep their only House seat in the Sooner State. Former congressman Brad Carson (D) — Democrats’ best hope for holding this district — opted out of the race early on. State Rep. George Faught just got in on the Republican side; former state senator Kenneth Corn is considering running on the Democratic side.

9. Indiana’s 2nd district (D): Republicans drew Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) out of this district, nudging him towards a Senate run. Former state Rep. Jackie Walorski (R), who narrowly lost to Donnelly in 2010, quickly jumped into the 2012 race, and so far she’s got the GOP primary to herself. On the Democratic side, Iraq veteran Brendan Mullen will give it the old college try, but this is Walorski’s race to lose.

8. Arkansas’s 4th district (D): Democrats, who control redistricting here, actually made Rep. Mike Ross’s (D) conservative-leaning seat slightly tougher to keep prior to his decision to retire, in order to threaten freshman Rep. Rick Crawford (R) next door. There are a lot of names floating around on both sides, including state Sens. Gene Jeffress and Larry Teague and prosecutor Robin Carroll on the Democratic side, and Iraq veteran Tom Cotton, state Reps. Matthew Shepherd and Lane Jean, and 2010 contender Beth Anne Rankin on the GOP side. Democrats lost two House seats and a Senate seat in Arkansas in 2010 and increased turnout in a presidential year won’t help their cause any.

7. North Carolina’s 8th district (D): Lucky for him, Rep. Larry Kissell (D) won’t face a primary with Rep. Mike McIntyre (D), who has decided to run in the neighboring 7th. But Kissell still faces an uphill battle to keep this seat, which will get significantly more Republican and will be a top target in the general election. GOP state Reps. Justin Burr and Jerry Dockham are both considering bids against Kissell, who has never been a strong fundraiser but benefitted from a weak GOP opponent in 2010.

6. Illinois’s 10th district (R): Rep. Bob Dold (R), who won an open seat race in 2010, continues to impress as one of the best fundraisers in the House freshmen class. He brought in an eye-popping $541,000 between April 1 and June 30 and ended the second fundraising quarter with $750,000 on hand. The question for Dold, though, is whether his fundraising can protect him from Democratic line-drawers who took his already-tough district and made it even tougher. (President Obama would have won 63 percent under the new lines.) A primary is shaping up on the Democratic side, which should help Dold’s prospects, but with native son Obama leading the ticket in Illinois, Dold faces a very tough path to reelection.

5. Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.): California’s maps are not yet final, and even if they were, we don’t know what district Dreier might decide to run in. What we do know is that the odds are against him almost anywhere he chooses. The final draft maps from the state’s Citizens Redistricting Commission put him in a heavily Democratic district and majority-Hispanic 32nd district. The more likely scenario has him retiring or challenging Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) in the heavily Latino but still potentially winnable 31st district.

4. Illinois’s 17th district (R): Rep. Bobby Schilling (R) is one of the most unlikely members of the GOP freshman class — a pizzeria owner and father of ten children who had never run for office before 2010.  And Schilling may not be spending all that much time in Washington, as Democrats in the Prairie State have drawn a new 17th district in which registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans. Schilling, who was a tea party favorite in 2010, seems to grasp his need to move to the ideological middle — including voting for the debt ceiling compromise bill that passed the House this week. Democrats clearly sense opportunity and are falling all over one another to run; the latest entrant is East Moline City Councilwoman Cheri Bustos.

3. Illinois’s 11th district (R): Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R) has been drawn into an unwinnable district. It looks like he’ll run in Rep. Don Manzullo’s (R) 16th district instead — a move that could effectively concede the 11th district seat to Democrats. Former congressman Bill Foster (D) appears to be clearing the field for now, as businessman John Atkinson (D) opted not to run. That’s a good sign for Democrats.

2. Illinois’s 8th district (R): Like Kinzinger, Rep. Joe Walsh (R) is drawn into a heavily Democratic district. But the better option for him will be challenging Rep. Randy Hultgren (R) in the newly drawn 14th district, which leans Republican. Meanwhile, his 8th district will almost surely go into the Democratic column, with former Veterans Administration official Tammy Duckworth and businessman Raja Krishnamoorthi already duking it out for the Democratic nomination.

1. Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.): Republicans have long eyed North Carolina as their best chance to pick up multiple seats after the decennial redistricting process. And Miller is on the chopping block in a major way. Miller's 13th district goes from one that leans Democratic to one that favors Republicans pretty sharply. Paul Coble, chairman of the Wake County Commission and nephew of former senator. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), is in the race, as is former U.S. Attorney George Holding.  This is a very tough hold for Miller.

Chris Cillizza and Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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