Utah Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson's retirement announcement this week handed Republicans an excellent chance of claiming a district raw numbers suggest should be theirs.
Matheson sits in what is by far the most conservative House district in the country represented by a Democrat. We're talking about a district where Mitt Romney won 67 (!) percent of the vote in 2012 and President Obama won just 30 percent. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates it as R+16 in their Partisan Voter Index, which measures how each district performs at the presidential level compared to the entire country.
In light of Matheson's retirement, we decided to take a closer look at the five biggest "fish-out-of-water" House members in each party. These are the Democrats in the most conservative districts and Republicans in the most liberal districts who are either running for reelection or have at least not ruled out the possibility. We use as our metric the Cook PVI numbers. (Exact presidential election results via Daily Kos Elections' handy district-by-district breakdown are also provided.)
1. Rep. Nick Rahall (W.Va.). 65 percent Romney district, Cook R+14. Rahall has been in office since 1977. He's mostly avoided tough challenges, but 2014 is looking like a difficult proposition. Rahall's drawn a challenge from state Sen. Evan Jenkins, who switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican earlier this year. There was talk that Rahall might run for the Senate, but he shut the door on that possibility in May.
2. Rep. Mike McIntyre (N.C.). 59 percent Romney district, Cook R+12. McIntyre barely survived the 2012 election by about 700 votes over Republican David Rouzer. His win was the rare ray of sunshine for North Carolina Democrats in a year that was very unkind to them. Rouzer's back for another try. Neither candidate raised much money last quarter.
3. Rep. John Barrow (Ga.). 55 percent Romney district. Cook R+9. Barrow's camp ran one of the savviest ad campaigns of the 2012 cycle, helping him survive against the odds. He's the last remaining white Democratic member of Congress in the Deep South. And he faces another tough race. Republicans Rick Allen and John Stone are vying for a chance to take on the congressman.
4. Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.). 54 percent Romney district. Cook R+6. Peterson says he will decide about his future after the farm bill debate. His fundraising pace isn't promising though. He'll have to pick it up if he wants another term.
5. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.). 50 percent Romney district. Cook R+4. Kirkpatrick was first elected to Congress in 2008. She lasted only one term before being voted out of office. But she returned with a win in 2012 after redistricting made her district more Democratic. The GOP is eagerly eyeing her seat this cycle, with a trio of Republicans already lining up to run.
1. Rep. Gary Miller (Calif.). 57 percent Obama district. Cook D+5. Miller owes his 2012 win to a top-two primary in which Democrats cancelled each other out. They'll need to avoid a repeat to take down the Republican who sits in the most Democratic seat in the country. This is already shaping up as one of the most intriguing races on the map.
2. Rep. David Valadao (Calif.). 55 percent Obama district. Cook D+2. Valadao is well aware of the tilt of this district. He was one of 87 House Republicans who voted to end the government shutdown and came out in support of an immigration bill introduced by Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.).
3. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (N.J.). 54 percent Obama district. Cook D+1. Former federal prosecutor Bill Hughes Jr. (D) is taking on LoBiondo. He is the son of former congressman William J. Hughes. LoBiondo was one of the Republicans who railed against the shutdown as it unfolded, calling it "unacceptable."
4. Rep. Chris Gibson (N.Y.). 52 percent Obama district. Cook D+1. Gibson ranked as the most liberal Republican in the House according to National Journal's 2012 vote ratings, a title that helps him in this swing district. He faces one of the highest-profile challengers in the country in Democrat Sean Eldrigde, the husband of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.
5. Rep. Mike Coffman (Colo.) 52 percent Obama district. Cook D+1. Coffman only won by a couple of points last year, and it didn't take long for a high-profile Democrat to step up against him. Former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) announced his bid back in February, setting up one of the most competitive races in the country.