How to beat a Democratic incumbent, in 1 map

March 13, 2014

Sick of your Democratic member's insufficient loyalty to progressive causes but afraid to vote for a primary challenger in fear of handing the seat to Republicans? Enter Primary Colors, a new website promising "a smarter way to primary."

The site, which was created by Jon Geeting, editor of the liberal Keystone Politics blog, and Ryan O'Donnell, who spent 2012 as the deputy field director for President Obama's reelection campaign in Pennsylvania, aimed to combine the relative competitiveness of each congressional district with the ideology of the member representing that seat. (Geeting and O'Donnell use DW-Nominate and Progressive Punch scores to calculate ideology; they employed the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voting Index to calculate the relative competitiveness of the district.)

What that formula produces is something far more nuanced than much of what is out there -- liberals saying most Democratic members aren't liberal enough etc. -- when it comes to which Members are genuinely out of step with their districts.  As Geeting explains:

A Democrat representing a district with a D+4 partisan lean is compared to other Democrats in D+4 districts — and the more conservative they are than those colleagues, the higher their primary score. This creates an algorithm which allows activists to hone in on where they can replace Democrats with voting records too conservative for their states or districts with real progressives — with little to no fear of losing the seat to a Republican.

Here's the the Primary Colors House map:


Image courtesy of Primary Colors

And here's the key for the map:

Image courtesy of Primary Colors
Image courtesy of Primary Colors

Only two Democratic House members receive "must be primaried" status, according to the Primary Colors calculations: Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar and California Rep. Jim Costa. Another three -- New York Rep. Dan Maffei, Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos and Texas Rep. Filemon Vela -- fall into the "should be primaried" category. Among the members in the "could be primaried" category: New York Rep. Bill Owens (he's retiring), Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop, Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper, Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

It's hard not to see the Primary Colors effort as a reaction -- and a smart one -- to what has happened within Republican primaries, particularly in Senate races, over the past two elections. In Delaware, Colorado and Nevada in 2010 and then in Indiana and Missouri in 2012, more conservative candidates won primaries only to lose very winnable general elections against Democrats.  In response, a number of establishment GOP types -- including Karl Rove -- formed the Conservative Victory Project in 2013, a super PAC aimed at ensuring the most electable candidates won primaries. The group has not, however, been very active -- raising just $16,000 in the entirety of 2013.

It's very much an open question whether Primary Colors will exert any impact on the Democratic House landscape. (The project is, at the moment, self-funded by Geeting and O'Donnell.) But, for ambitious Democratic candidates looking for a way into Congress or upstart progressive groups trying to make a name by taking down a sitting incumbent, it's a must-bookmark.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
Continue reading
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Politics

politics

the-fix

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters