House Democrats face long odds in 2014

The battle for the House was pretty even in 2012, with Democrats winning slightly more of the popular vote but Republicans holding a strong 33-seat majority thanks to a map that favors their party.

And it will be very difficult for Democrats to win back the majority in 2014, because the president's party has rarely gained House seats in a midterm election.

As we wrote earlier this week, the so-called "six-year itch" -- the idea that an incumbent president's party loses seats in his second midterm -- is somewhat overblown. But that doesn't mean that it's a good cycle to gain seats, either.

Over the past 100 years, only three presidents have gained House seats in a midterm, period, and none won as many as Democrats would need to win a majority in 2014 (17 seats).

Only Bill Clinton has seen his party gain seats in a sixth-year midterm, and that was just five seats. And only two others have gained House seats in a midterm, period: Franklin Roosevelt in 1934 and George W. Bush in 2002 -- both pretty unusual elections given the Great Depression and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, respectively. Neither FDR nor Bush gained more than single digits.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) has signed on for another try, but the odds are very much against him winning back the majority. Indeed, it would be a once-in-a-century feat.

And given the limited gains his party made in what was otherwise a good year, his party starts off with most of the 10 most vulnerable seats, as rated by The Fix.

Below are the top 10, ranked as usual from the safest -- No. 10 -- to the most in danger -- No. 1.

To the line!

10. Rep.-elect Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.): Ruiz's candidacy against Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R) in this Palm Springs-area seat was the pet project of the DCCC and one of its most pleasant surprises on election night. Ruiz won with 52 percent of the vote while President Obama was carrying 51 percent in the swing seat. The question for Ruiz is can he hang on in a midterm election when, presumably, the district's sizable Latino population will turn out in smaller numbers.

9. Rep.-elect Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.): Kirkpatrick is returning to Congress after a three-point win over Republican challenger Jonathan Paton. Redistricting gave Kirkpatrick a more favorable 1st District to run in, but it's still clearly Republican-leaning, and Paton showed Republicans can compete with her there. If the national climate is favorable to Republicans in two years, Kirkpatrick could be in trouble. 

8. Rep.-elect Rodney Davis (R-Ill.): After Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Ill.) abruptly announced his retirement plans post-primary, Republican officials tapped Davis, a former aide to Rep. John Shimkus (R). Davis defeated Democrat David Gill -- who was not national Democrats' choice candidate -- by the slimmest of margins and took less than 47 percent of the vote. He will have to face reelection in two years time in a district that handed Obama nearly 55 percent of the vote in 2008. 

7. Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah): Basically nobody’s win was more surprising on Election Day than Matheson’s. A late poll showed him trailing much-hyped GOP recruit Mia Love by 12 points in his revamped (read: gerrymandered) and very conservative district. But the Matheson name travels well, and he was able to edge out a win by less than 3,000 votes. Republicans will definitely try again, but their effort to redistrict Matheson out of Congress failed the first time – barely.

6. Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.): On election night, it appeared as though Barber, a former aide to Gabrielle Giffords, who was injured in the assassination attempt against her, had lost. But when all ballots were finally counted, he emerged victorious by nearly 2,500 votes. The narrowness of that margin, coupled with the slight Republican lean of this Tucson-area district, virtually ensures a tough race for Barber in 2014.

5. Rep.-elect Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.)Murphy won one of the most expensive and nastiest races of the cycle over soon-to-be-former Rep. Allen West (R) last month. Murphy's winning margin was less than 2,000 votes, and against a candidate less polarizing than West, the race might have been even more difficult. Assuming West doesn't run again in 2014, Republicans will have a good chance to pick up a seat that Mitt Romney carried with 52 percent.

4. Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.): The freshman beat Democrat Gary McDowell by less than a point this year. What's more, the district was evenly split between Obama and Sen. John McCain (R) in 2008. Benishek's district should be atop Democrats' wish list early in 2014 cycle. For Democrats, though, it's probably time to find a new candidate, given McDowell's consecutive losses to Benishek in 2010 and 2012.

3. Rep.-elect Joe Garcia (D-Fla.): Garcia won handily on Election Day, but largely because freshman Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) was so tarnished by his ethics problems that he wasn’t able to run a real campaign (or raise basically any money), and his party didn’t support him. But this is still a GOP-leaning district, and the prospect of a Garcia vs. Jeb Bush Jr. matchup looms large.

2. Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.): Nobody won by a smaller margin this year than McIntyre (654 votes), and only one other Democrat comes from a more Republican district (Matheson). That’s a recipe for being targeted again – in a big way – in 2014. What gives us pause here in putting McIntyre so high is that he always finds a way to win. He comes from a special breed of conservative Democrat survivors (along with Matheson) who continue to come back even after their fellow Blue Dogs have been nearly killed off.

1. Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.): The California congressman was the biggest beneficiary of the state's new "top-two" primary system this year, as Democrats failed to even get a candidate through to the general election (Miller faced another Republican and won). But Obama won 58 percent of the vote here in 2008, which means Miller is in deep trouble in 2014. And he can hardly count on Democrats failing to move an opponent through this time.

Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.

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

politics

the-fix

Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Politics

politics

the-fix

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Next Story
Sean Sullivan · December 7, 2012

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.