US House of Representatives Elections

by Jackie_South on November 4, 2014

2014 election iconOn Monday, I posted on the US Senate elections, a knife-edge race between the Democrats and Republicans for control of America’s Upper House.

The outcome for today’s House of Representatives is more certain, despite the fact that all 435 seats are up for election whereas only a third of the Senate is. In 2012, the Republicans secured a majority of 33 seats despite polling 1.4 million fewer votes than the Democrats (47.6% to the Democrats 48.8%).

These elections are ones where the Democrats are very much on the defensive. Of the 234 seats the Republicans won in 2012, 209 are considered safe. In contrast only 161 of the Democrats’ 201 seats from 2012 are considered safe. The chart below shows the current ratings for the races according to the Cook Political Report.

House balance 2014

The reason why the Democrats are so disadvantaged, even in elections where they garner more votes as they did in 2012, is largely down to gerrymandering.

Some of that gerrymandering is as for constitutional reasons: where a state has a substantial ethnic minority the state is obliged to draw up districts where those groups are in a majority. So, in South Carolina Obama won 44% of the vote in 2012 but the Democrats won only one of the state’s seven congressmen: an ultra-safe African American majority district.

But more and more is from straight-forward manipulation of district boundaries by the state’s partisan government. The Democrats are not entirely innocent (Maryland being an example) but the Republicans have been pretty shameless in states such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Not all states do this: Iowa has an independent process to devise its boundaries whilst the largest state, California, took steps when devising the new boundaries for 2012 to have more competitive districts with less baked-in advantages for the sitting party whilst trying to observe natural constituencies.

As a result, some large states have hardly any contested races this time: none at all in Ohio, for example. The map below shows the contested districts.

House 2014 map2

Let’s have a look at the hottest races.

Likely Republican gains 2014LIKELY REPUBLICAN GAINS (3)

NY-21: New York’s twenty-first district, covering the state’s North Country around the Adirondack Mountains. Democrat Bill Owens is standing down and polls have consistently put Republican Elise Stefanik ahead by 8% or more.

NC-07: North Carolina’s seventh district, covering the rural south-east of the state between Raleigh and Wilmington. Whilst it includes poor African-American towns such as Selma-Smithfield (George East and I caught a train from this Raleigh satellite town in 2008) much of the district is strongly Republican. Long-serving Democrat Mike McIntyre is standing down, creating an opening for Republican David Rouzer. The district includes Cape Fear, and the Democrats are indeed running scared here.

UT-04: Utah’s fourth district, covering the southern Salt Lake Valley, the south-west suburbs of Salt Lake City. This is a strongly Republican district in presidential elections, but is the Democrats’ best shot in an even more strongly Republican state. Democrat Jim Matheson, who has held on since 2000, is standing down in a district that he only just held on to two years ago thanks to some partisan boundary drawing then by the Republican-run state. His opponent then, Mia Love, looks like she is heading for an easy win to become the state’s first African American congresswoman.

Lean Democrat gains 2014LEAN DEMOCRATIC GAINS (1)

CA-31: California’s thirty-first district, based around San Bernardino. This district is 5% more Democratic than the national average in presidential elections. Long-time Republican congressman Gary Miller is standing down and looks likely to be replaced by Democrat Pete Aguilar, the mayor of usually Republican Redlands in the east of the district.

Democrat toss-ups 2014DEMOCRATIC TOSS-UPS (16)

AZ-01: Arizona’s first district, covering the northeast of the state. This massive district (it covers an area larger than England) is regularly hotly contested, having changed parties at each of the last three elections. After losing in 2010, Ann Kirkpatrick won the district back in 2012 by a 3.6% margin.

The district is largely rural desert, forest and mountains, with its main centres of population at Flagstaff in the north, Globe in the east and Casa Grande in the south but also covering the Grand Canyon, Sedona and Monument Valley. The district has the highest number of native Americans of any in the nation, taking in Navajo, Apache, Hopi and some smaller reservations. Oh yes, and my auntie happens to live in the south of the district.

AZ-02: Arizona’s second district, covering the southeast of the state including the eastern, more suburban parts of Tucson as well as the fields and former mining territory of Cochise county, home to Tombstone. The Democrats do well in the Tucson parts, the Republicans in Cochise.

The state renumbered its districts for the 2012 elections – before then this was Gabrielle Giffords’ eighth district before she had to stand down as a result of the injuries she sustained from being shot in a Tucson shopping centre car park. Her successor Ron Barber held on by less than a 1% majority in 2012.

CA-07: California’s seventh district, covering Sacramento’s eastern and southern suburbs, including Folsom of the prison’s fame. Its congressman, Ami Bera, is currently the only Indian (as in Asian) American in congress. He won the district from his predecessor Republican Dan Lungren by a 2% majority in 2012.

CA-26: California’s twenty-sixth district, covering most of Ventura County. The district take in the western-most satellites of Los Angeles, such as Oxnard, Ventura and Thousand Oaks.

Nowadays, the county is a reasonably good bellwether for presidential elections. As a result, Democrat Julia Brownley won the previously Republican seat with 53% of the vote in 2012.

CA-52: California’s fifty-second district, covering northern San Diego. The district includes the city centre, its northern coastal neighbourhoods and the suburbs of Poway and Coronado. The district is slightly more Democratically inclined than the national average and was won by Scott Peters in 2012 – defeating the previous congressman Brian Bilbray in the process.

Early on, a poll had put Republican Carl DeMaio ahead, but Peters has pulled slightly ahead more recently following allegations that DeMaio sexually harassed his former campaign manager.

FL-26: Florida’s twenty-sixth district, covering south-west Miami and the Florida Keys.  Despite the liberal reputation of Key West, the Keys are competitive between the two parties whilst south-west Miami probably slightly favours the Republicans. Democrat Joe Garcia won the district in 2012 off David Rivera on Obama’s coat-tails: he will be hoping that his two years incumbency and those Key West voters keep him in, along with hopes of a good turnout given the highly competitive governor race in the state.

GA-12: Georgia’s twelfth district, covering Augusta and parts of rural south-eastern Georgia. John Barrow has managed to hold off a strong Republican challenge here in the last five elections. Augusta and the north of the district, taking in parts of the state’s Black Belt, favours the Democrats whilst further south is more Republican.

Barrow will be hoping that his luck holds out for his sixth election.

IL-10: Illinois’ tenth district, covering Chicago’s northernmost suburbs around the city of Waukegan, stretches along the shore of Lake Michigan as far as the Wisconsin border. The district has long been marginal, with Republican Mark Kirk holding on until 2010, when he won Obama’s old senate seat. His successor Robert Dold was less fortunate, narrowly losing to Democrat Brad Schneider.

IL-12: Illinois’ twelfth district, covering the southwest of the state. At the opposite end of the state from Chicago, this district takes in much of East St Louis, Carbondale and Cairo. The district has been in Democratic hands for the last 22 years but now reflects national voting averages in presidential elections. Freshman congressman William Enyart is defending the district – he will be hoping for a good turnout in the St Louis suburbs.

IA-01: Iowa’s first district, covering the northeast of the state, including the cities of Dubuque, Cedar Rapids and Waterloo. The district’s popular congressman Bruce Braley is standing down this time to run for the Senate. In an even election, the Democrat Pat Murphy should win here but the anti-Obama swing might catapult Republican Rod Blum into congress.

MN-08: Minnesota’s eighth district, covering the northeast of the state around Duluth. It also includes Brainerd, site of most of the action in the fim Fargo.

This iron-mining district used to be safely Democratic until they fell out of love with mining. The Republicans won the district in 2010 for the first time since the Second World War as a result, although Democrat Rick Nolan recovered it with 54% of the vote two years ago. Nolan had also previously been a congressman in the state in the seventies.

NH-01: New Hampshire’s first district, covering the south east of the state including its largest city, Manchester.  It is the slightly more Republican of the Granite State’s two districts, and they held it between 1984 and 2006. That year, Democrat Carol Shea-Porter won in the Democrats’ breakthrough year in Congress. Shea-Porter lost the seat in the Republican resurgence of 2010 to Frank Guinta before regaining it in 2012. This is the third contest where Shea-Porter and Guinta are facing off.

NY-01: New York’s first district, covering the east of Long Island including the affluent Hamptons, as well as more working class areas such as Riverhead.   The district is slightly more Republican (by 2%) than the national average, although it has voted Democrat in four of the last five presidential elections. Congressman Tim Bishop first won the seat in 2002 and is hoping to hold on again.

NY-18: New York’s eighteenth district, covering Poughkeepsie, Middleton and Newburgh in the mid-Hudson Valley. It is currently represented by moderate Democrat, and former White House staffer from the Clinton era, Sean Patrick Maloney. Maloney won it off Republican Nan Hayworth in 2012 and this election will be a rematch between them. This district’s support for the parties is a perfect reflection of the national average.

NY-24: New York’s twenty-fourth district, based around Syracuse. Its congressman Dan Maffei won the district in 2008, lost it in 2010 and won it back in 2012. Given that record this seat might slip back to the Republicans again, although it is about 5% more Democratic than the national average.

WV-03: West Virginia’s third district, covering the south of the state including its second largest city, Huntington. This is a strongly Republican district in presidential elections, but congressman Nick Rahall has represented Huntington in congress since the Seventies. But the Democrats’ national move away from coal and guns has made it increasingly hard going for Rahall. This looks like his toughest contest yet, with key local opinion-formers swinging behind his Republican opponent Evan Jenkins.

Republican toss-ups 2014REPUBLICAN TOSS-UPS (6)

AR-02: Arkansas’ second district, covering the centre of the state around Little Rock. Since 2012, the Democrats have had no House representatives from Arkansas. The second district represents their best opportunity to resolve that: Republican Tim Griffin is standing down to run for the Lieutenant Governor position of the state and this is the district where their support is strongest.

FL-02: Florida’s second district, covering the east of the Florida Panhandle around state capital Tallahassee and Panama City. Republican Steve Sutherland won the district off the Democrats in 2010, but had a tight race in 2012. With the state’s highly competitive Governor race and a number of polls putting his opponent Gwen Graham ahead, the Democrats believe they have a good chance here.

IA-03: Iowa’s third district, covering Des Moines and the southwest of the state. Veteran Republican congressman Tom Latham is standing down and this district’s voting in presidential elections matches national averages. Given the tight senate race, the Democrats are hoping that the better turnout might push them over the line. Most polls have put their candidate Staci Appel a little ahead.

NE-02: Nebraska’s second district, covering Omaha. Whilst Nebraska as a whole is strongly Republican, this district narrowly voted for Obama in 2008 (but not in 2012). There have not bene many polls here, but all of them have put Democratic candidate Brad Ashford ahead or on level pegging with Republican incumbent Lee Terry. 64 year-old State senator Ashford has had an interesting political journey: a Democrat before 1988, he then joined the Republicans, only to leave them in 2011 and then return to the Democrats last year.

NY-11: New York’s eleventh district, covering Staten Island and southwest Brooklyn. This is a perennially tightly fought district in the only part of New York city where the Republicans have any significant support. The Democrats’ won its predecessor off the Republicans in 2008 only to lose it to Michael Grimm in 2010. One poll has put Democrat Domenic Recchia on level pegging, but my bet is that this will remain the Republicans’ outpost in the Big Apple.

WV-02: West Virginia’s second district, covering the centre and east of the state and including the state capital and largest city, Charleston.  This is the Democrats’ best district in the Mountain State in presidential elections, not that is saying a lot. Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito is standing down to run for Senate and Democrat Nick Casey was within a percentage point of her Republican successor Alex Mooney in the most recent poll.

THE RESTLeans & Likelies 2014

There are another 11 Democrat and 6 Republican districts that lean towards being held by those parties (see map) but could well go the other way.  A further 11 Democrats and 13 Republicans are likely to remain in the hands of the incumbents but have an outside chance of changing hands.

If all the ‘Leans’ and ‘Likelies’ stay in the incumbents hands, and the four districts that we identified earlier as changing hands do so, that would give the Republicans 228 seats and the Democrats 182. That gives the GOP a majority of in the House even if all the toss-ups went to the Democrats.

Given that the Democrats are defending most of these, the position is likely to end up worse for them. Expect net gains for the Republicans of around half a dozen seats in the House.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Charlie_East_West November 5, 2014 at 12:27 am

Jackie – I have no idea how you do this, but you do this.

An absolutely brilliant analysis.


John Stone November 5, 2014 at 7:41 pm

Ugh, well that was a car crash. Have to say the Dems got spanked for a similar reason that Labour has lost so much of its core vote. Too scared of right wing media and memes to make a strong case for progressive policies. The Dems lives in terror of a hostile and partisan media painting them as lunatic and extremist for offering policies that benefit the weak and vulnerable, and respond by triangulation, offering milquetoast policies that are barely attractive to anyone. Then they get hammered at the ballot box. Labour must learn.


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