On My Endorsements and Congressional Districts

Recently, in anticipation of primaries to determine Republican candidates in the midterm elections, I have published a few articles.  In some, I have been taken to task.  Without responding in the comments section, I feel it necessary to explain how I come to certain conclusions.  The first is determining the relative strength of the district for the Republican or Democratic Party.  The obvious starting point is the Cook PVI.  This is determined by comparing the district’s vote for president in the last two elections and then looking at the difference against the national average.  For example, if the national average is 51% Democrat and the district goes 55% Republican, that is a 6 point spread and the district is rated +6 Republican.  If the district went for the Democrat with 54% of the vote, then it would be +3 Democrat.

However, this writer uses a different method which also factors in presidential elections results.  Two presidential cycles encompasses eight years.  Unfortunately, eight years is not adequate time to factor in possible demographic changes within the district.  Thus, this writer looks at presidential results over the previous 5 cycles, or 20 years.  This creates a broader reach of trends within the district.  However, it also confounds the equation since there are two redistricting efforts in that time span.  More to the point as concerns congressional races, redistricting has a greater effect.  In fact, many candidates or incumbents may find themselves on the wrong side of the district dividing line, or redistricting may actually pit two incumbents against one another, sometimes in the same party.

Furthermore, there are many districts represented by one party in Congress whose constituents may have voted for the candidate of the other party in presidential elections.  This is the basis for targeting districts by political parties and for race ratings by the political pundit class.  For example, North Carolina’s 7th Congressional district is held by a Democrat despite having a Cook PVI of +12 Republican.  Practically every cycle, the GOP targets this district yet loses.  Therefore, I also factor in the congressional general election results over 5 cycles, or ten years.  This also takes in a single redistricting round.  The final calculation is the vote for major statewide office- Governor or US Senator- within that ten year period.  Thus, I usually factor in 2 or 3 senatorial results and 2 gubernatorial results for each particular congressional district.

It may sound complicated (and it is) which is why I thank God for computers and paying attention in algebra class when algorithms were discussed.  I must admit that I have had help in this area with a person who has a PhD. in mathematics.  Additionally, to get to the local results, they are usually published in local papers which, again, I can thank Al Gore for inventing the Internet (sarcasm intended).

However, voting for one party or the other in a particular congressional election is not always indicative of the conservative nature of that district.  A particular district may very well be considered “conservative” and have a high concentration of people who consider themselves so, but that does not necessarily translate into a Republican victory.  But on a broad stroke basis, this method does capture the prevailing political ideologies of the district’s voting constituents at the extremes.  For example, if over time a particular district in all its incarnations is rated +30 Republican, then looking further back than 20 years I often discover that that district voted for a George Wallace or against a Franklin Roosevelt.  On the opposite side of the equation, I find that they voted for a George McGovern or Michael Dukakis.  Over time, some districts, despite changing demographics and shifting  district lines, are simply either liberal or conservative.  My mistake may be semantics. Instead of saying a district is “conservative” or “liberal” a better choice of words should be “Republican” or “Democratic.”

Which brings me to some stated criticisms regarding some statements made by me about this subject.  For example, one person stated that Indiana’s Fifth district is the most conservative and that I should do research before making contrary statements.  Using just the Cook PVI rankings and assuming that voting Republican equals conservative, Indiana’s 5th District would actually rank  fourth and be tied with the Ninth District at +9 Republican behind the Third (+13), the Sixth (+12), and Fourth (+11).  Using my criteria, the Fifth District would also rank fourth most Republican at +13.5 behind the Third (+20.5), the Fourth (19.5) and Sixth (18.5).  When looking at Republican success in these districts, the Third was last held by a Democrat in 1991, the Sixth in 1975 and the Fourth in 1989 with the Fifth in 1987.  By most metrics, assuming the most conservative will vote Republican, the Fifth District cannot make claim to being the “most conservative” or the “most Republican.”

Regarding the individual candidates, often I make the statement that “______ is the most conservative of the state’s congressional delegation.”  This is based on ratings from two websites I have found particularly interesting and helpful: Ontheissues.org and GovTrack.org.  Ontheissues rates a politician on their statements and voting records in Congress on a variety of issues, both social and fiscal.  This is especially helpful with non-incumbents.  For incumbents, which form the bulk of congressional candidates, GovTrack rates them not only on voting records in Congress,but their sponsorship or co-sponsorship of bills.  They then place them on a scatter plot so that the reader can compare any individual incumbent against other members of their party or other representatives from their state.  Hence, when this writer makes these statements, it is based on the relative position of the incumbent on that scatter plot.  Personally, I consider actual congressional actions decidedly more important than campaign rhetoric and campaign websites assuming there is a record to go on.

But, the analysis does not stop there.  Again, the Internet is a wonderful thing which allows anyone, me included, to access local newspaper accounts of campaigns which I find to be a lot more useful than national coverage outlets.  Local coverage is much more detailed and often reveals tendencies or views not found at national sites, or national news aggregate websites like Realclearpolitics.  However, local newspaper endorsements are basically ignored.

Finally, in statewide races money sometimes plays an important role.  For this, Opensecrets.org is a good indicator of the financial aspect of races.  But again more importantly is where that money comes from.  For example, this writer noted the difficulties of candidate Wendy Davis in Texas’ gubernatorial race by looking at where the money was coming from to her campaign effort.  Simply, if 80% of your contributions are coming from New York, California and Connecticut and you are running for statewide office in Texas, you have a problem with the most important electoral demographic- the voters of Texas.  If you are winning the intrastate smaller donor race, your chances of electoral victory are greater because behind those small donations are more voters.  Likewise, candidates making the primary ballot through a write-in campaign are also given some weight as this is indicative of grassroots support within the electorate of that particular congressional district.

All of these issues are factored in when making endorsements and later this year when the general election campaign will be discussed and analyzed.  And while I may not live in Indiana or North Carolina or elsewhere, many writers here at Redstate do not live in New Jersey but that does not deter them from commenting on New Jersey politics or politicians nor deter them from prognosticating New Jersey races or endorsing New Jersey candidates.  However, one “problem” is that residents of any state often live in a political fishbowl where they then sometimes disparage the views of people not from their state.  Often it is suggested that I should consult a certain website to get a true handle on the issue at hand.  Invariably, I am led to a conservative website that, not surprisingly, touts the most conservative candidate.  That is all well and good, but the question remains whether they are the most electable?  Take the case of David Rouzer in North Carolina.  While a staunch conservative North Carolina resident will view his 2012 loss by 700 votes as “blowing it,” the more disinterested reader not from North Carolina sees it as almost beating an entrenched Democratic incumbent. Incidentally,my “system” predicted a Mike McIntyre victory in 2012.  And as for local party endorsements and conventions, they make little sense unless you are from Utah and similar states where candidates who do not receive X percentage of the vote do not make the primary ballot.  Ultimately in a primary, the voters decide the candidates, not the Republican Party meeting at the local country club.

Finally, I certainly do appreciate the comments.  It is a learning experience, especially when people from the states discussed make comments.  However, please keep in mind that these are endorsements based upon electability in a general election which sometimes means that the most conservative of any particular group of primary candidates may not get the nod.