A (Very) Early Take on the 2016 House Races

Although it is very early in the 2016 election cycle and we have not even made it through Election Day 2015, I thought it prudent to take a look at the House races.  On the Democratic side, there have been seven casualties thus far- Hahn and Capps in California, Duckworth in Illinois, Edwards and Van Hollen in Maryland, Murphy in Florida and Rangel in New York.  The only true realistic chances for the GOP is Florida’s 18th District being vacated by Murphy although the California 24th is a possibility with the right candidate and Maryland’s 8th District a real outside chance.

On the Republican side, there are the three immediate races of concerning current vacancies in Mississippi, New York and Illinois, but it appears those races will be won by Republicans.  The three Republican casualties due to retirement are those of Fitzpatrick in Pennsylvania, Gibson  in New York and Miller in Michigan.  Before looking at targets, let’s look at these open seats.

As mentioned previously, the best shot for the GOP to pick up open current Democratic seats would be in Florida and California.  By contrast, both Fitzpatrick and Gibson represented nominally Democratic districts while Miller represented a barely Republican district.  Under a worst case scenario, let’s assume the GOP fails to pick up the two possible Democratic open seats and loses these three current Republican seats for a total loss of five seats.

Using a complex formula that uses the Cook PVI, my own more detailed PVI for each district and factoring in incumbency, I count 191 fairly safe to secure Republican districts.  Because incumbency factors into the equation, a future announced retirement may change this figure.  I also count 152 fairly safe to secure Democratic districts.  Then there are 19 Republican districts that bear some watching where an incumbent’s retirement will definitely affect the balance of the equation and there are 23 Democratic districts meeting this same criteria.  It should also be mentioned that these districts come into play should a formidable opponent arise on either side.

Finally, there are the vulnerable districts- those that traditionally go one way or the other in Presidential election and whose incumbent may be of the opposite party, or who may have won a close race despite a built-in advantage per the PVI ratings.  In such a cases, there are 19 Republican districts and 10 Democratic districts.  Under a worst case scenario, that would represent a net loss of 9 Republican seats plus the three from open seats in Florida, Pennsylvania and New York for a net loss of 12 seats.  Assuming that once current vacancies are filled, that would make the partisan breakdown 246-189 in favor of the GOP.  Using that worst-case scenario, the new count would be 234-201 in favor of the GOP.  To take control of the House, the Democrats would have to flip 29 seats.

Since 1952, the party that won the White House has picked up an average of four House seats, an average of 2 seats since 1972, and an average of 5.7 seats since 1992.  Based on the averages, the efforts of the Democrats would have to be Herculean although not impossible.  After all, they picked up 35 seats in 1964 and 24 seats in 2008.  Regardless, although possible, it is highly improbable.  Presidential coat tails generally do not reach as deep down to the local level as they do statewide and those coat tails could have a greater effect on Senate, or even gubernatorial races than House races.  And one can safely say that 1964 and 2008 were extraordinary presidential election years and the type of conditions that produced those House gains for the Democrats likely will not be existent in the 2016 election.

Still, it would be prudent to look at targets of opportunity (seats currently held by Democrats) and seats definitely in need of defense (currently held by Republicans).  The best Democratic targets are:

  • Arizona 1st- Kirkpatrick
  • Arizona 9th-  Sinema
  • California 16th-  Costa
  • California 31st- Pete Aguilar
  • Florida 2nd- Gwen Graham
  • Minnesota 1st-  Walz
  • Minnesota 7th-  Peterson
  • Nebraska 2nd- Brad Ashford
  • New York 18th- Maloney

Conversely, the Republican seats in need of defense are:

  • Colorado 6th- Coffman
  • Florida 26th- Carlos Curbuelo
  • Iowa 1st- Rod Blum
  • Iowa 3rd- David Young
  • Maine 2nd- Bruce Poliquin
  • Michigan 7th- Tim Wahlberg
  • Michigan 11th- Dave Trott
  • Minnesota 3rd- Paulsen
  • Nevada 4th- Crescent Hardy
  • New Hampshire- Frank Giunta
  • New York 1st- Lee Zeldin
  • New York 24th- Joe Katko
  • Pennsylvania 6th- Ryan Costello, and
  • Texas 23rd- William Hurd

As one can see, the list of Republicans is longer than the list of Democrats.  Realistically, in a worst case scenario, assuming the Democrats win all these GOP seats AND the GOP fails to unseat any of the vulnerable Democrats AND the open seat scenario plays out as a net loss of 3 GOP seats, the Republicans would still retain control of the House since they would only pick up 17 seats, ten short of the 29 needed.  That would leave the partisan breakdown 229-206 in favor of the Republicans.

Two finals thoughts.  First, since not a single primary has been conducted, we do not know who will oppose incumbents.  The benches for the respective parties are deeper in certain states and not so deep in other states.  For example, there is a deep Republican bench in Florida while there is a weak one in New York.  This still needs to be played out and keep in mind this analysis is very preliminary as this writer will look at these races in more depth as Election Day 2016 nears.

Second, should the Republicans lose seats in the House but still retain control, it may be a blessing in disguise.  It would depend on what Republicans are ousted in determining the relative balance of power within the GOP caucus.  That may create the atmosphere, climate and impetus to depose Boehner as Speaker.  This may become more realistic if he presides over a loss of Republican seats that greatly exceeds those averages cited earlier.  Most (but not all) of those vulnerable or retiring Republicans are moderates and supportive of Boehner.  But first things first- we must ensure that whoever wins the White House, the Republican Party maintains control of both houses of Congress.  A good padding has been developed in the House to prevent against potential losses.  It would have to be a likely momentous election for the GOP to lose control in the House.