An Exercise in Intentions: What the Congressional Committee targets tell us about 2012.

As was discussed in our WPA blog on Friday, the DCCC has released its first list of targeted races for 2012.  The NRCC has also announced some seats targeted for pick-ups.  One of the interesting things to me about these target lists is what they say about the beliefs of the smart people at the two about what the political dynamics of the 2012 cycle may be.

First, let’s look at the lists themselves.  Here are the current Members that the DCCC has already disclosed it is targeting this cycle:

  • Lou Barletta (PA)
  • Charlie Bass (NH)
  • Mary Bono Mack (CA)
  • Ann Marie Buerkle (NY)
  • Quico Canseco (TX)
  • Steve Chabot (OH)
  • Chip Cravaack (MN)
  • Robert Dold (IL)
  • Sean Duffy (WI)
  • Renee Ellmers (NC)
  • Blake Farenthold (TX)
  • Mike Fitzpatrick (PA)
  • Frank Guinta (NH)
  • Joe Heck (NV)
  • Jaime Herrera (WA)
  • Randy Hultgren (IL)
  • Pat Meehan (PA)
  • Dave Reichert (WA)
  • Jon Runyan (NJ)
  • Steve Stivers (OH)
  • Tim Walberg (MI)
  • Joe Walsh (IL)
  • Allen West (FL)

For the obvious reasons of needing to defend a majority and having won many of the more available seats in the historic 2010 elections, the NRCC has a shorter list of seats that have been publicly targeted so far:

  • Jason Altmire (PA)
  • John Barrow (GA)
  • Ben Chandler (KY)
  • John Garamendi (CA)
  • Jim Matheson (UT)
  • Mike Mcintyre (NC)
  • Colin Peterson (MN)
  • Nick Rahall (WV)
  • Mike Ross (AK)
  • Heath Shuler (NC)

That’s a lot of names between the two committees, but if we categorize the seats into three types of contests, some interesting patterns emerge.  While some of these seats could be categorized several ways, I like thinking of them as being mostly:

  • Redistricting plays: where a veteran lawmaker is running in a brand new district or significantly worsened district in 2012.
  • Freshmen take-backs: where Democrats are targeting a Freshman who won a fairly narrow victory in 2010 and might have troubles in a different environment.
  • Transitional seats: Democrats in seats that favored McCain in 2008 and Republicans in seats that favored Obama in 2008.  Many of these seats are on the “wrong side” of long-term regional re-alignments.


Democrat Targets

Republican Targets










There’s obviously some judgment being used here and we could argue some of the districts into two of the categories, but in a general sense this defines the lay-of-the land going into 2012. Looking at this list, some immediate conclusions become clear:

  • Despite Republican dominance in State Legislatures, Democrats are doing well in the re-districting process when it comes to opening up new pick-up opportunities.
    • This is partly a result of Republicans having to reinforce their newly acquired seats, but it also shows how a few states like Illinois and California can really shift the impact on re-districting.
  • Democrats are not very optimistic about re-gaining a large percentage of the seats they lost in 2010.
    • While they are targeting a number of Freshmen, they are relying almost as heavily on re-districting for opportunities as they are on simply re-fighting 2010 campaigns.
    • Given the extent to which 2010 was a campaign about Obama and his record, this lack of optimism about a presidential year seems like the right answer for Democrats.
  • The long-term trends in political re-alignment still have some benefits to offer Republicans.
    • Many of the Republican targets are Appalachian Democrats.
    • Aaron Blake of the Washington Post pointed out earlier this week that while Democrats have basically lost the suburban and rural South, they still hold a number of Appalachian seats in otherwise conservative areas.
    • Republican strategy for further gains is largely staked on reversing that “bubble.”  In a future blog, I’ll look more at what might be going on in Appalachia and how Republicans might be able to break the Democratic hold on this area.