Anomalous congressional districts, part 1: New pickup possible

Thanks to David here at Swing State Project, we now have data on how every congressional district voted for POTUS for the last several elections.  This is a treasure trove for geeks like me.  That list is here.

Today, I look at districts where a Republican is the representative, but Obama won, and Obama did markedly better than Kerry.  I call these “new pickup possibles”.  I give some details about each district, along with the rank of the current rep from 1 (most liberal) to 435 (most conservative) per nominate data.

In these districts, Obama got 50% or more,  Kerry less than 45%.  I put the barrier lower for Kerry because he did about 5 points worse than Obama in the average CD.

CA 24 CA 25 CA 26 CA 44 CA 45 CA 50

IL 16

MI 4

NE 2

VA 4  VA 10

WI 6

Look at all those CA districts!  

Going one by one

CA-24 is Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, except for a tiny strip along the coast.  Current rep. is Elton Gallegly, ranked 341; in last 3 elections he got 58% (2008), 62% and 63%.  Obama got 51%, Kerry and Gore each got 43%. It’s a wealthy district (median income $61,400) with almost a quarter of the population is Latino.

CA-25 is a weirdly boot-shaped district, with the leg part along the Nevada border and the toe in Santa Clarita, near LA.  Current rep is “Buck” McKeon, ranked 356; last 3: 53, 58, 64.  Obama got 50, Kerry 40, Gore 42.  Over 1/4 Latino.

CA-26 is a blob shaped district of suburbs of LA.  Current rep is David Dreier, ranked 366; last 3: 53, 57, 55.  Obama got 51, Kerry and Gore got 44 each.  It’s another wealthy district (median income $58,968) with about a quarter Latinos.

CA-44 is mostly Riverside county.  Current rep is Calvert, ranked 318; last 3: 52, 60, 62.  Obama got 50, Kerry 40, Gore 44. It’s just over half White, and just over 1/3 Latino.

CA-45  is exurbs of LA, the “inland empire”.  Current rep is Bono, ranked 291; last 3: 57, 61, 67.  Obama got 52, Kerry 43, Gore 47.  This district has some very wealthy places (e.g. Palm Springs), but the median income is only $40,468, and 15% are in poverty; it’s also 38% Latino (41st most in the USA).

CA-50  is San Diego and some suburbs. Current rep is Bilbray, ranked 371; last 3: 50, 53, 54.  Obama got 51, Kerry 44, Gore 43.  Median income is almost $60,000, about 10% Asian and 19% Latino.

IL-16  is the northwest corner of IL.  Current rep is Manzullo, ranked 345; last 3: 61, 64, 69.  Obama got 51, Kerry 44, Gore 43. IL-16 is not distinctive, demographically.  

MI-04  is farmland in the center of MI.  Current rep is Camp, ranked 327; last 3: 62, 61, 64.  Obama got 50, Kerry and Gore 44 each.  This is the 20th least urban district in the USA, and the 46th “whitest” (93% White).  

NE-02  is Omaha and its western suburbs.  Current rep is Terry, ranked 373; last 2 elections: 52 and 56 (elected 2006).  Obama got 50, Kerry 38, Gore 39. Only 4 districts had bigger swings to Obama from Kerry (HI-01 and 02, IN-04 and 07).  NE-02 is not distinctive, demographically.  

VA-04 is Tidewater country.  Current rep is Forbes, ranked 339; last 3: 60, 76, 64 (no Dem in 2006).  Obama got 50, Kerry 43, Gore 44.  VA-04 has the 48th most Blacks (33%), the 5th most Blacks of any district with a Republican rep. (the other 3 are all in Lousiana (02, 04, 05, and 06).

VA-10 is northern VA, including the Beltway.  Current rep is Wolf, ranked 266; last 3: 59, 57, 54.  Obama got 53, Kerry 44, Gore 41.    VA-10 is the 10th wealthiest district (median income = $71,560).

WI-06 is central WI.  Current rep is Petri, ranked 390; last 3: 64, 56, 53 (the only district in this list where the rep is increasing his lead).  Obama got 50, Kerry 43, Gore 42. Per the Almanac of American Politics, it has the highest percentage of German-Americans.  It’s also the 22nd ‘Whitest’ (94%), 94th most rural, 30th least Black, and 38th fewest in poverty (although median income is only about $44,000).  

Do Primaries Help or Hurt in the General? : A Look at 51 House races from 2006

The general belief seems to be that it is important to “clear the field” in primaries to get a winning hand in the fall general election.  The belief is founded on a number of factors.  Many interest groups will not back a candidate with a primary election opponent.  Primary election campaigns can be costly and challengers generally have less money to spend than incumbents.  Anecdotal evidence points to a number of campaigns easch cycle where a strong primary is followed by disappointing results in the fall.

I decided to test this thesis by looking at election results for all 31 Democratic pickups in the House during the 2006 cycle (including Peter Welch as a pickup in Vermont) and comparing the results to close losses.  The close losses were not systenmatic but I looked at 20 races that fit the bill.

Overall, 14 of the 31 pickups (45%) were preceded by primary elections, a higher than expected number.  Although some of these were blowouts, a surprising number were close and in many cases surprise winners emerged despite less money.  As a comparison, among the 20 close but losing elections only seven (35%) were preceded by primaries and only one of those was close: the Tammy Duckworth-Christine Cegelis- Scott duel in IL-6.

Adding fuel to the fire, IIRC, all 3 of our special election vitories were preceded by primaries.  Bill Foster’s win in IL-14 (at least for November) against John Laesch, was a much tougher battle than his win against Jim Oberweis.

A listing and some commentary follow with emphasis on upsets and close races.

The only primary that mattered in the New England House races mattered a good deal.  Carol Shea-Porter surprised Jim Craig in a multi-candidate field and then won a close election to the House with just $290,000 in campaign expenditures (being outspent nearly 4:1). Nobody knows if the better known, more establishment Craig would have pulled it off.  Shea-Porter depended mostly on volunteers and a lot of shoe leather, particularly her own.  Her personal efforts in Manchester vs. Craig going door to door and bar to bar certainly paid off in both the general election and in the primary, itself.

NH-2 (Hodes) and the CT races (Joe Courtney, CT-2; Chris Murphy, CT-5, and Diane Farrell, CT-4 were all uncontested.

New York had six major races with three pickups and three close loses.  Only one had a primary and that produced what was seeen on the blogs as an upset.  In NY-19, John Hall won rather easily in a multi-candidate field converting his years as a local official and rock star status (singer with the band Orleans famous for “You’re the One”) into a comfortable victory over the much better funded Judy Aydelott and others (I remember Ben Shuldiner).  NY-20(Kirsten Gillibrand),24 (Michael Arcuri), 25 (Dan Maffei),26 (Jack Davis), and 29 (Eric Massa) were uncontested.  Gillibrand and Arcuri won in the fall.

PA produced four wins and one close loss.  Two of the four winners (Jason Altmire and Patrick Murphy) faced primary challengers.  Altmire got a fairly sturdy challenge besting Georgia Berner 55% to 45% en route to dethroning Melissa Hart in PA-4.  Murphy had an easier time over Andrew Warren 65% to 35%.  Lois Murphy had a token challenge against Anrew Leibowitz (76% to 24%)  prior to losing versus Jim Gerlach in PA-6.

Elsewhere in the Northeast, Linda Stender had no primary but lost closely to Mikrke Ferguson in NJ-7.  Peter Welch, a general election winner in VT also faced no primary.

Lest we forget, in OH-18 Zach Space coasted to an easy win in November but many thought Joe Sulzer would be the likely nominee.  Space won in a multi candidate field.  Only one of three close losers in OH faced a primary (Vic Wulsin who won in a multi candidate field including Thor Jacobs and Jim Parker).  John Cranley and Mary Jo Kilroy had an open path to the general election.

Both Joe Donnelly and Baron Hill faced easy primaries and Brad Ellsworth went unopposed among three Indiana pickups.  Tim Walz in Minnesota was also unopposed but Steve Kagen had to claw his way through a multi-candidate field  including Wall and Nussbaum.  I remember a lot of people touting Nussbaum.

Tammy Duckworth spent a bundle to secure the Democratic nomination by just 1,000 votes over Christine Cegelis.  And provided a disappointing loss in November.  Tim Walz in MN-1 had a clear field but Steve Kagen had to beat a multi-candidate field before he clould allegedly tell Karl Rove he was Dr. Multi-Millionaire.

John Yarmuth got 53% in a primary vs. Andrew Horne and others before taking on Anne Northrup in KY-3.  Heath Shuler coasted through his primary but Tim Mahoney and Ron Klein in Florida got free rides.  Close losers in the south also had to earn their way in with larry Kissell having an easy time but Christine Jennings (61%) drawing 2004 nominee Jan Schneider (39%) in FL-13.

In the Plains, Bruce Braley had a brutal three way battle against Dickinson and Gluba but Dave Loebsack had no opponent.  Nancy Boyda wa unopposed. Nick Lampson and Ciro Rodriguez were OK (although this was Ciro’s second go around in the cycle).

Out west, winner Harry Mitchell was unopposed butGabrielle Giffords won 54% in a multi-candidate fieldand Jerry McNerney had to upset the establishment fave, Steve Flson, befoe taking down Richard Pombo in the general.  Ed Perlmutter also triumphed against two other strong candidates particularly Peggy Lamm in CO.

Western close losers Gary Trauner, Darcy Burner and Angie Pacccione were unopposed and Tessa Hafen won easily in NV with 58% in a multi-candidate field.

In short, the winners in pickup races were more likely to face a challenge, more likely to face a serious challenge and were forced to pull upsets against better funded opponents in a number of races.  You would be hard pessed to make an argument for clearing the field based on these results.

Nasty blood fueds like Cegelis vs. Duckworth however were damaging and they should be avoided.

In the South, John Yarmuth (KY-3)