Using Charlie Cook’s historical & current ratings to predict next month’s midterm……

I’m not one who’s provided a race-by-race breakdown to predict the House elections.  But I finally decided to come up with my own rudimentary model, with Charlie Cook’s ratings as a guide.

My model relies on Cook’s late September ratings in 2008 and 2006, both wave elections, and compares them to the most recent Cook ratings now.  Relying on late September ensures an apples-to-apples comparison.

The hardest races to forecast are the disfavored party’s tossups and “lean” races in an anti-majority party wave.  Those are the races that decide whether the House flips.

What I found is interesting, and discouraging for us.

Cook’s 2006 ratings in late September had 18 GOP-held tossups and 16 GOP-held “lean R” seats.  Of those, 10 from each category flipped.  Also flipping were 6 of 19 “likely R” GOP-held seats, as well as 2 GOP-held open seats Cook already had flipping in late September.  And 2 “safe” seats from Cook’s late September ratings flipped, those being Boyda over Ryun in Kansas and Altmire over Hart in PA-04.  NO Dem-held seats flipped, and indeed in late September Cook had all Dem-held seats as lean, likely, or safe, with NO tossups.

Cook’s 2008 ratings in late September had 19 GOP-held tossups and 14 GOP-held “lean R” seats.  Of those, 13 tossups and 6 leans flipped.  None of 20 “likely R” seats flipped this time, nor did any safe seats.  Meanwhile, Dems had more vulnerable seats this time in Cook’s late September ratings, and 2 of 10 Dem-held tossups flipped as did the lean D seat of Tim Mahoney due to his late-breaking sex scandal, and in a runoff the safe D seat of Bill Jefferson due to his being a crook.  Also flipping but excluded from my consideration was Don Cazayoux’s seat, which I exclude because he won it as a Dem pick-up in a special election earlier in the year before losing it in November, and that makes it awkward to include in any count discussing 2008 gains or losses.  I note, too, that

Here’s the interesting thing per Cook’s late September ratings:  the total number of seats the Rs lost from Cook’s tossup and lean R columns almost perfectly matched the number of R-held seats in Cook’s tossup column.  In 2006, Cook listed 18 GOP-held tossups, and the GOP lost 20 seats total from the tossup and lean R columns.  In 2008, Cook listed 19 GOP-held tossups, and the GOP lost exactly the same number total from the tossup and lean R columns.

The difference in 2008 was that no likely R seats flipped, compared to 6 in 2006.  The reason for this is obvious:  the likely R seats in 2006 were much lower-hanging fruit than the 2008 likely R seats, since the remaining Republcan-held seats were much more conservative and safer after the Dems already had made big gains one cycle earlier.

Applying the same princples to 2008, Cook in late September had 43 Dem-held seats as tossups, and 31 as lean D.  If the election follows the same pattern as the previous 2 waves, we should lose 43 seats total from those 2 categories.  We also should lose all the Dem-held seats that Cook counts as lean R or likely R, and that’s 10 more.  That’s a gross gain of 53 for the bad guys.  But there are 4 GOP-held seats we should pick up by everyone’s predictions, seats that Cook lists as lean D or tossups, and that knocks down the net GOP gain to 49.

That would give the Republicans a 228-207 majority.  And sadly it’s a very reasonable prediction that lines up perfectly with ALL the published predictions out there.

Here’s where I think we either can have some confidence or where we’re deluding ourselves, election day determining which it is:  when I look at Cook’s “lean D” seats, it’s just really hard to see hardly any of them flipping.  My “feeling” is that we hold almost all of them.  And even on our tossups, I did a quick count and found 25 I’ll say are gone.  That adds up to total losses of 15 fewer than my rudimentary model would predict, and of course it means we hold the House with 222 seats for the good guys.

The optimistic seat-by-seat breakdown is essentially what conspiracy and StephenCLE and others are engaging in with their own breakdowns posted in occasional diaries here.

And I can see exactly how they get there.

But sadly history shows that a lot more tossups and leans flip in a wave, and that’s where we might find out we’re deluding ourselves.

I just hope our candidates and party committees continue hammering the opposing candidates and getting voters to reject enough of them to keep us at 218 on election night.  But I just don’t feel good about it.

Pres-by-CD: Most Votes

Time for another installment in the slicing ‘n’ dicing of our presidential-election-results-by-congressional district dataset. One interesting thing I noticed (that has sort of a “well, duh” feel to it if you think about it for a minute) is that the districts that had the largest raw numbers of votes for Obama or for McCain were rarely the same districts that gave them the best percentages.

The raw vote numbers instead can point to a variety of factors: districts that experienced rapid population growth since redistricting, districts that started out the decade with high population (for instance, some at-large districts haven’t grown much, but have always been very big), districts in civic-minded states (like Wisconsin and Oregon) where turnout is always high, and low-income minority-majority districts (where, despite increased turnout for Obama, overall turnout is still comparatively low).

District Rep. Obama
District Rep. Obama
WA-07 McDermott 308,226 TN-01 Roe 75,255
PA-02 Fattah 298,834 AL-06 Bachus 74,657
WI-02 Baldwin 286,089 TX-08 Brady 74,545
NC-04 Price 275,205 NE-03 Smith 73,099
MD-04 Edwards 270,377 GA-09 Deal 70,366
CA-08 Pelosi 266,210 TX-29 Green 66,808
IL-02 Jackson 260,869 TX-19 Neugebauer 65,020
CA-09 Lee 260,662 AL-04 Aderholt 58,863
OR-03 Blumenauer 260,128 TX-11 Conaway 58,326
IL-07 Davis 255,470 TX-13 Thornberry 53,860

The biggest Obama vote totals tended to come in districts that don’t necessarily have the highest PVIs, but are the some of the most stereotypically “liberal” districts centered on mostly-white cities with left-leaning traditions (Seattle, Madison, San Francisco, Portland). Some of the more relatively affluent African-American-majority districts round out the list. (The lowest Obama totals did in fact come from the districts with the worst Obama percentages, with one big exception: TX-29, which Obama won easily, but has the fewest total votes of any district.)

District Rep. McCain
District Rep. McCain
FL-05 Brown-Waite 249,328 CA-35 Waters 27,789
WI-05 Sensenbrenner 243,597 CA-33 Watson 27,672
AL-06 Bachus 243,465 CA-31 Becerra 25,441
MT-AL Rehberg 242,763 NY-12 Velazquez 23,504
GA-03 Westmoreland 235,263 NY-06 Meeks 22,302
FL-01 Miller 234,185 NY-11 Clarke 20,709
FL-04 Crenshaw 233,446 NY-10 Towns 19,677
CO-06 Coffman 229,715 IL-04 Gutierrez 18,453
TN-07 Blackburn 229,068 NY-15 Rangel 14,954
FL-06 Stearns 228,651 NY-16 Serrano 8,437

The highest McCain vote totals mostly came in rapidly growing suburban districts that lean Republican (MT-AL is also here, simply by virtue of its size). Half of these districts are ones where Obama got at least 40% of the vote, so these aren’t necessarily the most right-wing territory (heh, except for AL-06). However, these are districts that will need to shed population with 2012 redistricting, so their Republican lean may leach out into currently neighboring districts. (The districts with the most pitiable McCain totals tend to overlap the districts with the highest PVIs.)

District Rep. Total
District Rep. Total
MT-AL Rehberg 491,092 TX-15 Hinojosa 167,821
FL-05 Brown-Waite 446,316 NY-16 Serrano 167,443
NC-04 Price 438,937 CA-43 Baca 164,830
CO-06 Coffman 437,740 CA-34 Roybal-Allard 142,774
WI-05 Sensenbrenner 421,962 CA-31 Becerra 142,662
WI-02 Baldwin 414,638 IL-04 Gutierrez 139,546
DE-AL Castle 412,412 AZ-04 Pastor 132,076
MN-06 Bachmann 412,408 CA-20 Costa 129,561
FL-06 Stearns 408,014 CA-47 Sanchez 128,277
FL-07 Mica 401,966 TX-29 Green 108,507

For context, here are the districts with the highest and lowest total number of votes. The districts with the greatest numbers of votes are mostly ones we’ve already seen, depending on whether they lean Democratic or Republican. The lowest totals are in Hispanic-majority districts, where citizenship and language barriers are at issue.

Pres-by-CD: Split Districts

Another topic in the slicing and dicing of our newly compiled presidential-election-by-congressional-district data: where are the split districts? In other words, which districts won by Obama have Republican representatives, and which districts won by McCain have Democratic representatives? (CQ already beat me to the punch on this particular question, but to give it a new spin, I’m arranging them in order of the districts’ three-way margin, which gives at least some relative sense of vulnerability.)

District Republican Obama
District Democrat McCain
LA-02 Cao 49.3 MS-04 Taylor 35.5
DE-AL Castle 25.0 TX-17 C. Edwards 35.2
IL-10 Kirk 22.8 OK-02 Boren 31.2
PA-06 Gerlach 16.6 TN-04 L. Davis 29.8
WA-08 Reichert 14.8 AL-02 Bright 27.4
IL-06 Roskam 13.2 ID-01 Minnick 26.6
PA-15 Dent 12.4 TN-06 Gordon 25.3
IL-13 Biggert 9.6 LA-03 Melancon 24.0
MI-06 Upton 9.5 MS-01 Childers 23.5
NJ-02 Lo Biondo 9.3 AL-05 Griffith 22.9
MI-11 McCotter 9.2 MO-04 Skelton 22.7
IL-16 Manzullo 8.5 AR-01 Berry 20.3
IA-04 Latham 7.5 VA-09 Boucher 19.1
OH-12 Tiberi 7.5 AR-04 Ross 18.8
MI-08 Rogers 6.9 MD-01 Kratovil 18.5
VA-10 Wolf 6.8 UT-02 Matheson 18.1
MN-03 Paulsen 6.4 WV-01 Mollohan 15.3
NY-23 McHugh 5.2 WV-03 Rahall 13.5
CA-45 Bono Mack 4.6 GA-08 Marshall 13.4
CA-50 Bilbray 4.2 TN-08 Tanner 13.3
FL-10 Young 4.1 KY-06 Chandler 12.2
CA-26 Dreier 4.1 PA-04 Altmire 10.5
WI-01 Ryan 3.9 AZ-01 Kirkpatrick 10.2
NJ-07 Lance 3.5 AR-02 Snyder 9.9
CA-24 Gallegly 2.8 FL-02 Boyd 9.7
FL-18 Ros-Lehtinen 2.3 ND-AL Pomeroy 8.6
MI-04 Camp 1.9 SD-AL Herseth 8.4
VA-04 Forbes 1.5 PA-10 Carney 8.3
NE-02 Terry 1.2 SC-05 Spratt 7.2
WI-06 Petri 1.2 OH-18 Space 6.7
CA-25 McKeon 1.1 AZ-08 Giffords 5.9
CA-44 Calvert 0.9 NC-11 Shuler 5.6
CA-48 Campbell 0.7 NC-07 McIntyre 5.6
CA-03 Lungren 0.5 AZ-05 Mitchell 4.5
IN-08 Ellsworth 3.9
MN-07 C. Peterson 2.7
OH-06 C. Wilson 2.7
OH-16 Boccieri 2.6
CO-03 Salazar 2.5
PA-17 Holden 2.5
VA-05 Perriello 2.3
NY-29 Massa 2.2
FL-24 Kosmas 2.0
NY-13 McMahon 1.8
IN-09 Hill 1.8
NM-02 Teague 1.3
CO-04 Markey 0.9
PA-12 Murtha 0.4
PA-03 Dahlkemper 0.006

There’s a definite tilt in the playing field that happened with 2008, compared with 2004: there are 34 Obama/R districts and 49 McCain/D districts. In the aftermath of the 2004 election, there were 18 Kerry/R districts and 41 Bush/D districts. The numbers have moved not only because Obama picked up a number of suburban districts that previously resided in the R+5 area (especially in places like California and Michigan), but also because of some inroads we’ve made at getting Blue Dogs elected in districts that were dark red in both 2004 and 2008. (Remember how the disparity in Kerry/R and Bush/D districts was part of the “permanent Republican majority?” They were going to slowly pick off all those Bush/D districts while, of course, we picked off nothing and the presidential bar didn’t move, either.)

I don’t want to cause your eyes to fall out by printing the whole 2004 list, so here’s the top 10 in each category (worth seeing if only to see what a swath we’ve cut through the moderate Republicans in the last four years):

District Republican Kerry
District Democrat Bush
IA-02 Leach 11.5 TX-17 C. Edwards 39.7
CT-02 Simmons 9.7 MS-04 Taylor 37.2
DE-AL Castle 7.6 UT-02 Matheson 34.7
IA-01 Nussle 6.5 MO-04 Skelton 29.0
PA-07 Weldon 6.1 ND-AL Pomeroy 27.4
CT-04 Shays 6.1 SD-AL Herseth 21.5
IL-10 Kirk 5.5 AL-05 Cramer 20.3
NH-02 Bass 5.0 VA-09 Boucher 20.2
FL-22 Shaw 4.9 TN-06 Gordon 20.0
PA-08 Fitzpatrick 3.4 OK-02 Boren 18.8

Pres-by-CD: The Margins

I’m going to be doing some slicing-and-dicing of our dataset of 2008 presidential election results by congressional district in the coming weeks. Let’s start out with some of the basics: the most Democratic and Republican-leaning districts, as well as the most narrowly divided districts. (I’m measuring this in terms of the three-way margin, rather than Obama or McCain percentage.)

State CD Member Party Obama % McCain % 3-way
NY 16 Serrano (D) 94.8 5.0 +89.7
NY 15 Rangel (D) 93.2 6.2 +87.0
NY 10 Towns (D) 91.0 8.7 +82.3
NY 11 Clarke (D) 90.5 9.1 +81.4
PA 02 Fattah (D) 90.1 9.5 +80.5
IL 02 Jackson (D) 89.7 9.9 +79.8
NY 06 Meeks (D) 89.0 10.7 +78.4
CA 09 Lee (D) 88.1 9.9 +78.3
PA 01 Brady (D) 88.0 11.5 +76.5
IL 07 Davis (D) 87.8 11.6 +76.5

State CD Member Party Obama % McCain % 3-way
CA 44 Calvert (R) 49.5 48.6 +0.9
CA 48 Campbell (R) 49.3 48.6 +0.7
CA 03 Lungren (R) 49.3 48.8 +0.5
PA 03 Dahlkemper (D) 49.3 49.3 -0.006
NV 02 Heller (R) 48.8 48.8 -0.03
OH 14 LaTourette (R) 49.1 49.4 -0.2
PA 12 Murtha (D) 49.1 49.5 -0.3
MI 03 Ehlers (R) 48.7 49.2 -0.5
CO 04 Markey (D) 48.7 49.5 -0.9
FL 25 Diaz-Balart (R) 49.2 50.2 -1.0

State CD Member Party Obama % McCain % 3-way
TN 01 Roe (R) 28.8 69.8 -41.0
TX 19 Neugebauer (R) 27.4 71.9 -44.6
OK 03 Lucas (R) 27.2 72.8 -45.6
LA 01 Scalise (R) 25.7 72.7 -47.0
TX 08 Brady (R) 25.5 73.8 -48.2
TX 11 Conaway (R) 23.7 75.5 -51.7
GA 09 Deal (R) 23.5 75.3 -51.9
AL 06 Bachus (R) 23.3 75.9 -52.6
TX 13 Thornberry (R) 22.7 76.5 -53.83
AL 04 Aderholt (R) 22.5 76.3 -53.84

Were there any changes in these lists from 2004? Not much change in the most Democratic 10: the only one falling off the list is CA-08 (which was the only white plurality district in the top 10), replaced by IL-07. Four districts get swapped into/out of the most Republican 10: KS-01, UT-01, NE-03, and UT-03 (the second reddest district in 2004) fall off the list, while OK-03, TN-01, LA-01, and AL-04 move on. In fact, AL-04, a toxic mix of Birmingham exurbs and the southernmost tip of Appalachia, moves up from only the 14th most Republican district in 2004 to the single reddest district in 2008.

There’s no overlap between the 2008 and 2004 closest districts; the closest district in 2004 was IA-03. Here’s one more figure that tells the story of the two elections, though: IA-03 in 2004 was the 180th most Democratic district in the country. PA-03 in 2008, on the other hand, was the 243rd. (In other words… Kerry won 179 districts. Obama won 242 of them.)

Decoding the Districts

If you’ve been poring over the presidential results-by-congressional district data that we’ve compiled, you’ve probably noticed that there are a whole lot of districts that flipped from being won by Bush in 04 to Obama in 08 (64 of them, to be exact), and only one that flipped from Kerry to McCain. That’s interesting enough, and other analysts have already delved into that… but I decided to look at one more data point, and also factor in what the district did in 2000.

When I start talking about districts in terms of them being “GBM” or “BBO” or “GBO” it may sound like I’m talking in terms of genetic code. I’m using those as shorthand for how the district performed in the last three elections: being won by Gore/Bush/McCain, or Bush/Bush/Obama, for instance. In a way, though, we are very much talking about the genetic code for each district, because each of these classifications reveals a lot about what kind of political ecosystem the district is located in.

Over 80% of all House districts are either Bush/Bush/McCain or Gore/Kerry/Obama; not so interesting. I’m concerned with the remaining 75 districts. Many of them aren’t what you’d traditionally think of as swing districts, but rather red districts in blue states that got pushed along by Obama’s strong performance in those states. Time will tell whether these become the “new” swing seats, or if they fall back as the blue wave passes. These fall largely into the “BBO” category:

Bush/Bush/Obama: CA-03, CA-11, CA-24, CA-25, CA-26, CA-44, CA-45, CA-48, CA-50, FL-08, FL-18, IA-04, IL-06, IL-08, IL-11, IL-13, IL-14, IL-16, IN-02, KS-03, MI-01, MI-04, MI-06, MI-07, MI-08, MI-09, MI-11, MN-01, MN-03, NC-02, NC-08, NE-02, NH-01, NJ-07, NY-19, NY-20, NY-23, NY-24, OH-01, OH-12, OH-15, OR-05, TX-23, TX-28, VA-02, VA-04, VA-10, VA-11, WA-03, WI-01, WI-06, WI-08

You can see a couple different trends here, primarily previously-Republican-leaning suburbs in states where Obama cleaned up (California, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin) or where it was closer but he made a big push (Virginia, Ohio, Florida). There are also a fair number of rural Michigan districts here as well, pointing toward McCain’s more general collapse in that state.

There are also a few of the most conservative Hispanic-majority seats that finally cracked, and a few formerly red districts in midwestern cities that benefited from heavy Dem targeting (IN-02, NE-02). There are also a few rural northeastern Rockefeller Republican seats in New York and New Hampshire where patience with today’s GOP seems to be finally exhausted. Finally, I see at least three seats where I would wager that Dukakis actually beat Bush I, but where Democratic fortunes started to wane in the mid-90s until the recent rebound (IA-04, OR-05, and WA-03).

Gore/Bush/Obama: CA-18, CA-47, FL-10, GA-02, GA-12, IA-03, NJ-02, NJ-03, NV-03, NY-01, TX-15, TX-27

Among the “GBO” districts, there’s a mix of several things. There are more Hispanic-majority districts, where Bush’s attempts at Latino outreach in 2004 may have helped him eke out a win. There are some northeastern suburban seats where Kerry didn’t play very well (partially but not entirely explained by the 9/11 effect, perhaps). There are a few Georgia districts where paltry African-American turnout may have harmed Kerry, and finally some of the most knife’s-edge swing districts of all (FL-10, IA-03, NV-03), where Gore’s slightly better overall nationwide position vs. Kerry seemed to make the difference.

Bush/Kerry/Obama: NC-13, OR-04, TX-25

See a commonality here among the “BKO” districts? These are three districts dominated by college towns (Raleigh, Eugene, Austin) but with conservative surroundings. In OR-04 and TX-25, a lot of that may have to do with a strong Nader effect depressing Gore votes (and in Texas, a favorite son effect boosting Bush). Interestingly, Nader wasn’t on the ballot in North Carolina in 2000, meaning that this shift is probably based on demographic changes in the Research Triangle as liberal whites from elsewhere move in.

Gore/Bush/McCain: AR-01, AR-04, NJ-04, NY-03, NY-13, TN-08, WV-03

There are two clear sub-groups among the “GBM” districts: some of the most Dem-friendly districts (and ones that would be particularly responsive to favorite sons Clinton or Gore) in the Appalachian arc finally falling through the floor. And some of the most socially conservative districts in the New York metro area, where the 9/11 effect was especially pronounced and still seems to linger… but where Gore also seemed to overperform.

Gore/Kerry/McCain: PA-12

The lone “GKM” district, as I’ve discussed before, is one that’s trending away from us because of, more than any other reason, mortality. Former unionists who formed a strong Democratic core in the collar counties around Pittsburgh are dying off rapidly, leaving a mix of their economically dislocated and culture-wars-susceptible descendants, and new exurban residents. This brings us to the last possible permutation: the Bush/Kerry/McCain district… and there ain’t no such beast.

A US map for Prez vote by Congressional District?

Hello, I’m a longtime reader who recently joined. I have a few questions for the minds here at SSP.


I was wondering if anyone has access to a map of the 2008 prez vote by CD.

If so, are there also maps for 2004 and 2000?

What about the 2000 stats on the Presidential Vote by CD? are they based upon the current district map, or the map used in 2000 (which is based on the 1990 census?)

Lastly, do we have precinct data for every CD?

Thanks so much.

How Did Our Reruns Do?

It’s become something of blogospheric conventional wisdom, over the last few years, that running for the House two times in a row was the right approach: that in some cases it takes one cycle to build name recognition and make fundraising connections, and one more cycle to close the deal with voters. Fans of Paul Hodes, Jerry McNerney, Nancy Boyda, or Joe Donnelly (he must have a netroots fan somewhere?) could point to their successes in 2006, on the second try, as evidence.

On the other hand, for every Hodes or McNerney in the House, there’s a “where are they now?” bin with Lois Murphy, Diane Farrell, Patty Wetterling, or Francine Busby in it. 2008 seemed to have a particularly large number of Democratic candidates giving it a second shot, so it may be worth stopping to examine those races.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a particularly high success ratio: of the 14 races that were considered competitive where the Democratic candidate was making a second run, only three four made it over the finish line (Dan Maffei, Eric Massa, Mary Jo Kilroy, and Larry Kissell). These candidates seemed to benefit from a perfect storm of traction from a repeat run, and running against weakened opponents (a different opponent for Maffei in the wake of Jim Walsh’s retirement and a bungled GOP recruitment, and befuddled, unlikable opponents for Massa and Kissell). (On the following table, * indicates a different opponent in 2008.)

The others seemed to falter, either in the face of a nutty GOPer but too red a district (Brown, Wulsin, probably Esch) or an uncontroversial ‘moderate’ incumbent with a strong hold on a suburban district (Seals, Burner, Feder). By contrast, because of the confluence of swing districts and craptacular opponents, NY-25, NY-29, and NC-08 seem like races we likely could have won with or without a returning opponent (although the prospect of a Maffei rematch may have caused Walsh’s retirement)… which isn’t to say that we should avoid rematches, simply that it may not provide as much of an advantage as conventional wisdom currently holds.

Also, I can’t help but notice one troubling pattern: the male reruns improved on their 2006 numbers. The female reruns declined. If you look at the names above from the 2004-06 cycles, you see the same pattern (Nancy Boyda excepted). I won’t attempt to psychoanalyze that, but it’s disappointing nonetheless.

UPDATE: A reader helpfully points out that I left out Mary Jo Kilroy, who ran against a different opponent in 2008. I was prepared to have to admit that this screws up my theory, but interestingly, even though she won on her second try, the rate at which she improved her margin was still lower than any of the male rerun candidates.

UPDATE II: Another reader points out Gary Trauner, another repeat runner but against a different opponent. So there is, in fact, one male candidate who lost ground (albeit while running in Wyoming in a presidential year).

District Dem 2006
NY-25 Dan Maffei * -1.6 (49.2/50.8) 12.9 (54.8/41.9) 14.5
NC-08 Larry Kissell -0.2 (49.9/50.1) 10.8 (55.4/44.6) 11.0
NE-02 Jim Esch -9.4 (45.3/54.7) -3.8 (48.1/51.9) 5.6
NY-29 Eric Massa -3.0 (48.5/51.5) 2.0 (51.0/49.0) 5.0
CA-04 Charlie Brown * -4.5 (45.4/49.9) -0.6 (49.7/50.3) 3.9
IL-10 Dan Seals -6.8 (46.6/53.4) -5.2 (47.4/52.6) 1.6
OH-15 Mary Jo Kilroy * -0.5 (49.7/50.2) 0.7 (45.9/45.2) 1.2
WA-08 Darcy Burner -3.0 (48.5/51.5) -5.6 (47.2/52.8) -2.6
VA-10 Judy Feder -16.3 (41.0/57.3) -20.0 (38.8/58.8) -3.7
NV-02 Jill Derby -5.5 (44.9/50.4) -10.4 (41.4/51.8) -4.9
OH-02 Victoria Wulsin -1.1 (49.4/50.5) -7.3 (37.5/44.8) -6.2
NJ-07 Linda Stender * -1.5 (47.9/49.4) -8.0 (42.2/50.2) -6.5
WY-AL Gary Trauner * -0.5 (47.8/48.3) -9.8 (42.8/52.6) -9.3
FL-13 Christine Jennings -0.2 (49.9/50.1) -18.0 (37.5/55.5) -17.8

Just to make sure that I wasn’t focused on high-profile losses while missing races that flew under the radar (which, as best as I can remember, was where Hodes, McNerney, Boyda, and Donnelly all flew in 2004), I looked at all the non-competitive races where I could find Democratic reruns as well. With a couple exceptions in California (which may have to do mostly with the surprisingly strong coattails Obama generated for Dems downticket in that state), the lower-profile reruns also gained little traction.

District Dem 2006
CA-03 Bill Durston -21.6 (37.9/59.5) -5.5 (44.0/49.5) 16.1
CA-48 Steve Young -22.8 (37.2/60.0) -15.1 (40.6/55.7) 7.7
NC-03 Craig Weber -37.2 (31.4/68.6) -31.8 (34.1/65.9) 5.4
NJ-11 Tom Wyka -25.5 (36.6/62.1) -24.8 (37.0/61.8) 0.7
AZ-02 John Thrasher -19.7 (38.9/58.6) -22.2 (37.2/59.4) -2.5
FL-05 John Russell -19.8 (40.1/59.9) -22.4 (38.8/61.2) -2.6
PA-19 Phil Avilo -30.5 (33.5/64.0) -33.2 (33.4/66.6) -2.7
PA-09 Tony Barr -20.6 (39.7/60.3) -27.8 (36.1/63.9) -7.2
TX-04 Glenn Melancon -31.0 (33.4/64.4) -39.5 (29.3/68.8) -8.5
IN-06 Barry Welsh -20.0 (40.0/60.0) -30.5 (33.4/63.9) -10.5

So How’d We Do?

During the election season, people seemed to assume that Swing State Project has long been in the business of handicapping congressional races. However, believe it or not, 2008 was the first time that SSP attempted to rate and predict every congressional race. It was an extremely fun project, as we argued back and forth, trying to sell each other on particular candidates’ hidden strengths or districts’ unique quirks, parsing the meaning of “Lean” and “Likely,” or simply trash-talking each other. (In order to briefly return to those golden days, this is a fully collaborative post, and David and James have their say further down too.)

Now that every House race has finally been called and things have settled back down to business as usual here, we thought we’d do a little retrospective and see how our predictions matched up with the actual results. (Our final predictions are here.) Our table is broken into races where Team Blue was on the offense and on the defense, ordered in terms of the margin of victory (or loss). (An asterisk refers to a race that was once on the chart, but dropped off by the end.) Even if you aren’t that interested in our slightly belated soul-searching about our predictive skills, this should be a very useful chart for our readers, as the decreasing margins give a pretty clear picture of who’s vulnerable going into the next cycle.

District Offense Margin Rating District Defense Margin Rating
NY-13 Open 27.6 Safe D FL-16 Mahoney -20.2 Likely R
IL-11 Open 23.9 Lean D LA-06 Cazayoux -7.8 Tossup
AZ-01 Open 20.5 Likely D TX-22 Lampson -7.0 Tossup
FL-24 Feeney 16.1 Lean D KS-02 Boyda -4.4 Lean D
NY-25 Open 12.9 Likely D LA-02 Jefferson -2.7 Safe D
CO-04 Musgrave 12.4 Lean D PA-11 Kanjorski 3.2 Tossup
NM-02 Open 12.0 Tossup AL-05 Open 3.6 Lean D
VA-11 Open 11.7 Lean D NY-24 Arcuri 4.0 Safe D *
NM-01 Open 11.4 Lean D NH-01 Shea-Porter 5.9 Lean D
NC-08 Hayes 10.8 Lean D TX-17 Edwards 7.5 Safe D
OH-16 Open 10.8 Lean D WI-08 Kagen 8.1 Lean D
MI-09 Knollenberg 9.5 Lean D FL-22 Klein 9.4 Safe D
NV-03 Porter 5.1 Tossup AZ-05 Mitchell 9.6 Lean D
OH-01 Chabot 4.9 Tossup ME-01 Open 9.8 Safe D
VA-02 Drake 4.9 Lean R CA-11 McNerney 11.6 Lean D
NJ-03 Open 4.2 Tossup MS-01 Childers 10.6 Likely D
FL-08 Keller 4.0 Tossup PA-04 Altmire 11.8 Likely D
CT-04 Shays 3.7 Tossup AZ-08 Giffords 11.9 Likely D
PA-03 English 2.4 Tossup PA-10 Carney 12.6 Lean D
MI-07 Walberg 2.3 Tossup TX-23 Rodriguez 13.9 Likely D
NY-29 Kuhl 2.0 Lean D IA-03 Boswell 14.3 Safe D
ID-01 Sali 1.2 Tossup GA-08 Marshall 14.4 Lean D
MD-01 Open 0.8 Tossup NH-02 Hodes 15.0 Safe D *
OH-15 Open 0.7 Lean D PA-08 P. Murphy 15.2 Likely D
AL-02 Open 0.6 Lean R IL-14 Foster 15.4 Likely D
VA-05 Goode 0.2 Lean R PA-12 Murtha 15.8 Lean D
LA-04 Open -0.4 Tossup OR-05 Open 16.0 Likely D
CA-04 Open -0.6 Tossup KS-03 Moore 16.8 Likely D
CA-44 Calvert -2.4 Safe R NY-01 Bishop 16.8 Safe D
MO-09 Open -2.5 Tossup NY-19 Hall 17.4 Safe D *
MN-06 Bachmann -3.0 Tossup OH-10 Kucinich 17.9 Safe D
NE-02 Terry -3.8 Tossup IA-02 Loebsack 18.4 Safe D
SC-01 Brown -4.0 Lean R KY-03 Yarmuth 18.8 Likely D
PA-06 Gerlach -4.2 RTW * PA-07 Sestak 19.2 Safe D
CA-50 Bilbray -5.1 Likely R IN-09 Hill 19.4 Likely D
AK-AL Young -5.2 Lean D TX-27 Ortiz 19.5 Safe D
IL-10 Kirk -5.2 Tossup OH-18 Space 19.8 Safe D *
KY-02 Open -5.2 Lean R CT-05 C. Murphy 20.2 Likely D
CA-03 Lungren -5.5 RTW TN-04 Davis 21.0 Safe D
WA-08 Reichert -5.6 Tossup IL-08 Bean 21.4 Safe D *
MI-11 McCotter -6.0 Safe R WI-07 Obey 21.7 Safe D
FL-25 M. Diaz-Balart -6.2 Tossup CO-03 Salazar 23.2 Safe D
OH-02 Schmidt -7.2 Lean R FL-02 Boyd 23.8 Safe D
SC-02 Wilson -7.5 RTW ND-AL Pomeroy 24.0 Safe D
MN-03 Open -7.6 Tossup NY-20 Gillibrand 24.2 Lean D
NJ-07 Open -8.0 Tossup SC-05 Spratt 24.6 Safe D
AL-03 Rogers -8.2 Likely R WA-02 Larsen 24.8 Safe D
CA-46 Rohrabacher -9.5 Likely R NM-03 Open 26.2 Safe D
WY-AL Open -9.8 Lean R NC-11 Shuler 26.2 Safe D *
IL-13 Biggert -9.9 RTW NC-04 Price 26.6 Safe D

As you can see, by the time you get up to 50, the Democratic defense list has started to get kind of uninteresting, while there are still some hotly contested offense seats left to discuss. It’s a pretty good illustration of how lopsided the playing field for the two parties was this year. For instance, there’s only one Democratic defense seat that we had left on our big board that fell off the list: Tim Walz in MN-01, who was Likely D but won by 29.6% (good for 67th place).

On the other hand, here’s the continued list for offense seats!

51) NV-02, Heller, -10.4, Lean R

52) TX-10, McCaul, -10.8, Lean R

54) AZ-03, Shadegg, -11.1, Lean R

57) NJ-05, Garrett, -13.5, Lean R

58) TX-07, Culberson, -13.5, Likely R

59) WV-02, Capito, -14.2, Lean R

60) NY-26, Open, -14.5, Lean R

67) NC-10, McHenry, -15.2, Likely R

68) IN-03, Souder, -15.3, Tossup

72) FL-18, Ros-Lehtinen, -15.8, Likely R

73) FL-21, L. Diaz-Balart, -15.8, Tossup

77) OH-07, Open, -16.4, Likely R

80) NC-05, Foxx, -16.8, Likely R

81) PA-15, Dent, -17.2, Likely R

83) FL-13, Buchanan, -18.0, Likely R

89) VA-10, Wolf, -20.0, Likely R

95) IA-04, Latham, -21.2, Likely R

103) MO-06, Graves, -22.5, Likely R

128) LA-07, Boustany, -27.6, Likely R

142) LA-01, Scalise, -31.4, Likely R

The first thing I notice is that there are only six places where we got it “wrong,” where wrong means we felt that, rather than leaving a race as “Tossup,” we could move it to “Lean” or even “Likely…” only to see it go the wrong way. On the defense side, that means Bill Jefferson at Safe D, whose loss I think absolutely no one saw coming (the NRCC’s four-digit campaign expenditures notwithstanding). It also means Nancy Boyda at Lean D. Although she seemed to have a comfortable edge in polls, her surprise loss provides a nice object lesson for incumbents defending tough districts: don’t try to run a campaign that actually appeals to your constituents’ logic and good judgment. Accept the DCCC’s money, and use it to run negative TV spots, instead of trying to engage them intellectually with policy-specific newspaper ads.

On the offense side, the big screwup is Don Young at Lean D; again, this is one that basically no pundit saw coming, thanks to extremely consistent polling in favor of Ethan Berkowitz. The lesson here: never underestimate Alaskans’ willingness to vote for more pork, even if it means supporting a felon (or soon-to-be felon) in the privacy of the voting booth.

We also had something of a crisis of faith in Bobby Bright in AL-02, in the face of tepid campaigning and a crimson district. Despite our dropping him late in the game to Lean R, his name rec and DCCC spending seemed to pull him over the line. Finally, we were caught off guard by the magnitude of the Obama coattails in Virginia, where we left Glenn Nye (VA-02) and Tom Perriello (VA-05) at Lean R. The polls just weren’t there for them, in GOP-leaning turf, but the bluening of Virginia lifted them far enough. (If there’s one candidate I’m personally shocked that won, it’s Perriello; I was miffed to see the DCCC pouring money into a guy who seemed way too progressive for such a rural and downscale district. Here’s one race where I’m super-happy to eat some crow.)

Where else did we whiff? IN-03 and FL-21 seemed like Tossups at the time, given the very close polling and baffled-seeming incumbents, but these ones are languishing up around #70. Apparently the constituents decided late in the game that, in IN-03, they had a challenger they just didn’t know enough about (Mike Montagano), and in FL-21, probably a challenger that they just knew too much about (Raul Martinez).

We may also have been a little generous on the Louisiana challenges in LA-07 and LA-01 (both listed as Likely R). Jim Harlan, with a conservative profile and his own fat pocketbook, seemed like the best possible candidate for LA-01; however, given that this is one of the nation’s most right-wing districts, I guess we have to take a 30-point loss (instead of the usual 50-point beatdown that we take in that district) as some sort of moral victory.

On the flipside, we missed a number of strong performances in California, especially the near upsets of Ken Calvert in CA-44 and Dan Lungren in CA-03. What’s most interesting is that the rising blue tide in California seemed very evenly distributed throughout the state and probably tied to an Obama-driven boost in infrequent voters voting straight-ticket D, as higher-profile challenges to Dana Rohrabacher and David Dreier did only slightly better than completely under-the-radar challenges to guys like Buck McKeon, Wally Herger, and Elton Gallegly.

Where did we buck the odds? I’m pleased with how well we did at moving the right people to “Lean D” in the weeks before the election; at the time, it seemed a little audacious to call a win in advance for Gary Peters, Larry Kissell, Suzanne Kosmas, Betsy Markey, and Eric Massa in their fights against (lame) incumbents, but they all pulled it out… as did last-minute change Mary Jo Kilroy, who finally managed to pull it out in overtime and save us a lot of egg on our faces.

On the whole, we ran up a pretty good track record (while using the ass-covering category of “Tossup” a lot less than certain other prognosticators). The lesson here is that prognosticating is more art than science; your predictions are only as good as your polls and your scuttlebutt.

DavidNYC: This was indeed a very fun project and a tremendous learning experience, and I expect will continue to do race ratings in the future. It was also remarkably time-consuming, especially as we got toward the end – as Crisitunity suggests, there was a lot of back-and-forth as we pored over Google spreadsheets – plus the occasional bit of smack talk. But I think we’d all gladly take more cycles like the one just concluded!

I just have a few additional thoughts. I think our Senate ratings hit the mark, and I think we were in general pretty disciplined in not moving races until we had sufficient evidence to justify a change. Some examples I’m thinking of include OR-Sen and CT-04, where we insisted on seeing polling before concluding that popular, “moderate” Republican incumbents were truly in jeopardy.

On the flipside, I think sometimes you just have to acknowledge an open seat is gone, as we did early on by moving VA-Sen to Safe D in August, and later NY-13 in October. (Both of these were thirty-point races.)

One of our biggest flubs, though, was NY-24. We had the race as Likely D until a week before election day, when we moved it to Safe. A lack of polling, zero outside spending, and a seemingly unimpressive Republican who had been substantially outraised all convinced us that there was nothing to see here.

We couldn’t have been more wrong. In the end, Mike Arcuri raised “just” $1.6 million (unimpressive compared to fellow freshmen like Chris Murphy, Patrick Murphy or even Paul Hodes), while Richard Hanna took in almost $1.1 mil. The final four-point margin was hair-raising, and suggests Arcuri still has a lot of work to do to establish himself. It also tells us that there will always be surprises – and that absence of evidence is not evidence of a Straniere.

James: Crisitunity and David touched on a lot of key points above, but I’ll just add that I think that we all were a bit caught off guard by just how much of a focal point our race ratings exercise became in the day-to-day operations of this blog.

When I first drafted a preliminary set of race ratings at the tail end of 2007, David’s response after I asked him for his thoughts was merely: “Nice work!” David later admitted to me that he felt as if he were a busy parent being handed a crappy piece of crayon art by a proud six year-old son. But once that crayon drawing was slapped on the fridge, if you will, we all realized that we would have to put in a great level of care into making sure we felt that each rating had a strong leg to stand on. In that sense, our race ratings project became the engine of SSP: we all had to step up our game to make sure that no major (or even minor) developments in the key House races would slip past us unnoticed — especially after we achieved some early success by noticing MS-01 before anyone else did.

Our goal of making this ratings project as honest and credible as possible, I believe, had a great impact on our front page coverage, and I know we caught on to a lot of stories and developments that we may have otherwise missed had it not been for our relentless commitment to stay on top of things. There’s no doubt in my mind that our ratings exercise, even if it provided no great revelations to anyone else, helped improve the work and quality of this blog immensely over my output in the summer and fall of 2006.

Obama/R and McCain/D Congressional Districts in the 2008 Election

This is a preliminary report of the 2008 election showing congressional districts won by a member of a party other than the winner of the presidential vote in the district (i.e. “ticket-splitting” districts that voted Obama-R or McCain-D). I performed my analysis using a combination of factors, most importantly: county by county federal election returns in 2008 compared to prior years, familiarity with the partisan breakdowns of the respective congressional districts (using tools like PVI, 2006 Almanac of American Politics etc) and in some cases, the margin of victory in congressional districts won by the opposing party or where the incumbent held on narrowly. Not all states break down their results by Congressional districts (VA and NE are immediate exceptions), but some states are easier to report absent this metric (e.g. At-Large as well as small states like NH, ME, etc).  

Update: Some posters have noted that I may be wrong about IN-2, in that Obama may have carried it (i.e. McCain may have won 49 seats) while I may have incorrectly excluded MI-11 from Obama’s total (because he dominated Oakland Count in MI). I will go back and check my data and correct ASAP. In the mean time, pls keep firing away. Tks

Update 2: Rechecked the data on Donnelly and have corrected accordingly. Obama did win IN-02, so McCain/D is down by 1. Also, a very sharp poster pointed out Obama won WI-6 by the itsy bitiest margin, which surpised me a lot about that district, so chalk one up for an additional Obama/R +1. Will still look at MI-11 and KS-3.

Update 3: Looks like Mary Jo Kilroy won OH-15, so 111th Congress will be 257 (D) to 178 (R). Basically, the GOP goes back to what it had in Jan 1993. Well…you play the cards you are dealt.

I have been following this metric since the 1980s and even going back to the 1970s, when, in some elections, 40% or more congressional districts were ticket-splitters (e.g. in 1972 and 1984, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, respectively, each, won over 180 Democratic held congressional districts). I am very familiar with the federal voting patterns of many of these districts even after redistricting, but I will not claim that my analysis is 100% correct. I believe I am sure of 90% of them and may be within a few hundred or 1-2k of the remaining 10%. Of these 10%, I included an asterisk (*) after the district number, as noted below, I did not expect would be ticket-splitters but don’t have enough data to say that otherwise (or vice versa)

The more accurate reports for the incoming 111th Congress will be published by folks like Congressional Quarterly or the Almanac of American Politics by Feb or March 2009 at the earliest. However, I did my own analysis and came up with what I believe is close to what the final data will reveal. I don’t believe Virgil Goode can win the recount against Tom Periello in VA-5 nor do I see Carmouche (sadly, since he was by far the better candidate) overtaking Fleming in LA-4 as it was such a low turnout election). Based on this allocation, the Obama-R and McCain-D districts are as follows:


Gallegly (CA-24); Dreier (CA-26)*; Bono-Mack (CA-45)*; Bilbray (CA-50); Castle (DE-AL); Ros-Lehtinen (FL-18)*; Young (FL-10); Latham (IA-4); Roskam (IL-6); Kirk (IL-10); Biggert (IL-13); Johnson (IL-15)*; Manzullo (IL-16); Schock (IL-18)*; Cao (LA-2); Camp (MI-4); Upton (MI-6); Rogers (MI-8); Paulsen (MN-3); Terry (NE-2); Lobiondo (NJ-2); Smith (NJ-4); Lance (NJ-7); King (NY-3)*; LaTourette (OH-14); Gerlach (PA-6); Dent (PA-15); Forbes (VA-4); Wolf (VA-10); Reichert (WA-8); Ryan(WI-1) and Petri (WI-6).


Bright (AL-2); Griffith (AL-5); Berry (AR-1); Snyder (AR-2); Ross (AR-4); Kirkpatrick (AZ-1); Mitchell (AZ-5); Giffords (AZ-8)*; Markey (CO-4); Salazar (CO-3); Boyd (FL-2); Marshall (GA-8); Minnick (ID-1); Ellsworth (IN-8); Hill (IN-9); Moore (KS-3); Chandler (KY-6); Melancon (LA-3); Kratovil (MD-1); Peterson (MN-07); Childers (MS-1); Taylor (MS-4); Skelton (MO-4); Pomeroy (ND-AL); Teague (NM-2); McMahon (NY-13); Massa (NY-29); Etheridge (NC-2); McIntyre (NC-7); Shuler (NC-11); Wilson (OH-6); Boccieri (OH-16); Space (OH-18); Boren (OK-2); Dahlkemper (PA-3); Altmire (PA-4); Carney (PA-10); Murtha (PA-12); Spratt (SC-5); Hersheth-Sandlin (SD-AL); Davis (TN-4); Gordon (TN-6); Tanner (TN-8); Periello (VA-5); Boucher (VA-9); Mollohan (WV-1); Rahall (WV-3); Edwards (TX-17) and Matheson (UT-2).

Obama will have won 208 Democratic held congressional districts and 32 Republican held congressional districts: total of 240; McCain will have won 146 Republican held congressional districts and 49 Democratic-held congressional districts: total of 195.

A few key things to keep in mind:

Historical Patterns: As has been the case since 1968, but with the exception of Bill Clinton in 1996, the GOP Presidential nominee, win or lose, has won more ticket-splitting districts than the Democratic Presidential nominee. Compared to 2004 when John Kerry won 18 Republican held congressional districts while George Bush won 41 Democratic held congressional districts, Obama did better than Kerry by wining 14 more GOP held districts while McCain got 8 more Democratic-held districts. However, this “improvement” is masked by the fact that Democrats retook the House in 2006 with a 31 seat pickup and appear to have increased their margin by 21 seats in 2008. One way of looking at this data is to see which ticket-splitting districts are held by freshman members and/or which ones are held by freshman members succeeding or defeating a politician from the opposing party. On that metric, only 1 Obama-R district, Aaron Schock of IL-18*, is held by a freshmen and no Obama-R district switched from Democrat to Republican control (i.e. they were all GOP retentions); whereas all but 1 of the 12 McCain-D districts won by a freshman was a Democratic retention (Parker Griffith AL-5 succeed retiring Democrat Bud Cramer). This suggests that virtually all ticket-splitting districts held by freshmen are Democratic defenses. This may be a good or bad thing: good in that they may have a better chance to hold in an off-year election when turnout is lower but bad in that absent the weight of Bush or a poorly run GOP presidential campaign, the GOP may be able to focus more intently on partisan affiliation in these districts.

As for how this portends for Obama getting difficult measures through the 111th Congress, note that just because Obama won a district that voted for the GOP doesn’t mean he can expect the Republican to support him more often than not. For example, Bill Clinton won 50 ticket-splitting seats in 1992 yet not one single House Republican (or even Senate Republican for that matter) voted for his Budget Bill in August 1993; a mere 10 months after he won their districts. A president is only as strong as his popularity projects and seeing that there are now fewer Republican moderates in the House, I won’t be surprised if Obama has to pass a lot of difficult legislation on Democratic only votes.

Redistricting and Partisanship Voting: One cannot underestimate how big an impact this has had on voting results in some districts. This may in part explain why wave elections may be less frequent and evenly distributed across the country than before. In TX and CA, many Democratic under-funded challengers to non-stellar GOP house members lost. In the case of CA, redistricting was a major firewall for them even though Obama, in dominating the state, won 4 GOP held seats. In TX it was a combination of redistricting and straight ticket voting which hurt folks like Larry Joe Daugherty and Mike Skelly and almost brought down Chet Edwards. For Democrats to have a better shot at improving their margins, they have to look at redistricting. I happen to think that non-partisan redistricting using what I call the “contiguous-county rule” (see an example by Andrew White at Albany Project… would help Democrats (and Republicans) in the long run, but that is a debate for another day and another diary. Suffice to say, had Dems faced districts like that in CA, David Dreier, Mary Bono-Mack (I love this hyphenated name), Brian Bilbray, Dan Lundgren and possibly Dana Rohrabacher would have lost while Nick Lampson and Charlie Brown would have won.

Surprises: I’m not surprised that Obama may have won all but one GOP held seat in his home state of Illinois* or that McCain may have won 3 of the 5 Democratic held congressional districts in his home state of Arizona*. However, a few things to note across the regions:

EAST COAST: Not sure what else is here but suffice to say New England is to the Democrats what the Deep South is to the GOP. Obama’s only weak Dem seats are in NY-13, NY-29 (both of which he lost) and NY-3 (which he won narrowly). In NY-13, I suspect Obama’s narrow loss may have been due to residual racism among conservative Jewish voters in southwestern Brooklyn and unfounded fears that Obama may be a Muslim; NY-29 is the most republican district in NY state so his loss there was not unexpected, but NY-3 was weaker for Obama because he underperformed Kerry and Gore among the white-working class voters in the southern portion of the district where most voters live and with the wealthier and heavily Jewish neighborhoods in the northern portion of the district. In NJ, Obama did win one additional ticket-splitting seat by capturing Leonard Lance’s NJ-7 (which, but for a flawed nominee, was ripe for a Dem takeover). No other real surprises were noted from DE down to MD, though it appears that Obama improved on all prior Democratic performances in MD’s Anne Arundel County, a critical Republican leaning area.

MID-WEST: Obama over-performed Gore and Kerry in the Mid-West not only because of huge margins in the cities but also did very well in many suburban Republican counties that even Bill Clinton did not carry. The clearest example was Cincinnati, OH; GOP counties around Indianapolis and Dupage County in Illinois. However, Obama does have an Appalachia problem (or the other way round) and for the first time since 1988, the Democratic nominee lost PA-12, Jack Murtha’s district (though Obama won Tim Holden’s PA-17 thanks to his smashing victory in Berks County, which Bill Clinton, Gore and Kerry all lost). Obama suffered heavy losses across KY, Southern OH and IN which accounted for McCain’s ticket-splitting seats in some of these districts (Charlie Wilson OH-6 and Baron Hill in IN-9, to mention a few). Yet even though he lost most of the congressional districts in OH and IN, he still won both states. Obama won Paul Ryan’s southern Wisconsin district (which I guess, makes Ryan one of a handful of very conservative GOP members representing a district won by Obama). Michigan was a case where the GOP effectively collapsed at all levels when McCain pulled out (might have happened regardless) and Obama’s coattails probably helped Mike Schaeur and Gary Peters win longtime GOP districts. Additionally, Obama came very close to winning John Kline’s district in MN-2 and Colin Peterson’s in MN-7 but underperformed Elwynn Tinkelberg who narrowly lost to Michelle Bachmann. Finally, while Missouri was not the bellwether in 2008, it was the narrowest state (Obama lost by less than 4k votes). I think he will carry the state in 2012 but 4 years is a lifetime in politics.

SOUTH: This is a tough area for Dems regardless of who the nominee is. With the exception of six Democratic held districts (Kissel, Price and Miller in NC; Nye in VA, Cooper in TN and Barrow in GA) Obama lost every majority-white district held by a Southern white democrat from Virginia through the Florida panhandle to Texas. He even lost the ancestrally democratic AR-1, AR-4 and TN-8. Some might chalk this up to racially polarized voting but that is too easy an explanation. I’m sure some voters were fearful of a black President but those folks just don’t vote Democratic in the south anymore. These districts are populated by socially conservative folks and Obama, at least in my view, is probably the most socially liberal Democrat ever nominated. I think he could have minimized his losses had he campaigned more in these places but I suspect many of these Dems preferred he stayed away, which he did and I can understand why. In any event, only Republican dominated TX and GA will see population increases in 2010 but because these are Section 5 states, I doubt their GOP legislatures can squeeze out that many more GOP friendly districts to pass the smell test with Eric Holder’s Justice Department. However, in the case of TN, the GOP has taken over the TN legislature and Democratic Gov. Bredesen is term-limited so Dems must hold the TN Governorship in 2010 or risk adverse gerrymandering.

WEST: Obama held on to sleeper GOP presidential voting but Democratic held districts like Pete De Fazio in OR (yes, while he is a very liberal his district was a ticket-splitter until narrowly going for Kerry and staying with Obama) and Jerry McNerney’s in CA However, nothing beats Obama’s impressive margins in CO and Southern CA and while he did not win any GOP held seats in the former, his margin in San Diego and Riverside counties helped him tremendously in wining two GOP seats that last voted Democratic eons ago. On the other hand, Walter Minnick of ID-1 is now the most endangered House member and unless he catches a solid break, I’m doubtful he can hold on to his seat in 2010. But if Jim Matheson can survive, there may be hope for Walter, but don’t be surprised if he loses in 2010.  

Future Prospects: The 50 state strategy or what I call “cast your net as wide as reasonably possible” works and I think both parties should compete everywhere as it is good for the American people. However, a lot of these gains and improvements depend on the success of the Obama presidency. More importantly, it depends heavily on Obama defining what a 21st century Democratic office holder should stand for (a la Reagan and Republicans of the 1980s) and showing that those principles will generate lasting results. It also depends on enacting enduring legislation like health care and putting into place long lasting policies that will foster growth of good paying American jobs so people don’t despair and buy into the false choices created by mindless culture wars.  

Who Lost the Money Game But Won the Race?

The Center for Responsive Politics has an extremely interesting post today about how many victors in congressional races outspent the losers. The answer, in case you didn’t guess, is almost all of them (93% in the House).

There were 28 House races where the candidate who spent less money still won the race. (This appears to discount the role of third party expenditures, as you’ll see in the case of LA-06, where the role of Cassidy was to spend little while outside parties poured in the cash. Perhaps a project for a future day will be to add IEs to these numbers and re-order them.) All of the races you will recognize from our competitive House Ratings list. If you want to see the list in its entirety, please click through to their story… but I thought I’d add a wrinkle and rate the races not according to how much was spent but according to the winner/loser ratio. In other words, which victorious candidates won most efficiently? Here are the top 10:

District Winner $$$ Loser $$$ Ratio
GA-13 Scott (D) $842K Honeycutt (R) $4,406K 19.1%
LA-06 Cassidy (R) $620K Cazayoux (D) $2,279K 27.2%
PA-03 Dahlkemper (D) $712K English (R) $1,905K 37.4%
FL-16 Rooney (R) $1,021K Mahoney (D) $2,418K 42.2%
SC-01 Brown (R) $702K Ketner (D) $1,641K 42.8%
NC-08 Kissell (D) $1,100K Hayes (R) $2,509K 43.8%
AL-02 Bright (D) $850K Love (R) $1,929K 44.1%
OR-05 Schrader (D) $1,030K Erickson (R) $2,308K 44.7%
NJ-07 Lance (R) $942K Stender (D) $2,092K 45.0%
VA-02 Nye (D) $733K Drake (R) $1,372K 53.4%

In the Senate, there were only two races where the more frugal candidate won: North Carolina and New Hampshire. New Hampshire was very close (99%), but Kay Hagan won this one on the cheap: $6,014K to Dole’s $15,716K, or 38% (although, again, you should factor in the millions dumped into NC by the DSCC).

One other lesson from this story: self-funding doesn’t work. 49 Congressional candidates spend $500,000 of their own money, and of them, only 6 House candidates and 1 Senate candidate won. Perhaps the saddest case of this was Sandy Treadwell, who ran against Kirsten Gillibrand in NY-20. Treadwell poured in at least $5.9 million of his own money. (Gillibrand spent $3.6 million, but only $250 of that was her own money.) The return on Treadwell’s investment: priceless. If by ‘priceless,’ you mean losing to Gillibrand by a 23-point margin.