Campaign 2010

Jan 18, 2014

MEMO: Democrats’ Open Seat Opportunities

TO:      Interested Parties

FR:      DCCC Executive Director Kelly Ward

RE:      Democrats’ Open Seat Opportunities

DT:      January 18, 2013

When it comes to the battle for competitive open seats in 2014, the numbers are clear: Democrats’ opportunities far outpace those of Republicans.

Over the past several weeks, a mounting number of Republican retirements has expanded the battlefield and created high-level strategic opportunities for Democrats.

As of this morning, there are now 10 Republican-held open seats in 2014 where Democrats can compete – dramatically expanding the battlefield beyond anyone’s initial 2014 assessments. Many of these seats would not have been competitive if the moderate Republican incumbent ran for re-election. While Republicans will compete for a handful of now-open Democratic seats, those three seats are dwarfed by the 10 Republican-held seats that Democrats are now targeting.

Even worse for Republicans is that many of these races already feature bitter, ideological Tea Party primaries that will produce nominees who are outside the mainstream.

  • The Washington Post described the open seat races as “filled with opportunities for Democrats. Seven of the 10 most likely to flip party control are Republican-held seats.”
  • The Hill recently wrote that there has been a “rash of recent retirements by entrenched incumbents” and because of that “Republicans are unexpectedly defending a number of seats in tossup or GOP-leaning districts.”
  • Stu Rothenberg recently wrote that of the 12 open seats most likely to switch parties, eight are currently held by Republicans.

With 10 Republican-held open seats in the House that Democrats can win, the DCCC will capitalize on these opportunities with mainstream, problem-solving candidates who will fight for the middle class.

The Landscape

The 2014 battlefield of competitive open seats is now overwhelmingly tilted toward Democrats. It has given House Democrats new opportunities to compete and expand the battlefield. Our charge is to convert these new pickup opportunities into Election Day successes.

Open seats that now provide Democrats with pick-up opportunities include:

  • AR-02: Tim Griffin’s unexpected retirement opened this seat, and Democrats have a top-tier recruit in Mayor Patrick Henry Hays – the former Mayor of North Little Rock who served the longest tenure in the city’s history. The Rothenberg Political Report shifted the race toward Democrats following Congressman Griffin’s retirement, and Republicans are facing a costly and divisive primary.
  • AR-04: With freshman Congressman Tom Cotton vacating this seat for a U.S. Senate bid, Democrats have an opportunity to reclaim this seat that has been held by a Democrat for 12 of the last 13 years. James Lee Witt, the former Director of FEMA under President Clinton, has a record of bringing Republicans and Democrats together to solve problems, while Republicans are in the midst of another divisive and increasingly ugly primary.
  • CA-25: In this district that President Obama won in 2008 and nearly won in 2012, Hispanics make up more than a third of the population. Republicans are already facing a competitive primary.
  • FL-13: In this tossup district, business leader and Florida’s former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is running in the special election to fill the seat vacated by Congressman Young’s passing. Recognized throughout Florida for her record of bringing Republicans and Democrats together to focus on solving problems, Sink is focusing on commonsense solutions. After a bitter primary, Republicans nominated a flawed candidate in Washington lobbyist David Jolly, who has admitted that he won’t change Washington.
  • IA-03: Following Tom Latham’s retirement, UVA’s Center for Politics and the Rothenberg Political Report moved this race to “tossup,” based on the fundamentals of this district that President Obama won in 2012 with 52 percent. The Iowa Republican Party is in a perpetual state of civil war, increasing the likelihood of a divisive primary that results in an unelectable nominee, and so far no obvious top-tier Republican candidate has emerged.
  • MT-AL: A field of Republicans have been running for months, increasing the likelihood of a divisive, ideological primary that would damage the eventual nominee. Democrats hold multiple statewide offices in Montana, and Roll Call named John Lewis – who was hired by Jim Messina before working as district director for Sen. Max Baucus – as one of “Six Democratic House Candidates with Plenty of Potential.”
  • NJ-03: Burlington County Freeholder and DCCC Jumpstart candidate Aimee Belgard announced her candidacy just one day after Jon Runyan made clear that he was too frustrated with the government shutdown and Republican gridlock to run for reelection.  While Democrats are united behind Belgard, more than a dozen Republicans are running, including failed Tea Party U.S. Senate Candidate Steve Lonegan. The Republicans are poised to fight a long primary battle to succeed Runyan in a district that President Obama won in 2008 (51.7 percent of the vote) and again in 2012 (52.3 percent).
  • PA-06: Jim Gerlach is the latest centrist lawmaker to abandon House Republicans in this district that President Obama won in 2008 with 53 percent, and nearly won in 2012. West Point graduate and businessman Michael Parrish will make a strong candidate, raising $100,000 in just two weeks. This district is in the same Philadelphia media market where the DCCC is targeting three other races—– NJ-03, NJ-02, and PA-08.
  • VA-10: Longtime Republican Congressman Frank Wolf’s retirement puts a seat in play in a region that has been trending rapidly toward Democrats. This district – made up of the moderate exurbs of Washington, D.C. – was hit particularly hard when House Republicans shut down the government and furloughed military families. Virginia Republicans are already poised to nominate a radical extremist candidate who stands far outside Virginia’s mainstream – just as they did during the 2013 statewide elections, with disastrous results. The Washington Post wrote this week that the “Race to succeed Virginia's Frank Wolf in Congress could feature sharp GOP divide.”
  • WV-02: Public accountant and community leader Nick Casey is running in this seat that Shelley Moore Capito is vacating. The University of Virginia’s Sabato Center for Politics called Casey “a strong contender,” and Casey’s likely Republican challenger is the former chair of the Maryland Republican Party who only recently moved to West Virginia from Maryland.

The Tea Party has taken over the Republican Party and their radical agenda that ignores the middle class and stacks the deck in favor of wealthy donors, special interests and corporations has become impossible to defend for moderate Republicans, causing them to head for the hills instead of face votes.

  • US News called the retirements an “Exodus of Moderate Republicans From Congress.”
  • NY Times wrote that because of “a steady trickle of Republican retirements and resignations, […] seats could now be in play.”
  • National Journal wrote that this is an “ever-growing list of moderate House GOP retirements” and concluded that this “development [is] sure to reinforce perceptions that the House GOP's centrist wing is in steep decline.”

What’s more, the Tea Party’s stranglehold on the Party is making it increasingly difficult for Republicans to nominate middle-of-the-road candidates in these vulnerable seats, and is instead saddling them with costly and divisive primaries.

  • The Hill recently wrote: “House Republicans worry they may be facing a Todd Akin problem as they seek to hold a number of open competitive seats.  […] And to the national party’s chagrin, many of those controversial candidates are already running or planning to – and if they emerge as the nominee, it could endanger the GOP’s hold on the critical seats.”

With less than 10 months until Election Day, the latest Republican-held open seats in the House have major consequences on the 2014 landscape: tilting the open seat playing field in favor of Democrats and sparking brutal, ideological primaries for the Republicans.