2014 Toss-Up Races: Part Two of a Three-Part Series
Last week, the two Republican toss-up seats were
profiled. Today, we look at the five toss-up seats held by Democrats in
Arizona, California, Florida, North Carolina and Utah.
Arizona’s 2nd Congressional district
In May 2012, Ron Barber (D) succeeded his former boss
when he won a special election over Republican Jesse Kelly. An election was
called following Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ (D) resignation from Congress after
being critically injured by a gunshot wound to the head during an assassination
attempt. Barber was also injured in the same attack. Once sworn in, the former
district director, now Congressman, dispelled the rumors of being a “caretaker”
for the seat when he announced his intentions to seek a full term in November.
When Kelly decided against a general election rematch,
Republicans selected Martha McSally as their nominee. McSally is a retired U.S.
Air Force colonel and has the distinction of being the first female fighter
pilot to fly in combat, and first to command a fighter squadron in combat. Even
though voters personally liked McSally, she was not able to defeat Barber. In
July, McSally announced her decision to run again, setting the stage for a
AZ-2 leans Republican (R+3). In the last two presidential
elections, Sen. John McCain (R) and Gov. Mitt Romney (R) narrowly beat
President Barack Obama (D) by 0.9% and 1.5%, respectively. Recent polling
for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) finds McSally
already pulling to within one point (45-46%) of the Congressman. The polling
margin is almost identical to the November result. In the actual campaign, Mr.
Barber eked out a 50.4 - 49.6% win, a margin of just 2,454 votes of more than
292,000 ballots cast.
California’s 52nd Congressional district
The Nov. 6 runoff between Congressman Brian Bilbray (R)
and Port of San Diego Commissioner Scott Peters (D) was one of the closest
congressional races last election cycle. How did Bilbray, a seven-term
incumbent, lose his re-election when in previous cycles he had won by
comfortable margins? Simply put, redistricting. The independent state board
that redrew California’s congressional districts made CA-52 more Democratic
when it included more liberal areas around San Diego like La Jolla. In just one
election cycle, this district went from leaning Republican (R+2) to leaning
Democratic (D+2). This four-point swing in a presidential election year,
coupled with Bilbray’s unpopularity, was enough for Peters to eke out a
Republicans are eager to bring this seat back into their
column and have found a top recruit – former City Councilman and mayoral
candidate Carl DeMaio. According to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report,
“Nationally, it's hard to find a recruit Republicans are more excited about
than DeMaio. DeMaio isn't your typical GOP candidate - he is pro-choice,
stresses the environment, backs gay marriage and is openly gay himself.”
So far, voters are responding to DeMaio’s
“anti-government-waste” message. DeMaio is proving to not only be a strong
fundraiser, but is also polling well - two surveys actually posted DeMaio ahead
of Peters by 10 and 11 points from data collected two months apart. However,
don’t count Peters out, as he is likely to have considerable financial support
to defend this seat. His wife is part of a wealthy family and they have joint
assets which have been valued at $86 million. Peters tapped these funds in 2012
by loaning himself $2.7 million. Organized labor will also heavily back Peters
since DeMaio angered many unions by pushing pension reform while on the city
Florida’s 26th Congressional district
The third time’s the charm for Rep. Joe Garcia (D). After
two unsuccessful bids, Garcia finally won election to Congress in 2012 after
defeating freshman Rep. David Rivera (R) with more than 53% of the vote. Had
Rivera not been scandal-plagued and on the verge of indictment, it’s likely
this race would have had a different outcome.
FL-26 is a new congressional district created as a result
of redistricting. It is a Hispanic/Latino majority district and includes all of
Monroe County (from the Everglades down to Key West) as well as southwest
Miami-Dade County (Homestead area). It is the only district in the country to
have voted for McCain in 2008 and Obama in 2012. Currently, it has a slight
Republican advantage (R+1).
Given Garcia’s rough start to his congressional career
and the district demographics, Republicans have made him one of their top 2014
targets. Vying for the Republican nomination is Miami Dade School Board member
Carlos Curbelo, Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall and former Miami-Dade Commission
Chair Joe Martinez.
North Carolina’s 7th Congressional district
In 2012, NC-7 had the closest finish of any U.S. House
race. Rep. Mike McIntyre (D) was re-elected to a ninth-term over former state
Senator David Rouzer (R) with a mere 654-vote margin from more than 336,000
ballots cast. What makes McIntyre’s re-election unusual is that it was in a strongly
Republican district (R+12) that voted for McCain (57.6%) and Romney (59.1%) in
the last two presidential elections.
Having been born, raised, educated and employed in the
state has given McIntyre the ability to relate with ease to his constituents.
He is a “known commodity” to them and Republicans have felt comfortable
re-electing him. Will Rouzer be able to overcome this? Currently, his path to
the Republican nomination is clear. This was not the case in 2012 as a bruising
primary created a fractured party ahead of the general election. Rouzer
struggled and found it tough to raise the necessary funds to take on the
incumbent. As a result, the NRCC had to come to the rescue with significant ad
buys. With Rouzer already running again and facing a mid-term turnout model
without President Obama leading the Democratic ticket makes McIntyre one of the
most endangered Democrats in Congress.
Utah’s 4th Congressional district
Democrat Jim Matheson was first elected in 2000 to
Congress and represented constituents in the state’s 2nd district.
When redistricting split his old seat up in 2012, Matheson opted to run in the
state’s newly created 4th district.
UT-4 consists of Salt Lake City’s southern suburbs and is
the 53rd most Republican House district (R+16). Almost 70% of its
voters voted for Romney in 2012. When Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, an
African American Mormon (who after her GOP Convention speech was billed as a
rising star), sought the nomination, Republicans believed they found the
challenger who could defeat Matheson. However, contrary to almost all polls
taken in advance of the election, Matheson defeated Love by just 768 votes.
How did the Congressman outperform Obama by almost 34,000
votes? According to the Cook Political Report, “Some point towards a
"Bradley effect" (Love is Haitian-American), while others say tacit
support for Matheson from LDS Church elders in the final month of the race
reinforced that he was the choice of longtime Utahans, while the more recent
transplant Love was already leaving the state for the national stage.” Whatever
the case may be, Love has decided to try again. While the midterm electorate
would normally benefit Love, Matheson will be helped by not having Romney on
the top of the ticket.
Featured next week are the toss-up Senate races.
For more information, contact David Ashinoff
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