Who's Minding the House?

Redistricting Stacks Districts, Limits Choices

By Jim Cullen

Democrats face digitized obstacles in their attempts to regain control of the House of Representatives this year. The use of computerized databases to pinpoint partisan pockets of voters has made congressional gerrymandering such a science that out of 435 potential races, only 50-60 House districts are considered "up for grabs" this year and only about 20-30 of those seats are expected to be seriously contested this fall.

The House now has 228 Republicans and 204 Democrats, with one independent (Bernie Sanders of Vermont) who votes with the Dems on organization. There are two vacancies. Democrats need to pick up 13 seats to regain control of the House. That doesn't seem like much, but mid-decade redistricting in Texas threatens to eliminate six or seven Democratic incumbents and solidify GOP hold on Congress at least through 2011. Republican hardball tactics already have won at least one convert: Ralph Hall, conservative Democrat from northeast Texas, recently filed to run for re-election as a Republican, saying GOP leaders had refused to place money for his district in a spending bill and "the only reason I was given was I was a Democrat."

Democrats were less inclined to use their redistricting powers where they were able to do so. The Democrat-controlled California Assembly, for example, in 2001 opted to redraw district lines to protect incumbents. "The California redistricting ... cost the Democrats our best chance at winning back the House of Representatives," Brian Earl Watkins wrote for dailykos.com. "A fair redistricting would have won us about five to 10 more seats, at the cost of making our incumbents less secure." With election of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, an extra California redistricting is ruled out.

Dan Kusler of Americans for Democratic Action in Washington, D.C., said his group and other progressive organizations are pitching in where they can, but campaign professionals do not expect the House to turn over this year. "We'll try to pick up a couple seats and make a dent on it," he said.

Keith Goodman of 21st Century Democrats agreed that Congress is likely to stay in GOP hands, but even in congressional districts that are long shots, he said it's good to see Democratic challengers, because if they get several hundred volunteers working on getting out the vote in their districts, that will benefit other Democratic candidates up and down the ticket.

"Good candidates are out there tring to engage their communities and that's exciting and will help in the long term," said Goodman, whose group helps progressive candidates develop field organizations.

Using a model based on party preference in the past two elections, which the Center for Voting and Democracy claims was 99.9% successful in projecting winners in congressional races from 1996-2002, winners are projected in 359 districts this fall, with 213 House members set for a landslide, 106 projected to win comfortably and 40 others expected to win with perhaps a little sweat. Sixty other districts could switch with a strong challenger and 16 incumbents are ranked as "most vulnerable." Only three of the most vulnerable incumbents are Republicans; the rest are Democrats. (See projections at www.fairvote.org/2004/2004projections.htm.) The center promotes "full representation" or "proportional representation" voting, in which legislators are elected in multi-seat districts in proportion to their share of the vote.

While filing periods vary according to state laws, and some deadlines go well into the spring, most serious candidates already are raising funds and developing their organizations.

[Thanks to Brian Earl Watkins and Stephen Yellin whose reports at dailykos.com formed much of the basis for this roundup.]

There will be at least three special elections to fill vacant seats before the general election.

In Kentucky's 6th District, Democrats have high hopes Ben Chandler, the state's attorney general, can win the seat Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R) gave up when he was elected governor. The GOP nominee, state Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, is backed by Sen. Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who on Feb. 3 threatened not to let a tobacco buyout plan get to the House floor unless Kerr was elected on Feb. 17.

In South Dakota, Stephanie Herseth, a 32-year-old lawyer who lost in 2002 with 45.6% of the vote to former Gov. Bill Janklow, has a good shot to win the June 1 special election for the seat Janklow gave up after his manslaughter conviction. Former Rep. John Thune passed on the race to challenge Sen. Tom Daschle.

A third special election is expected in Louisiana's 3rd District, where Rep. Billy Tauzin, a Cajun Republican, is leaving the House and is expected to lobby for the pharmaceutical industry. Potential candidates include Republican former House Speaker Hunt Downer, who got 6% in the 2003 race for governor, and Democrats Charlie Melancon, American Sugar Co. president, and state Sen. Reggie Dupre. The South Louisiana district tends to vote Republican (Tauzin switched parties in 1994) but conservative Democrats still win local elections.


early forms for the general election go like this:

Alabama -- Mike Rogers (R) is vulnerable in the Montgomery-based 3rd District. Potential Democratic challengers include Joe Turnham, whom Rogers beat with 50.3% in 2002, and Calhoun County Circuit Judge Joel Laird.

Arizona -- Rep. Rick Renzi won his first term with 49.2% of the vote in the Flagstaff-based 1st District, which leans Democratic. His likely challenger is former Flagstaff mayor Paul Babbitt, brother of the former governor.

Arkansas -- Rep. Vic Snyder (D) is vulnerable in District 1 and Rep. Mike Ross (D) is vulnerable in District 4.

California -- Rep. Doug Ose (R) is quitting after three terms, giving Democrats an opportunity in District 3, which went 54% for Bush in 2000. Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D) is vulnerable in District 18.

Colorado -- the state Supreme Court overturned a GOP gerrymander that tried to create safe seats for GOP Congress members. That left at least two competitive districts: District 2, Rep. Mark Udall (D), and the suburban Denver 7th District, which leans Democratic but Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) won by 122 votes in 2002. Democratic challengers include Jefferson County Attorney Dave Thomas and state Sen. Ed Perlmutter. Rep. Scott McInnis is retiring from the 3rd District (Western Slope), setting up what should be a competitive race, with coalbed methane drilling and exporting water to Denver testing the loyalty of GOP ranchers and rural residents.

Connecticut -- Rep. Rob Simmons (R) represents the 2nd District, which voted for Gore by 18%. Simmons beat an incumbent Democrat in 2000 and held off a challenger by 8% in 2002. This year Democrats seeking to challenge Simmons include former state Rep. Shaun McNally and former Norwich City Councilman Jim Sullivan. Rep. Chris Shays (R) is entrenched in the 4th District that went to Gore by 10 points in 2000, but Westport Selectwoman Diane Farrell should be a serious challenger. Rep. Nancy Johnson's 5th District voted for Gore by almost 10 points, so the Republican is vulnerable to a serious challenger, but this is an expensive district to campaign in.

Delaware -- the book says Rep. Michael Castle (R) is vulnerable in the at large district but since winning the seat in 1992 the former governor has coasted to re-election.

Florida -- Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite is vulnerable in northwest coast District 5 after winning in 2002 with 47.9% but the best contender, former Rep. Karen Thurman, chose not to seek a rematch. First-term Rep. Katherine Harris will get another challenge in the Sarasota-based 13th District, which she won with 54.8% in 2002, but voters overwhelmingly favor the GOP in statewide races. Rep. Clay Shaw (R) is vulnerable on paper in southeast coastal District 22 but he won in a walk in 2002.

Georgia -- Rep. Jim Marshall (D) is vulnerable in Macon-based District 3. Freshman Rep. Phil Gingrey (R) is vulnerable after winning with 51.6% in the northwest 11th District in 2002. Potential Democratic challengers include Rick Crawford, Polk County chief magistrate, and Cathy Henson, former State Board of Education member. Rep. Max Burns (R) is vulnerable in east District 12. At least five Democrats are looking at that race, including State Labor Commissioner Mike Thurmond. Also, former Rep. Cynthia McKinney, a progressive who flirted with the Green Party, will try to win back the suburban Atlanta 4th District from first-term Rep. Denise Majette, a conservative Democrat who beat McKinney with 58.3% in 2002, helped by a GOP crossover vote in the open Democratic primary.

Idaho -- Rep. Mike Simpson (R) is vulnerable in eastern District 2, but cruised to re-election in 2000 and 2002.

Illinois -- nobody appears vulnerable after redistricting in 2001 wrought a 10-9 Republican majority but Democrats regained control of the Legislature and governor's office and could open up redistricting. Meanwhile, Rep. Phil Crane (R) faces a likely rematch with Melissa Bean, whom he beat with 57.4% in 2002 in the northwest Cook County 8th District.

Indiana -- Chris Chocola (R) won by only five points in the South Bend-based 2nd District, which should still be very competitive with 2002 Democratic nominee Jill Long Thompson talking about a rematch and county prosecutor Michael Dvorak also looking at the race. Rep. John Hostettler (R) represents the "Bloody 8th" District, which he won by only five points after redistricting made it more Democratic. College and professional basketball coach Jon Jennings looks like a tough challenger. Rep. Julia Carson (D) is vulnerable in District 7. Rep. Baron Hill (D) is among the most vulnerable and will face Mike Sodrel in a Bloomington-based 9th District rematch of the close 2002 race, which Hill won by five points.

Iowa will likely have four competitive races out of five districts in the state, the product of a non-partisan redistricting process. Rep. Jim Nussle (R) will get a challenge from former state Sen. Bill Gluba in the Davenport-based 1st District, which voted 52% for Gore in 2000. Rep. Jim Leach (R) will get a challenge from Dave Franker in the Cedar Rapids-based 2nd District, which has a Democratic lean. Democrats must protect four-term Rep. Leonard Boswell (D), who will probably get a rematch with Stan Thompson, whom Boswell beat with 53.4% in the Des Moines-based 3rd District. Rep. Tom Lathan faces a challenge from either John Norris, whom Latham beat with 54.8% in 2002, or Amanda Ragan, a state senator and nonprofit group executive director. (In the rural western Iowa 5th District, home of The Progressive Populist, Rep Steve King (R) faces little threat but five Democrats are still lining up to challenge him.)

Kansas -- Democrats hope to protect Dennis Moore in the suburban Kansas City 3rd District. After the GOP Legislature stuck him with Republican Johnson County, Moore relied on a strong turnout in Kansas City, Kan., and other Democratic areas to pull out his 50.2% win in 2002.

Kentucky -- Besides Fletcher's old district, vulnerable Republicans include five-term Rep. Edward Whitfield in western Kentucky District 1 and Anne Northrup (rated most vulnerable) in Louisville-based District 3. Northrup faces Democrat Tony Miller, the popular Jefferson County circuit court judge who ran in 2003 for lieutenant governor. Democrats have their work cut out holding north Kentucky District 4, where Rep. Ken Lucas (D) is retiring after three terms in a district that went 60% for Bush in 2002. Nick Clooney, father of actor George and a TV personality in the Ohio-Kentucky area, will be the Democratic nominee and the GOP will have a three-way primary.

Louisiana -- Democrat Rodney Alexander in northeast/central District 5 is rated most vulnerable and Republican Richard Baker in Baton Rouge-based District 6 is rated vulnerable.

Maine -- Michael Michaud (D) is vulnerable in District 2.

Massachusetts -- John Tierney (D) vulnerable in District 6.

Michigan -- Rep. Nick Smith (R) is retiring after six terms from the Battle Creek-based 7th District. Smith was offered a bribe on the House floor during the unprecedented three-hour vote on the Medicare deform bill, when Republicans reportedly threatened Smith's son, who is running for the GOP nomination. Democrats are having trouble finding a strong nominee. Also vulnerable is Rep. Bart Stupak (D) in District 1.

Minnesota -- freshman Rep. John Kline (R) won a close race in southern Twin Cities suburban District 2 with 53% against redistricted incumbent Rep. Bill Luther (DFL) in 2002. The district leans Republican but Burnsville city councilwoman Teresa Daly (D) is expected to give Kline a race. Also vulnerable is Rep. Collin Peterson (D) in western District 7.

Missouri -- In Kansas City-based District 5, Jamie Metzl, a progressive who served in the Clinton White House, is seeking McCarthy's old seat. In the South St. Louis-based 3rd District, Jeff Smith and Russ Carnahan, son of the late governor and former senator, are progressives in an eight-person Democratic race for Dick Gephardt's old seat. Rep. Ike Skelton is vulnerable in west central District 4.

Mississippi -- Rep. Gene Taylor (D) is vulnerable in District 4.

Nebraska -- Rep. Doug Bereuter (R) is retiring after 13 terms in the Lincoln-based 1st District. The district leans Republican, but Democrats think they can be competitive with state Sen. Matt Connealy.

Nevada -- freshman Rep. Jon Porter won the suburban Las Vegas 3rd District with 56.1% in 2002, helped by his Democratic rival's ethics problems. A strong Democrat should shift this race to a tossup. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) is vulnerable in District 1.

New Hampshire -- Rep. Charles Bass (R) is vulnerable in District 2.

New Jersey -- sophomore Rep. Mike Ferguson (R) will face a challenge from investment banker and retired Marine Lt. Col. Stephen Brozak in the north central 7th District. Brozak is a conservative Democrat who supported the war in Iraq and even returned to active duty to do his part there last year. Rep. Frank LoBiondo and James Sexton also are in vulnerable districts.

New Mexico -- Dems see a possible pickup in the 1st District (Albuquerque), where Rep. Heather Wilson (R), notorious from the Sierra Club's "Dirty Dozen" list, won with 50.3% in 2000 and 55.3% in 2002. Richard Romero is expected to run again, but the Greens also are expected to run a candidate, which would complicate Democrats' chances. In the 2nd District, Rep. Steve Pearce (R) won with 56.2% in 2002 but is seen as vulnerable as Democrats will be energized to take the state for their presidential nominee. Rep. Tom Udall is vulnerable in District 3.

New York -- Rep. Tim Bishop (R) is ranked "most vulnerable" in District 1 and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D) is vulnerable in District 4.

North Carolina -- In Winston-Salem-based 5th District, Rep. Richard Burr (R) is running for the US Senate, and the Democrats have a strong candidate in Surry County Commissioner Jim Harell Jr. but the district is very strongly Republican. In the Asheville-based 11th, Rep. Charles Taylor (R) has a GOP-leaning district, but is saddled with a banking scandal and he will face Patsy Keever, a Buncombe County commissioner and a strong candidate in her own right. Rep. Robin Hayes (R) is vulnerable in Charlotte-based District 8 but three Dems got late starts in fundraising. Rep. Bob Etheridge (D) in District 2, and Brad Miller (D) in District 13 also are vulnerable.

North Dakota -- Duane Sand will challenge Rep. Earl Pomeroy instead of Sen. Byron Dorgan. Pomeroy won his sixth term in 2002 with 52.4% in a state Bush won handily. Pomeroy is ranked "most vulnerable."

Ohio -- Rep. Steve Chabot (R) in District 1, Rep. Ted Strickland (D) in District 6, Sherrod Brown (D) in District 13 and Timothy Ryan (D) in District 17 are vulnerable. (Strickland is "most vulnerable.")

Oklahoma -- Democrats hope to keep the "Little Dixie" 2nd District seat that Brad Carson is giving up to run for Senate.

Oregon -- Rep. David Wu (D) in District 1 and Darlene Hooley (D) in District 5 are vulnerable.

Pennsylvania -- Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) is vulnerable in the southeastern 6th District; wealthy lawyer Lois Murphy is expected to be the Democratic challenger in the district, which went for Gore in 2000. In the 13th (northeast Philly), where incumbent Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D) is running for the Senate, a Democratic primary is likely with state Sen. Allyson Schwartz the progressive Democrat in a marginal district. In Allentown-based District 15, which Rep. Pat Toomey (R) is giving up to run for the Senate, the seat is seen as a tossup. Joe Driscoll is the best-known Democrat but faces a primary contest. Rep. Tim Holden (D) narrowly survived in the east central 17th District in 2002, in a district that gave Bush a 15% margin in 2000, and Republicans will have a spirited primary, including legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno's son, Scott, and retired Major Gen. Bill Lynch.

South Carolina -- Rep. John Spratt (D) is "most vulnerable" in District 5.

South Dakota -- Stephanie Herseth is favored to win a seat formerly held by former Gov. Bill Janklow, who was convicted of manslaughter.

Tennessee -- Rep. Lincoln Davis (R) is vulnerable in District 4.

Texas is difficult because Republicans have redrawn congressional districts to unseat Democratic incumbents and created seven takeover opportunities. Democrats are seeking to protect Max Sandlin, Nick Lampson, Chris Bell, Lloyd Doggett, Martin Frost, Chet Edwards and Charlie Stenholm.

Utah -- Republicans get another shot at two-term Rep. Jim Matheson (D), whom they tried to redistrict out of a job in 2002 by stretching his compact 458-mile Salt Lake City district into a 46,000-square mile monster that stretches into the mostly GOP southern part of the state, only to see him eke out a win with 49.4%. While all of Utah's Republican delegation voted to resume nuclear testing in Nevada 2002 and 2003, Matheson represents the areas hardest hit from the fallout downwind from nuclear testing.

Virginia -- Rep. Rick Boucher (D) is vulnerable in District 9 and has drawn opposition from Kevin Triplett (R), an ex-NASCAR official and former journalist. Dems' best hope for a takedown is in south central District 5, where Rep. Virgil Goode, who switched to the GOP in 2002, faces Al Weed, a moderate D, rural preservation activist and winegrowing pioneer.

Washington -- Spokane-based 5th District in eastern Washington is open as Rep. George Nethercutt (R) runs for the Senate and the leading Democrat seems to be Don Barbieri, retired former CEO of Westcoast Hospitality hotel chain. Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R)'s surprise retirement sets up a tossup in the Seattle suburban 8th District, where Democrat Alex Alben, a retired Internet executive, already was raising funds. Possible Republican candidates include former governor candidate John Carlson, former pro football player Jeff Kemp and King County Sheriff David Reichert. Democrats Jay Inslee in the 1st District, Rick Larsen in the 2nd and Brian Baird in the 3rd District are vulnerable.

Wyoming leans Republican but Democrat Ron Akin might seek a rematch with Rep. Barbara Cubin (R) in the state's at-large district. Cubin beat Akin 60.5% to 36.2% in 2002, but she drew some attention with her 2003 House floor remarks contrasting her "blue-eyed, blond" sons with African Americans in trustworthiness to carry a gun, Brian Earl Watkins noted, and Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal may give Akin credibility on his signature issue of coalbed methane extractors' abuse of Wyoming agriculture.

For a list of candidates in each state see www.politics1.com.

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