Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

50 Open Seats in Congress

In House, Reapportionment, Redistricting on February 3, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC-11) yesterday became the 34th sitting House member to announce he won’t seek re-election in the fall, just two days after he said he wouldn’t run in North Carolina’s newly open gubernatorial race. With Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton already jumping into the governor’s campaign to replace outgoing incumbent Bev Perdue as the Democratic nominee, there is some speculation that the state’s number two position might be a suitable political landing spot for the three-term congressman and former NFL football player. Mr. Shuler, however, gave no indication that he would immediately jump into another political contest.

Speculation has been rampant that he would retire ever since the North Carolina redistricting map was passed into law and the US Justice Department granted pre-clearance. With a good chunk of his Asheville Democratic base being transferred to Rep. Patrick McHenry’s (R) 10th District, Shuler was actually left with the most Republican-voting congressional district in the state.

Considering his dim prospects for re-election and the fact that he had raised campaign contributions from only two individuals during the entire fourth quarter of 2011, his announcement yesterday seemed anti-climactic.

Along with Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN-5), who earlier in the week said he would not seek a 16th term, the Shuler announcement means that 50 seats are transforming into open races during the current election cycle. One CD, that of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8) is vacant due to her resignation. A special election will be held June 12 to determine her replacement for the balance of the term. The others will be filled during the regular election.

Of the 34 members leaving the House at the end of this 112th Congress, 19 are opting for retirement while 15 seek different offices. Eleven of the latter 15 are running for the Senate; two for governor; one for president; and one for mayor of San Diego. Three members, Reps. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA-18), John Olver (D-MA-1), and Steve Austria (R-OH-7), find themselves in post-redistricting predicaments paired with another incumbent of their own party, hence the decision to retire. Since they were placed in a district with another incumbent, no open seat results in these three situations.

Reapportionment and redistricting have created an additional 19 open seats. The grand total of seats featuring no incumbent in 2012 is already 50, a very high number at this point in the election cycle. Of those open seats, nine are from California and six hail from Texas.

The open seats will also drastically change the complexion of the House. Even if no other member decides not to seek re-election, or none are defeated during the succeeding 2012 campaign – an unlikely outcome – a majority of the new House of Representatives will feature men and women who have served three terms or less. In fact, at least 225 members of the 113th Congress will have seniority of no more than six years. Even without the institution of universal term limits, the House is experiencing a rate of turnover that hasn’t been seen in more than a century.

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