Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Reverberations in Three House Seats

In Election Analysis on December 23, 2013 at 11:40 am

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Last week, three surprise retirement announcements from veteran Representatives rocked the House campaign world. At least two of the three seats will feature hot, toss-up-style campaigns. Representatives Tom Latham (R-IA-3), Frank Wolf (R-VA-10), and Jim Matheson (D-UT-4) all came forward Tuesday to reveal their individual decisions not to seek re-election.

IA-3

Iowa’s 3rd District stretches throughout the state’s southwestern sector, all the way to the Nebraska border. Rep. Tom Latham was first elected in 1994, but found himself paired last year with veteran Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) in a new Des Moines-anchored seat in which he previously represented only 16 percent of the constituency. Despite the geographical disadvantage and President Obama racking up a 51-47 percent win in the new 3rd, Rep. Latham stormed to an impressive 52.2-43.6 percent victory. With his toughest race now behind him, it’s surprising to see the 19-year congressional veteran calling it quits.

The succeeding open race will feature crowded primaries in both parties. Democrat Staci Appel, a former state senator, already had announced her intention to challenge Rep. Latham and has been campaigning for the past several months. Therefore, factoring in Appel’s head start, the Democratic field is better defined. State Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and state Sen. Matt McCoy also appear to be credible potential Democratic contenders.

Of the 14 Republicans described as at least possible candidates, seven have electoral histories including one current statewide official (Secretary of State Matt Schultz). Two are former state party officers, while the others are in private business, education, or were previous candidates. Some of the more notable names, in addition to Schultz, are: former state Senate president and congressional candidate Jeff Lamberti, West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer, state senator and former 2010 congressional nominee Brad Zaun, and former state Republican Party chairman Matt Strawn.

Overall, the quality of candidates and the mid-term turnout model should favor the GOP, while voting history falls toward the Democrats in a race without Latham running. The two eventual party nominees will enjoy abundant financial resources because this campaign will evolve into a must-win situation for both sides.

VA-10

With Rep. Frank Wolf retiring after what will be 34 years of representing Northern Virginia in Congress, it appears that the 10th District Republican Committee is moving toward holding a nominating convention instead of opting for a primary election. This most likely will help Loudon/Prince William County state Sen. Dick Black, a favorite of state Tea Party activists. At 72 years of age, and speaking on the Senate floor to express his sentiment that he does not believe it possible to define spousal rape as a crime, many Republicans are skeptical of his ability to win in November.

Another likely candidate is state Delegate Barbara Comstock (R), fresh from a hard-fought re-election victory in her marginal Fairfax-Loudon County district. Comstock is solidly conservative and likely has greater universal appeal than Sen. Black in terms of being a general election candidate in a politically marginal district (Mitt Romney carried this district 50-49 percent over President Obama in 2012).

With Delegate Tim Hugo (R) unlikely to run, another person of interest appears to be former US Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL-7). Davis moved to Virginia after losing a race for governor of Alabama. After his defeat and relocation, he switched his allegiance to the Republican Party.

For Democrats, Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust already had announced his candidacy even before Rep. Wolf decided to retire. Three others have also declared, but only Foust seems to be of serious political consequence.

Decisions made now to define the Republican nominating process will go a long way toward determining the outcome of this race.

UT-4

With Rep. Jim Matheson retiring after seven terms, Democrats have little chance of holding what should be a safe Republican seat (Romney ’12: 67 percent). So far, 2012 Republican nominee Mia Love (losing to Matheson 48-49 percent) and businessman Bob Fuehr (R) are the only individuals to have announced their candidacies.

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