Feb. 5, 2016
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Robert Dold

The White Whales Live Another Day

They are the seats that always get away.

Like Captain Ahab’s everlasting search for the great white whale, parties pursue these House districts with a vengeance and without success every cycle.

On paper, these districts should be easy targets — the lowest-hanging fruit to pick off the national map. But for myriad reasons over the past decade — or decades, in some cases — the parties have failed to flip these seats, no matter how strong the recruit or how many millions of dollars are spent.

Last week, Arizona’s 8th district moved one step closer to becoming a white-whale seat for Republicans. The special election to replace ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) marked the GOP’s best chance to pick up the Tucson-based district, and their nominee lost by 8 points. This fall, Rep.-elect Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) will seek a full term in a district that is slightly more favorable to Democrats thanks to redistricting.

These white-whale districts represent a small collection of targeted seats that survived the wave elections of the past three cycles. They are Republicans who represent districts that overwhelmingly voted for President Barack Obama — as much as 61 percent. And they are Democrats, like Rep. Jim Matheson (Utah), in districts where the president received as little as 40 percent of the vote in 2008.

And much like the Arizona seat, redistricting has changed the prognosis for many of these seats. In some cases, mapmakers put these districts out of reach; in other cases, they’re more competitive than ever.

Democrats’ White-Whale Districts

Illinois' 10th District: Rep. Robert Dold

Freshman Rep. Robert Dold (R) has the dubious honor of representing the most Democratic district of any Member in the House Republican Conference.

Democrats have spent millions over the past few cycles to pick up this north suburban Chicago seat that Republicans have held for more than 30 years.

Republican Mark Kirk won a highly competitive open-seat race in 2000, then faced relatively easy re-elections until 2006, when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee didn’t even target the race despite the national wave that swept the party into power that cycle.

Marketing executive Dan Seals (D) has failed three times to win this seat. He lost in back-to-back Democratic wave years and then lost in 2010 when the seat was open because Kirk ran for Senate.

But Democrats will have their best shot yet to win the 10th district this year. The party controlled redistricting in Illinois, and the party redrew the district to make it more favorable. They even moved Dold’s wealthy Winnetka base out of the district to undercut his fundraising.

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