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Roll Call

Aurora(s) and the Fight for the House

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
The new lines in Colorado reshaped Rep. Mike Coffman’s district from a safe Republican seat to one of the most competitive districts in the country.

Aurora, Colo., is a household name because of the recent tragic movie theater shootings. But come November, the city and some of the other Auroras around the country will help decide which party controls the House of Representatives next year.

There are actually close to two dozen Auroras of various shapes and sizes across the country, and a handful of them sit in some of the most competitive districts in the nation: Colorado’s 6th, Illinois’ 11th, Minnesota’s 8th, New York’s 27th and Wisconsin’s 7th.

President Barack Obama carried four out of the five districts in 2008 and should be competitive in each once again.

Sweeping these five districts wouldn’t guarantee Democrats the majority in the House, but it would be a sign that they are getting closer to the 25-seat net gain they need.

There are other Auroras of less than 200 people in competitive seats such as Iowa’s 1st district and Maine’s 2nd district, and Auroras in seats that could have been competitive if the two parties had done a better job of recruiting candidates, such as West Virginia’s 1st and Oregon’s 5th.

But the following five are at the epicenter of the battle for the House.

Colorado’s 6th District

Aurora, Colo. | Population: 325,000

Even before the recent tragedy, Aurora was moving into its own identity. During the redistricting process, it was clear that the court drawing the lines wanted the suburban Denver community to have its own district.

The new lines reshaped Rep. Mike Coffman’s (R) district from a safe Republican seat to one of the most competitive districts in the country.

For 24 years, the city had Republican mayors through the father-son combination of Ed and Paul Tauer. Steve Hogan, a Republican who had strong support from Democrats in the race against Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier (R), was elected mayor last year.

Aurora’s growing Hispanic population could give Republicans a headache for years to come in a district that President Barack Obama would have won with 54 percent in 2008.

The good news for Coffman is that he grew up in Aurora and faces Democrat Joe Miklosi, a state legislator who represents part of Denver, outside the 6th district. Coffman starts the general election with a considerable financial advantage: $1.8 million in cash on hand to Mikolsi’s $518,000 in cash on hand as of June 30. The Congressman doesn’t need to win Aurora to get re-elected, but he needs to keep the margin close and make up for that loss elsewhere in the district.

Illinois’ 11th District

Aurora, Ill. | Population: 198,000

Similar to its Colorado twin, Aurora, Ill., is likely to be an ongoing struggle for Republicans. The Chicago suburb is home to two of the most famous fictional public access television talk-show hosts in history, Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar, but it also has an exploding minority population, with growing numbers of Hispanic voters to go along with black voters.

Aurora was split between the 13th and 14th districts before Democrats redrew the map and put the city entirely within the 11th district. That’s where Rep. Judy Biggert (R) faces former Rep. Bill Foster (D), who lost in 2010, in November. Both candidates have represented portions of Aurora before.

Biggert is winning the cash battle, with $1.5 million in cash on hand compared with $1.3 million for Foster. But the Democrat has personal money he could spend, and President Barack Obama will do well in the district.

The Republican lawmaker has to hold her own in Aurora and compensate for the votes she’ll lose in the city by winning by larger margins in the eastern and southern portions of the district.

Both Biggert and Foster have voting records to defend, and this race should remain competitive, even though it’s in the president’s backyard.

New York’s 27th District

East Aurora, N.Y. | Population: 14,000

We’re stretching the parameters of the story a bit, but East Aurora, N.Y., is part of one of the most competitive districts in the country. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would have won the 27th district with 54 percent in 2008, and it is the most Republican seat in the Empire State. But Democrats are optimistic because they believe Rep. Kathy Hochul (D) is precisely the candidate who can hold it.

The former Erie County clerk, who was initially elected to Congress in a 2011 special election, will have to continue to win over and make a personal connection with voters who don’t care for President Barack Obama.

East Aurora is one of the Southtowns of Erie County: southwest of Buffalo, full of “squishy” Republicans, according to local observers, but lacking Walmart and Starbucks. It’s the type of town where presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Hochul’s challenger, former Erie County Executive Chris Collins, need to do well. But that is no guarantee. Hochul is from Hamburg, about 15 miles to the west, and is regarded as a very good retail politician.

Minnesota’s 8th District

Aurora, Minn. | Population: 1,700

This town is small, but it’s part of an important region for Democrats in the northeastern part of the state. Rural areas are typically more conservative and Republican, but not in the Iron Range.

The area is known for its tradition of organized labor through the mining community. St. Louis County (including Aurora) voted 65 percent for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004 and for President Barack Obama in 2008. The president would have won the redrawn 8th district with 53 percent.

Rep. Chip Cravaack is a top Democratic target and one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the country. But Democrats still have to choose a challenger in the Aug. 14 primary. Former Rep. Rick Nolan won the party endorsement at the convention and has the support of Gov. Mark Dayton and Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, but former state Sen. Tarryl Clark, who lost to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) in 2010, had 10 times the cash on hand as Nolan on
June 30.

Even though Nolan hasn’t been in office for more than two decades, he’s still a credible candidate. And there is some concern among Democrats that Clark won’t be able to run up the margins necessary to win in the Iron Range because she’s from Saint Cloud (outside the district) and is not one of them.

Wisconsin’s 7th District

Aurora, Wis. (Florence County) | Population: 1,100
Aurora, Wis. (Taylor County) | Population: 390

The 7th district has two Auroras, not to be confused with a third (population 970) located a few miles south in the 6th district. Rep. Sean Duffy (R) is running for re-election against former state Senate President Pat Kreitlow (D) in a district that President Barack Obama would have carried with 53 percent in 2008.

Florence County’s Aurora, an unincorporated town located in the northeastern corner of the district near the border with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is new to Duffy and is the type of rural area, with farming and timber communities, where he needs to do well. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won Florence County by 14 points four years ago, and President George W. Bush won it by 25 points in 2004.

Taylor County’s Aurora, another small community, is located farther south, near Wausau, a population hub of the 7th district. Bush won Taylor County by almost 20 points in 2004, but McCain carried it by less than 1 point four years ago.

Even though Obama won the district in 2008, Wisconsin has become one of the most polarized states in the country after going through the gubernatorial recall elections. Duffy finished June with more than $1.1 million in the bank compared with $451,000 for Kreitlow, and the Republican’s defeat in November could signal a larger trend in favor of Democrats nationwide.

Correction: Aug. 6, 2012

An earlier version of this article misidentified Steve Hogan's party identification.

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