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2014 Could Bring a Political Novelty: A More Limited House Playing Field

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
NRCC Chairman Walden said last week that the field of competitive House seats had fallen into the 40s from a much larger number in 2010.

The 2014 playing field of competitive House races could be the smallest in a decade.

While recruiting efforts, retirements and other political and legislative developments during the next year will heavily determine the final House map, the cycle begins with a reduced number of competitive-looking seats.

There are fewer members out of step with their district’s partisan lean, it is the second election after lines were redrawn in redistricting, and the number of open seats will likely be more limited than in recent years.

Based on 2012 data, there are 16 Republican members in seats President Barack Obama won and nine Democratic members in seats Mitt Romney won — a much smaller universe than in recent memory. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon said last week that the field of competitive seats had fallen into the 40s from a much larger number in 2010.

Last cycle’s redistricting served as a sort of political realignment after three successive wave elections produced a higher-than-usual number of members who were political misfits with their districts.

“Between ’06, ’08 and ’10, almost all the [political] outliers were swept out,” said GOP strategist Brock McCleary, who was in charge of polling for the NRCC last cycle. “As it starts, there just are not a bevy of opportunities on either side.”

Democrats, who need a net gain of 17 seats to regain the majority, disagree and see a broad swath of targetable Republicans.

“There are a number of opportunities where Republicans are out of step with their districts and vulnerable,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Deputy Executive Director Jesse Ferguson said. “The field expands as the GOP majority continues to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

The DCCC believes there are as many as 52 seats held by Republicans that can reasonably be targeted and could be put into play.

That’s a stretch, but in the 22 months before the elections, a lot could change.

To expand the playing field, the DCCC has been working in overdrive to recruit candidates, getting an earlier start than redistricting allowed last cycle. DCCC Chairman Steve Israel of New York began making recruiting calls for 2014 as early as election night 2012.

And Democrats think intraparty strife in the Republican-controlled House, divided between pragmatic and principled wings, could plant the seeds of a winning narrative. If 2012 was a referendum on Obama, they expect 2014 to be a referendum on an unpopular GOP-controlled House.

“The Republicans are dealing with such internal chaos on the House side,” said Jef Pollock, an influential Democratic pollster. “When you look at ... what is going on every time we have a big issue, from [Speaker John A. Boehner’s failed] plan B to the fiscal cliff to fiscal cliff II, it’s just like chaos.”

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