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On the surface, the recent slew of House Republican retirements from competitive districts should boost Democrats’ hopes of winning the majority in 2014.
But a closer look at these newly open seats shows that House Democrats haven’t caught a big break — at least not yet.
Two longtime House Democrats announced retirements on Wednesday, and one of those departures — Rep. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina — will surely hand his seat to the GOP. House Democrats must win a net of 17 seats to take the speaker’s gavel, and retirements so far have only offered the minority limited hope of accomplishing that.
Twelve House members have announced their retirements so far without seeking other office — nine Republicans, and three Democrats. President Barack Obama won only three of those districts in 2012, plus the vacant 13th District in Florida.
Democrats plan to shift their focus to the open-seat races created by moderate Republican retirements in a smattering of districts across the country.
“For us as a party, to be fighting for House seats in places that Barack Obama won or barely lost is always going to be better than fighting for places where Romney won big,” said Democratic consultant Travis Lowe, a former top Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee aide.
But even those districts mark difficult opportunities for Democrats — at least in a midterm cycle. The party’s top pickup opportunities in open seats currently are:
• Florida’s 13th District special election. Republicans have a primary, and Democrats have a strong candidate who’s also a prolific fundraiser in this quickly approaching March 11 contest.
• Iowa’s 3rd District. Obama won this district by 4 points, and Democrats had already coalesced behind a recruit to challenge now-retiring GOP Rep. Tom Latham.
• New Jersey’s 3rd District. Obama won this district with 52 percent. Democrats already have a recruit here; meanwhile Republicans are battling a perennial conservative, Steve Lonegan, who could spoil the GOP’s chances of keeping the seat.
• Virginia’s 10th District. Obama lost this district by a small margin, but the demographics of the district favor Democrats more each cycle.
Democrats could also shoot for another recently open seat in southeastern Pennsylvania — that of GOP Rep. Jim Gerlach. But without presidential-cycle turnout, Democrats face an uphill campaign in a district Mitt Romney carried with a 3-point margin.
By comparison, McIntyre and another Blue Dog retiree, Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah, are leaving districts that will be slam dunks for Republicans to pick up in 2014. Romney carried those districts by 19 percent and 40 percent margins, respectively.
“Two seats just evaporated for them. So basically they need 19 seats rather than 17,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Daniel Scarpinato. “That’s a significant increase when you look at the overall playing field.”