Are These 10 Vulnerable Members Lucky or Good?
All’s fair in love and . . . House races? Not so much.
Less than three weeks before Election Day, would-be safe incumbents such as Reps. Lee Terry, R-Neb., and Brad Schneider, D-Ill., are scrambling to win in partisan districts — while these 10 members are headed for victory in otherwise competitive districts.
Some are blessed with luck. Others create it for themselves. It’s your call which is which.
Here are the luckiest — er, slickest — incumbents of 2014, in alphabetical order:
Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich.
2nd term (2012 margin: 0.5 percent)
Benishek won by the narrowest of margins in 2012, and Democrats started gunning for his seat early this cycle. They enlisted veteran Jerry Cannon, but his campaign never took off. At the same time, Republicans argue Benishek improved his campaign. Facing a strong environment for the GOP, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and its ally, House Majority PAC, pulled ad reservations there a couple weeks ago.
Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call Race Rating:
Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill.
1st term (2012 margin: 6.6 percent)
Bustos earned a reputation as a freshman Democrat who runs competent campaigns. But Republicans insisted Illinois’ 17th District was less friendly to Democrats during a midterm. She faces a rematch with former Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Ill. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is dragging down Democrats all over the state, and recently, Bustos struggled in the local press. Despite this, the National Republican Congressional Committee — or any other major GOP player — has not spent significantly on television to oust Bustos.
Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill.
1st term (2012 margin: 0.3 percent)
After an incumbent suddenly resigned after the primary in 2012, county leaders gave Davis the GOP nod in this swing district. Democrats, meanwhile, landed a perennial candidate as their nominee who eventually lost to Davis by a minuscule margin. In 2014, Democrats marked the district as a top target, calling former Judge Ann Callis a great recruit. But Davis survived a primary challenge and proved to be a prolific fundraiser. Meanwhile, Callis never lived up to the hype and fell to the undertow of Quinn’s unpopularity.
Republican Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y.
2nd term (2012 margin: 5.6 percent)
Earlier this cycle, Republicans pointed to Gibson as the incumbent they fretted the most, thanks to a his self-funding opponent, Democrat Sean Eldridge. But Gibson proved to be a juggernaut fundraiser, often keeping pace with Eldridge. And Eldridge never recovered from a devastating New York Times profile of him and his husband, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.
Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev.
2nd term (2012 margin: 7.5 percent)
Heck won by a solid margin in 2012, but President Barack Obama narrowly carried the district — so Democrats smelled blood. They touted Democratic National Committeewoman Erin Bilbray, the daughter of a congressman, as a top recruit. But like Callis and Cannon, she never got a foothold. And, given the expensive Las Vegas television market, this is not a race where a political committee could throw around money to test the waters.
Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla.
1st Term (
Special-election margin: 1.9 percent)
Jolly upset former Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink in a March special election. Sink passed on a second run, and Democrats spectacularly flopped with their replacement recruit, who reportedly flubbed his education credentials. Today, Democrats confess to Sunshine State triskaidekaphobia: fear of Florida 13.
Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio
1st term (2012 margin: 15.3 percent)
Like Davis, Joyce got his party’s nod from local GOP officials last cycle, after former Rep. Steven C. LaTourette abruptly retired. Joyce racked up strong early fundraising, and Democrats were never pumped about their chances anywhere in the state. The freshman essentially put away this one away early.
Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla.
1st term (
Republicans never fielded a blue-chip recruit in South Florida’s 18th District, but Murphy has blown away party elders with his fundraising. He took the votes necessary to earn a U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsement and is a favorite among leadership. Murphy deployed that money in an ad campaign that presented him as the consummate independent political player. With nearly $900,000 in the bank at the beginning of October, Murphy’s cash-on-hand advantage was 10 times that of his Republican challenger, Carl Domino.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.
1st term (2012 margin:
Sinema, like Murphy, made her own luck in her first term in a competitive district. She posted strong fundraising numbers, joined the Blue Dog Coalition and worked overtime to cultivate a moderate image. She attracted a weak opponent in the expensive Phoenix media market. Republicans hoped she would ditch her district to run for retiring Rep. Ed Pastor’s nearby seat this cycle, giving them a clear shot — but Sinema stayed put. Now some Republicans say their best shot at 9th District will be if Sinema runs for Senate.
Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y.
2nd term (2012 margin: 3.8 percent)
Republicans were not happy with Reed’s narrow margin in 2012, and Democrats were bullish on their recruit, New York county legislator Martha Robertson. But southern New York is likely to prove unfriendly to Democrats this cycle, and Robertson is one of the most progressive Democratic challengers of the cycle. But also, some Republicans say that Reed has simply improved as a candidate, while other GOP operatives reman worried abut the future.
Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif.
1st term (2012 margin:
Democrats failed to nominate a top recruit to challenge Valadao in 2012, so they wanted to nominate a top contender, Amanda Renteria, this cycle. But a rough climate for Democrats led the DCCC to cut its advertising in the 21st District. Democrats still view Renteria a strong contender — this was just not her year. Should she make another run at the seat in a presidential cycle, Valadao’s luck could run out.