By Hastings Wyman –
The Federal Election Commission reports for the 1st Quarter of this year are in, and the results show that at least four of the vulnerable US House incumbents have been stashing away ample campaign funds in case they have a serious challenge next year. The others, perhaps trusting that the political winds will be at their backs in 2016, are bringing in some funds, but not enough to scare off potential challengers.
Using the traditional test that if an incumbent was elected by 55% or less in the last election, then he or she is more likely to face a tough reelection battle, there are only six Southern members of the US House who are vulnerable. This does not include open seats, such as Florida 18 (Palm Beach, etc.), where sophomore Patrick Murphy is stepping down to run for the US Senate, or any other potentially open seats. We have included, however, two Virginia districts, the 2nd and the 10th, where the incumbents could see a significant challenge next year.
Because of the continuing GOP gains following the post-2010 redistricting, there is only one Democratic US representative who is currently in a competitive district. Freshman Gwen Graham (D) in Florida’s 2nd District (Tallahassee, etc.) won by an eyelash last year – 50.4% to 49.6% for incumbent Republican Steve Southerland. Moreover, a Floridian named Bush or Rubio could be on the national GOP ticket next year. So she’s not taking anything for granted. Graham raised $527,000 in the first three months of this year and had $507 million cash-on-hand as of March 31.
Another Florida freshman, US Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R) in the 26th District (Miami-Dade County), also elected by a slim margin – 51.5% to 48.5% – over scandal-plagued Democrat Joe Garcia, has raised even more money than Graham, bringing in $645,000 dollars in the 1st Quarter, with $690,000 on hand. So if there is no Floridian on the national GOP ticket and the presidential election brings out the Democratic base in force, Curbelo clearly wants to be prepared.
In Arkansas, however, two Republican freshmen have been slow on the intake. French Hill, in the 2nd District (Little Rock, etc.), was elected by 52% to 44% to an open seat last year, but he raised a less-than-impressive $95,000 in the 1st Quarter, with $122,000 on hand. And in the 4th District (Pine Bluff, etc.), Bruce Westerman, also in an open seat, garnered 54% to 43% for top-tier Democrat Jamie Witt; Westerman raised $37,000 in the 1st Quarter, less than any other vulnerable incumbent in the South. Perhaps the two GOPers are confident that their state’s marked trend to the GOP makes them less vulnerable than they appear on paper.
In Georgia’s 12th District (Augusta, etc.), freshman Republican Richard Allen won by 55% to Democratic incumbent John Barrow’s 45% in 2014; Allen raised a significant but not imposing $194,000 in the 1st Quarter, with $164,000 on hand. Barrow was the last white Democratic member of Congress from the Deep South, so Allen and the GOP may consider that the district has flipped more or less permanently.
In Texas in the 23rd District (between El Paso and San Antonio), freshman Republican Will Hurd, an African-American in a 55% Latino district, won by a slim 50% to 48% over freshman Pete Gallego (D). Hurd knows he will face a tough reelection battle, and is preparing accordingly, raising $509,000 in the 1st Quarter, with $505,000 on hand.
All of Virginia’s eleven members of the US House were elected last year with a higher percentage than the risky 55%, but two Republicans should be considered at least potentially vulnerable. The first is third-term Scott Rigell in the 2nd District (Virginia Beach, etc.), who was reelected last year with a solid 58%. Rigell, however, due in part to his propensity to veer from the party-line on occasion, is sometimes the target of ambitious critics in both parties. Since he is personally wealthy, he doesn’t have to raise a huge war chest. But he did raise $191,000 in the 1st Quarter and had $306,000 on hand. More problematic is freshman Barbara Comstock in the 10th District (Manassas, etc.), elected to an open, GOP-held seat with 57% last year. Comstock, however, is not only a freshman, but represents a district heavy with Washington, DC, suburbs, and in a presidential year, she could face a significant challenge, as well as a primary battle with the GOP rightwing. She appears to know this, and has acted accordingly, raising $403,000 in the 1st Quarter, with $380,000 on hand.