Democrats Face Tough Holds in Open House Seats: Owens Adds One

Seventeen House Republicans so far have announced plans to retire or seek other office this year, compared with 10 Democrats.

While Republicans have more so-called “open” districts to defend in the November election, Democrats have some of the toughest ones to defend.

The point is underscored by Democratic Rep. Bill Owens of New York saying today that he won’t seek a second full term in a competitive district that includes Watertown, Plattsburgh and Lake Placid.

Owens’s district, the 21st, backed President Barack Obama by 52-46 percent in the 2012 election, according to data compiled by Political Capital. Owens won by 50-48 percent in the 13th closest House race of the 2012 election in terms of percentage point margins.

The Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg Political Report, both nonpartisan election analysts, have moved New York’s 21st to the tossup category.

The two toughest open-seat holds probably are on the Democratic side. Retiring Rep. Jim Matheson’s Utah district gave Obama just 30 percent of the vote in 2012, and retiring Rep. Mike McIntyre’s North Carolina constituency gave the president 40 percent support.

Political analyst Stu Rothenberg, in a column that appeared this morning before Owens’s announcement, ranked Matheson’s district as the open seat most likely to flip and McIntyre’s district as the second most-likely open seat to shift in party control.

To be sure, Republicans will be hard-pressed to defend the districts of retiring Reps. Tom Latham of Iowa, Jon Runyan of New Jersey, Frank Wolf of Virginia and Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania, all of whom are retiring. They rank third through sixth on Rothenberg’s list, respectively.

Yet those are the only four “open” Republican districts thus far that Obama didn’t lose by at least 10 percentage points. (The president narrowly won the Latham and Runyan districts and narrowly lost the Wolf and Gerlach districts). Most of the open Republican open seats are in political terrain that’s favorable to that party. With Democrats needing a net gain of 17 seats to win a majority, they need more retirements in competitive Republican-held districts and to limit retirements in competitive districts they hold.

A divided Republican Party would improve Democratic prospects. Owens first won his seat in 2009 after Republican leaders backed one candidate and the state’s Conservative Party sided with a different candidate, as Bloomberg’s Jonathan D. Salant reported at the time.

This compilation doesn’t include Florida’s vacant, Republican-held 13th District, which Democrat Alex Sink, the state’s former chief financial officer, will face the winner of a three-candidate Republican primary that’s being held today. The district was vacated by the death of Bill Young last October. A Democratic win would bring the party one seat closer to a majority in the House, which Republicans now control by 233-200.

Look for some more retirements to trickle in between now and the end of the first quarter, as primaries and more filing deadlines approach.

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