Republicans are trying to recruit a strong challenger against Congressman Leonard Boswell, and by the end of the year State Senator Brad Zaun, former Iowa GOP head Mike Mahaffey, or perhaps some other prominent figure will throw his hat in the ring. However, I continue to believe that Iowa’s third Congressional district will not be a close contest next year, and I’ll explain why after the jump.
Yesterday Crisitunity published a new list of vulnerable House seats at Swing State Project. You won’t find IA-03 among the 50 Democratic-held seats that Crisitunity considers potentially at risk. CQ Politics also switched its rating for IA-03 to “safe Democratic,” a sign of growing consensus that this district won’t be competitive.
When Republicans ran hard against Boswell in 2002, 2004 and 2006, the National Republican Congressional Committee made significant independent expenditures in the district. I can’t see that happening next year, not with so many more promising targets for House Republicans. Keep in mind that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has a lot more cash on hand than the NRCC. Boswell may be on the NRCC’s very long list of targets, but the GOP will not be able to fund every challenger in those districts.
The weak economy and other factors have some Republicans crowing about a possible repeat of 1994. Ed Kilgore laid out some reasons Republicans are unlikely to make gains on that scale next year:
The Republicans’ 1994 victory in the House was also enabled by a large number of Democratic retirements: Twenty-two of the 54 seats the GOP picked up that year were open. By comparison, the authoritative (and subscription-only) Cook Political Report counts only four open, Democrat-held House seats in territory that is even vaguely competitive. That low number of open seats is significant because it limits the number of seats Republicans can win; if there is a similar wave of retirements in the offing for 2010, the signs have yet to materialize. […]
Another disconnect between 1994 and 2010 involves patterns of demography and ideology. The 1994 election was the high-water mark of the great ideological sorting that occurred between the two parties. That made the environment particularly harsh for southern Democrats, as well as those in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain West, where many ancestral attachments to the Donkey Party came unmoored.
In the South, this sorting-out was reinforced by the decennial reapportionment and redistricting process, during which both Republicans and civil rights activists promoted a regime of “packing” and “bleaching” districts–that is, the electoral consolidation of African-American voters. While this had a salutary effect on African-American representation in the House of Representatives, the overall effect was to weaken Democrats. This dynamic was best illustrated by my home state of Georgia, whose House delegation changed from 9-1 Democratic going into the 1992 election to 8-3 Republican after 1994.
Nothing similar to those handicaps exists today. The ideological filtering of the parties is long over; any genuine conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans left in the electorate clearly have reasons for retaining their loyalties, which will be difficult to erode.
Lincoln Mitchell added a few more reasons here:
In 1994, the Democrats had controlled the House since Harry Truman brought his party to power in 1948. They had also controlled the senate for 30 of the 44 years since that 1948 election. Accordingly, the anger at the Democratic Party in 1994 was also a genuine coalescence of broad anti-government frustration. Today anger towards the Democrats is still concentrated in the Republican base. Presenting the Republicans as the anti-Washington party will be much harder 2010 as the Republicans will only be two years removed from being the insider party themselves. Moreover, the climate of scandals and insider deal making which permeated congress, and by extension stuck to the Democrats, is simply not as strong or widespread as it was in 1994.
The Republican Party is also in a very different position than they were in 1994. In 1994, they could relatively clearly present themselves as the party of change and reform, particularly with regards to congress. Today, Republican control of congress is not a distant memory and major congressional scandals such as those surrounding Ted Stevens, Tom Delay or Jack Abramoff involve Republicans at least as much as Democratc members of congress.
This thread is for any comments about next year’s Congressional races, in Iowa or elsewhere.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention that investing in IA-03 is unlikely to lead to a long-term gain for Republicans. Even if Boswell loses in 2010, the winner in IA-03 will probably face a Republican primary in 2012 against Tom Latham in a redrawn third district.
SECOND UPDATE: Taniel wrote about House prospects at Campaign Diaries today:
We can say with near complete certainty that Democrats will not have to defend more than a handful of open seats next year. LA-03, NH-02 and PA-07 will be competitive. Maybe throw in HI-01 and OR-04 (neither is at the moment likely to be vulnerable), and we get to 5 – and that’s already a stretch.
That shockingly low number bears absolutely no resemblance to recent wave cycles. In 1994, Democrats lost 22 open seats. In 2006 and in 2008, 15 and 18-GOP held open seats were considered competitive; Democrats won 8 and 11 of them. The fact that Democrats have been so incredibly successful this year at holding down their number of vulnerable open seats could single-handedly prevent Republicans from scoring huge gains – let alone get anywhere close the 41-seat gain they’ll need to regain the House.