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House 2014: a narrowing battlefield?

Published 12:14pm Saturday, December 29, 2012

by Kyle Kondik

Ticket-splitters are getting rarer and rarer, at least based on the dwindling number of congressional districts where different parties won the presidential vote and the House seat. And that potentially reduces the number of targets for both sides as we examine 2014’s House playing field.

It appears that only about one of every 15 House members will come from a district that voted for a different party in its presidential and House elections. That would be the lowest proportion of split seats produced by any presidential election in at least the past 60 years.

THE GREATER SOUTH

Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia have

116 Republicans and 44 Democrats in the House and Senate

That the 11 states of the old Confederacy, plus four more Republican-trending border states — Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma and West Virginia — form the core of the modern Republican coalition is obvious, and not just at the presidential level.

The region taken as a whole has 160 House members, and 73 percent of those are Republicans; those 116 members make up about half of the 234 House seats the Republicans won in 2012.

The GOP also controls the House delegations in all 15 states; that includes lopsided advantages even in the two states in the region that voted for President Obama: Florida (17-10 Republican) and Virginia (8-3 Republican).

Thanks at least in part to an incumbent-protecting gerrymander instituted by Virginia Republicans after they took unified control of the state government following the 2011 elections (and also in part to Republican U.S. House gains in 2010), the GOP controls eight of 11 Old Dominion seats, and none appear obviously competitive in 2014 except possibly the swingy 2nd District seat held by Rep. Scott Rigell, Va.-R, who fought off a well-funded challenger in 2012 without too much trouble.

About half of the states in the region — Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma and South Carolina — have no obviously competitive House races at the moment.

Of the others, Rep.-elect Andy Barr, R-Ky., may or may not face a strong challenge in the Lexington-centered seat; fears of an Obama “War on Coal” boosted Barr here, and a Democrat might have a hard time winning a federal election in a district like this, at least while Obama is still in the White House (the president only won 42 percent of the vote there).

Perhaps a more intriguing case study is another Coal Country seat, that of Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W. Va. Capito is attempting to move up to the Senate, and this will be a good test as to whether a Democrat can win an open seat in a state where their statewide brand remains durable but where their national brand is a giant liability; the candidates here on both sides will matter, and there are a lot of quality names that have already emerged on both sides. Republicans, meanwhile, will again target Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W. Va.

KYLE KONDIK is director of communications for the University of Virginia Center for Politics and can be reached at kondik@virginia.edu.

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