By nearly all accounts, the Republicans looks set to take over the US House of Representatives in next week’s November 2010 general election. Nate Silver gives the Republicans an 80% chance to win. Other election prognosticators agree, including Real Clear Politics, Larry Sabato, Cook Political Report, Stuart Rothenberg, and CQ Politics. So do nearly all academic forecasters, though their feat is more impressive given the parsimony of their models and their calls several months ago.
Republicans, in this wave election that recalls 1994, look set to win not just swing districts, but also those districts that have been traditionally Democratic, or those with strong or longtime Democratic incumbents. Naturally, just as in 2008, this has led to overclaiming by jubilant conservatives and distraught liberals–though the adjectives were then reversed–that this portends a realignment in American politics.
What do Republican inroads in traditionally Democratic areas portend for how these potential new Representatives will vote come January 2011? For a little guidance, think back to two Republicans who won special elections in deeply blue constituencies in the 111th Congress: Scott Brown in Massachusetts, and Charles Djou in Hawaii’s 1st District.
I’ve already written a bit about Scott Brown. My prediction after his election but before his arrival in Washington was that Brown, based on his voting record in the Massachusetts state legislature, would prove to be one of the most liberal Republicans in the US Senate, for which I was vilified a bit online. Now that we have nearly a year’s worth of votes behind us, I feel pretty good about that prediction. My estimate of Brown’s ideology—using our NPAT common space data–is that he is the third most liberal Republican in the Senate, just behind Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine.
Charles Djou won a unique special election in the normally very Democratic HI-1 district, when two Democrats split the majority of votes in the district due to the lack of a primary election by law. One measure, among many, of the partisan leanings of a district is its Cook Partisan Voting Index or PVI score. HI-1, which is Barack Obama’s home district and encompasses Honolulu, is D+11. I hadn’t yet written about Djou–to my regret—though he had previously served in the Hawaii State Assembly (District 47). While there, he compiled a conservative-for-Hawaii voting record; I estimate him in the top 10 percent of legislators for conservatism in the state. He was even right of center of his own party.
Of course, the punch line is just like that for Dede Scozzafava in New York. A conservative Republican in Hawaii just ain’t that conservative when you look across the country. It’s just that Hawaii Republicans are quite liberal. Based purely on Djou’s voting record in the Assembly, I would have predicted him to be more liberal than Lincoln Chaffee (RI) or Jim Jeffords (VT), the first of whom endorsed a Democrat for president, and the second of whom gave majority control of the Senate to Democrats by leaving the Republican party. In fact, he turned out to be slightly more conservative than I had expected, but not by much. He’s about as conservative as Scott Brown is–that is, not very–by the standards of congressional Republicans.
In fact, the only Republican representative evincing a more liberal voting record than Djou is Anh “Joseph” Cao, of Louisiana’s 2nd District. Cao won his New Orleans district after the indictment of his predecessor. Yet even his sole Republican vote in favor of the Democratic health care reform legislation doesn’t appear to be enough to save him, as polling and other data indicate a very high likelihood of a Cao loss.
In short, Republican moderates in Congress are often associated with two factors: 1) a liberal voting record earlier in their career, and 2) a liberal district. Of course, both are related, in the sense that ambitious moderates choose liberal districts to run in, and liberal districts weed out conservative candidates. Still, district opinion and legislator ideology are not always mirror images, for reasons I will describe in a later post. Despite this, Republican liberals and moderates often find themselves in difficult electoral contests, as Democratic conservatives and moderates are discovering anew in 2010.
Given how competitive Republicans are in 2010, even in otherwise unfriendly territory, we should then expect a crop of moderates to emerge in the 112th Congress that will vote on the left side of the party.
So which Republican candidates are likely to be the fightin’ moderates of the freshman Republican class of 2010? I combed the list of candidates in the House for Republicans who have a nontrivial shot of defeating a Democratic incumbent, yet who will do so in the context of a past liberal voting record, and/or a district that leans left.
- MA-10 (D+5): Former state legislator Jeff Perry has a good chance of beating Bill Keating for this open seat centered around Cape Cod (which was Bill Delahunt’s old seat). Perry is remarkably similar to Brown, in that he is conservative for a Massachusetts Republican, but very liberal compared to legislators nationally and those in the US Congress. He’s about as liberal as Arlen Specter was before his switch to the Democrats.
- CT-4 (D+5): State Senator and Deputy Minority Leader Dan Debicella has a chance to defeat incumbent Jim Himes, who himself defeated conservative-nemesis Chris Shays in this southwestern Democratic district containing Stamford and Bridgeport. Debicella is one of the most conservative Democrats in the state legislature. That’s not saying too much given how liberal CT Republicans are; he’s about as conservative as Lisa Murkowski.
- NH-2 (D+3): Former (and moderate) US Representative Charlie Bass is a toss-up to win this open seat rural district that also includes Nashua and Concord.
- CT-5 (D+2): State Senator Sam Caligiuri has a small chance to defeat incumbent Chris Murphy in this Northwestern Connecticut district, including the town of Waterbury. If he does, Caligiuri is going to have the distinction of being the most liberal Republican in Congress since at least 1993. And that’s coming from a conservative for CT Republican state senator. Wow.
- NV-3 (D+2): Former state Senator and physician Joe Heck is favored to win this suburban Las Vegas district that leans Democratic, currently represented by incumbent Dina Titus. Heck was a moderate-to-liberal Republican in the state legislature, with two-thirds of his copartisans more conservative than him. Compare that to Sharron Angle, who was the most conservative state legislator in Nevada over the past decade.
- PA-08 (D+2): Former US Representative Mike Fitzpatrick is favored to defeat incumbent Patrick Murphy. During his time in Congress, Fitzpatrick compiled a rather liberal voting record, on par with Chris Shays of Connecticut, and more liberal than Joseph Cao’s.
- OR-5 (D+1): State Representative Scott Bruun is favored to win this district that runs from the central coast to Salem and north to the Portland suburbs. It has been held by Democrats since the 1996 elections. Bruun is a liberal Republican in the state legislature; 70 percent of his copartisans are more conservative. He’s about as conservative as Scott Brown or Mike Castle.
- IL-14 (R+1): State Senator Randy Hultgren is favored to win this Northern Illinois district that is currently represented by Democrat Bill Foster. In the Illinois state legislature, Hultgren compiled a conservative-for-Illinois record, that in national terms is moderate-to-liberal, or about where Scott Brown is.
No legislative experience:
- AZ-7 (D+6): Rocket scientist and first time candidate Ruth McClung has a small but decent chance of beating liberal icon and incumbent Raul Grijalva in this majority Latino district that contains Yuma county.
- CA-20 (D+5): Farmer Andy Vidak is suddenly in a toss-up with liberal incumbent Jim Costa in this highly Democratic district covering Fresno and Kings County, following a new SurveyUSA poll that puts him up 10.
- PA-11 (D+4): Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta faces incumbent Paul Kanjorski and is favored to win this district that includes Scranton and Wilkes-Barre.
- IL-17 (D+3): Pizza businessman Bobby Schilling is favored to win this district in Western Illinois that stretches all the way to Aurora and Elgin. The current incumbent is two-term Phil Hare.
- PA-07 (D+3): Prosecutor Pat Meehan is heavily favored against former state legislator and prosecutor Bryan Lentz in this suburban Delaware County district, formerly held by Joe Sestak who defeated Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary this year.
- WI-07 (D+3): Prosecutor (and former reality star) Sean Duffy is heavily favored to defeat Julie Lassa in this rural western Wisconsin district, after four-decade incumbent David Obey retired.
Look for these candidates–once they win—to magically accumulate moderate and liberal voting records once they realize the next election is only two years away, in rather dangerous territory. Or alternatively, that their campaign rhetoric is one thing, and their personal (moderate-to-liberal) policy preferences are quite another.