Notes on the State of Politics


So much for that anti-incumbent wave

Last week’s primary loss by Rep. Jean Schmidt, a southwest Ohio Republican, ginned up curiosity in Tuesday night’s congressional primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, where several House incumbents were supposedly in danger of losing their primaries. That list included powerful House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R) of Alabama.

That said, all 11 House incumbents in Mississippi and Alabama (nine Republicans and two Democrats) were renominated on Tuesday, and none of their races was particularly close.

Even in a time of widespread discontent with Congress, it’s unwise at this point to predict that many House incumbents will fail to be renominated by their own parties. In the post-World War II era, 1992 featured the greatest number of House incumbents defeated in primaries: 19 out of 368 members who sought reelection to the House lost in a primary. In other words, even in a supposedly bad year for incumbents, primary voters in 95% of contests that year were happy to give their incumbents a shot at another term. And that was a redistricting year, just like this year, which always complicates House elections because of map changes and added or subtracted seats.

Will more House incumbents join Schmidt in failing to even advance to the general election? Sure — next week in Illinois’ House primary, either Republican Reps. Don Manzullo or Adam Kinzinger will fail to win renomination (they are running against each other). But should we expect a wave of incumbents who are rejected by their own parties? If history is a guide, the answer is no.

Kyle Kondik

The losers in New York’s knuckle-dragging

Freshmen Empire State Reps. Kathy Hochul (D) and Bob Turner (R) became the toasts of their respective congressional delegations after winning surprising special elections last year. This year, they may just be toast.

For months now, New York has made little progress toward creating a new congressional map. Considering that the state lost two seats in the 2010 reapportionment and has split control of the state legislature, the redistricting process was always going to be tedious and ugly. Nevertheless, redistricting inertia has led to a court-drawn map that looks likely to be the final plan.

The map leaves some incumbents in unenviable reelection positions, and the two most obvious losers are Hochul and Turner.

Hochul won a combative three-way special election in May 2011 to replace scandalized ex-Rep. Chris Lee (R) in New York’s fairly Republican 26th District. Under the new map, the newly renumbered 27th is even a touch more Republican than her current district, having shifted from a district that John McCain won 52%-46% to 54%-45% McCain. Even worse, Hochul’s home was technically drawn into the neighboring Buffalo district represented by fellow Democrat Brian Higgins, although Hochul has indicated that she will still run in the new 27th.

Downstate, Turner won a September 2011 special election in the 9th District to replace ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner (D), the man who tweeted too much. Turner’s victory stunned many — he became the first Republican to represent the Brooklyn and Queens-based district in about 90 years.

However, his congressional tenure will almost assuredly be short-lived. Because the court map eliminates Turner’s district, there is really no House district for him to run in. Turner has apparently accepted his fate because he announced Tuesday that he will seek the Republican nomination to oppose Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) in November.

Considering Gillibrand won 63% in a special election to replace now-Sec. of State Hillary Clinton during the GOP wave in 2010, Turner isn’t exactly improving his odds by jumping up a spot on the ballot.

Geoffrey Skelley