There are few safe districts this year for Democrats. Almost all swing districts are in play and Democrats that won election in 2006 or 2008 in narrowly or even significantly Republican districts are in the fight of their political lives. However, there are a few examples of Democrats in Republican districts that are on track to survive this season.
Majority Republican districts in states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania and even traditionally Democratic stronghold states like Illinois and Michigan are showing little tolerance for progressive Democrats this year. That said, not all Democratic Representatives in Republican districts are in trouble. Some tenured Democratic congressmen in traditionally “red” districts are favored to survive this wave election.
In Oklahoma’s 2nd district, Democratic Rep. Dan Boren has been sent to Congress three times since he was first elected in 2004. He is deep into hostile territory; Charlie Cook gives this district a Partisan Voting Index (PVI) rating of R+14. But while this part of Oklahoma votes for Republicans on the national level – John McCain won this district by 31 percentage points – it has a history of voting Democratic at the local level. Boren replaced former Rep. Brad Carson, also a Democrat, who served as this district’s Representative in Congress from 2001 to 2005.
Dan Boren has deep roots in the community; he is the son of the popular former Democratic Governor and Senator David Boren. His wife is the sister of Oklahoma University Assistant Football coach and former quarter back Josh Heupel.
Boren is relatively conservative, earning high negative marks from a myriad of environmental groups that believe his positions on energy and the environment to be particularly illiberal. He has also publically supported a flat tax and the reformation of the progressive tax code. In this congress, he voted against both versions of health care reform legislation. Boren is, however, still a Democrat. He stood with his party in opposing the 2007 Iraq surge strategy, although voted against a measure to withdraw troops in the spring of 2008.
Boren has represented his district well, and his poll numbers reflect it. A Myers Research Service Poll from September shows Boren up 65 to 31 over his Republican opponent, Charles Leroy Thompson. It is a good bet that Boren will be returned to the next congress. This is a clear example of how candidates matter – the generic ballot has nothing on Oklahoma’s 2nd district.
In Utah, another Democratic representative behind enemy lines is highly likely to survive the coming GOP wave. Rep. Jim Matheson, the only Democrat that represents Utah in Washington D.C., has served the Salt Lake City-area since he was first elected in 2000. Charlie Cook gives this district a daunting PVI of R+15.
Matheson has faced a rocky reelection campaign this year. He fended off a primary challenge from his left by retired local school teacher Claudia Wright. He won that race handily, but some believed that the fight had forced Matheson to position himself in ways unpalatable to this GOP-heavy district. Not so, according to an October 18th Deseret News Poll which showed Matheson up 57 to 31 over his Republican opponent, Morgan Philpot.
Matheson’s votes against both the health care reform bills and the reconciliation measure that passed the final bill seem to have canceled out his vote for the first stimulus. However, this is not as clean an election as Boren’s in Oklahoma. Matheson has gone after his opponent by name and is airing ads that challenge Philpot’s voting record, or lack thereof, in the state legislature. Philpot has received the endorsements of high profile figures in the GOP like Sarah Palin and Dick Morris. This race will not be a blowout victory for Matheson, but he is favored to survive. This race will be another example of why candidates matter.
In the purple state of Pennsylvania, another Democrat that had anticipated a strong Republican challenge appears to have successfully fended it off. In Pennsylvania’s 17th district, 10-term congressman Tim Holden has served this R+6 district since he was redistricted from the 6th in 2003. Holden was first elected in 1992. He is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition and is consistently ranked as one of the most conservative Democrats in the House by National Journal.
Tim Holden put his campaign on hold Tuesday following news that his mother is “gravely ill.” He can afford to suspend his campaign activities; despite donations from House Minority Leader John Boehner and a campaign appearance by Newt Gingrich, Holden’s opponent, state Sen. David Argall, is running 30 percentage points behind Holden according to a Susquehanna poll of registered voters from October 19-20.
Argall is a popular state Senator from Holden’s district. He has been reelected several times, but Holden has few controversial votes from the last congress that he can be tarred with (with the possible exception of the stimulus, which Holden is running on.) Holden’s margin on election night is likely to be smaller than the 58/28 margin that Susquehanna’s registered voter model predicts, but it is a good bet that he will carry that district and be returned for an 11th term in the House.
What do these three Democrats have in common? Besides their conservative record, multi-term incumbency and their votes against both versions of the health care reform plan, not very much. In 2010, however, that is enough.
Not all Democrats that voted against health care will survive this election season. On Tuesday, a Mason-Dixon poll in Idaho’s 1st district showed conservative Democrat Walter Minnick falling to a 44 to 41 lead over his opponent, Raul Labrador; down 7 points from his lead in early September. Minnick is about as conservative a Democrat as you can get, but there is nothing like the real thing.
If Boren, Matheson and Holden survive this wave year, they can survive anything. It will be interesting to see where their careers go from here. If there are aspirations for higher office, they would be advised to investigate them after this tumultuous election cycle.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org