Starting on Wedensday, June 2nd, candidates can file to run for office in New Hampshire.  While the top-of-the-ticket candidates tend to get all the attention, many of the most consequential results come from the winners of the 400 State Representative seats (representing 103 House districts).  Votes for gay marriage and against expanded gambling are just a few examples of recent House positions that carried the day – and yet, most of these Representatives toil in relative obscurity.  Even worse, most activists, operatives, and donors don’t know where to even start in prioritizing these races for recruitment and resources. 

One of the results of the work I’ve done over the last year with the New Hampshire Partisan Voter Index (NHPVI – see this for a recent post I wrote that briefly explains the methodology of the NHPVI) is that we can better quantify the partisan leanings of all 103 NH House districts in the state, and compare the expected makeup of each district’s delegation with the actual makeup.  We can also begin to identify which districts provide the greatest opportunities for gains and losses for each political party.

This is particularly useful to the parties, who are in the midst of a recruitment scramble (have you ever tried to get 400 people to become friends on your Facebook page, much less run for political office!), and will have finite resources to spend this fall trying to grab the majority in what will be a volatile Election Day.  For political action committees (PACs) and other donors, this is similarly critical information.

Once the filing period ends on June 11th, we’ll evaluate how the parties did in putting quality candidates in places that give them the best chance of success – but for now, let’s answer a series of questions over the next week or so about the NH House as it stands today, and where the battle for the majority will most likely be engaged. 

Today, we’ll answer the question:  Which candidates are the “most underwater” – that is, which current House members represent districts that are the most diametrically opposite, in terms of their NHPVI?  How many Democratic House members are in districts with Republican PVIs, and vice-versa?  How many are in swing districts?

Well, it turns out that the success Democrats have generally enjoyed in the House over the past few cycles becomes their challenge in the less-friendly environment of 2010.  There are a lot of Democrats in districts that have Republican PVIs, where in a politically neutral year, the Republican should be favored (sometimes narrowly, sometimes significantly).  Conversely, there are very few Republicans in the same challenging situation.  How many?  Consider:

A safe Democratic district is one that is that is D+7 or greater – that is, where the average performance of Democrats in that state House district is 7 or more points better than the statewide average of all statewide races since 2004.

A favored Democratic district is one that is between D+4 and D+6 – that is, the performance of Democrats in that district is four to six points better than the statewide average of all statewide races since 2004.

A leaning Democratic district is one that is between D+0 and D+3.  These are generally competitive districts, where even relatively small upticket momentum, and a quality candidate, can create a  competitive race in most districts that are between R+3 and D+3.

Obviously, the same numbers and labels apply on the Republican side of the ledger.

Here is where the lopsidedness of the terrain this November becomes clear.  “Underwater Members” are representatives who are in districts where the NHPVI is the opposite of their own party.  For example, if you are a Democratic House member in a district with a PVI of, say, R+6 (this would describe Rep. Melanie Levesque of Brookline, among others), you are an “Underwater Member” – in this example, quite underwater. 

Currently, there are 68 Underwater Democrats, compared to only 22 Underwater Republicans.  This is a critical piece of information, because it suggests that in a State House where Democrats have about a 46-seat majority (roughly 223-177, when full), all Republican need to do to win a slim majority this November is hold most of their current seats, and take less than half of the Underwater Democrats’ seats.  While there are many miles between now and Election Day, and quality candidate recruitment can affect the outcomes of many races, the facts as they stand today suggest Republicans have a significant opportunity to retake the House this fall.

Here is a breakdown of these “Underwater Members” (the chart shows, for example, that there are two Democrats in districts with an NHPVI of R+8, four Dems in districts with NHPVIs of R+7…and one Republican in a district with an NHPVI of D+10):

PVI ofDistrict “Underwater

Members”

R+8 2
R+7 4
R+6 7
R+5 6
R+4 3
R+3 5
R+2 9
R+1 16
R+0 16
D+0 5
D+1 3
D+2 10
D+4 1
D+5 1
D+8 1
D+10 1

In an upcoming posting, we’ll get into the specifics of who some of these incumbents are, and what districts they represent.  For both parties, though, these 90 incumbents (68 Democrats, 22 Republicans) represent – in most cases – the most likely targets for the opposing party.

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