In “Play It Again, Sam”, Woody Allen’s character tells Diane Keaton’s character his secret to success in life:  “Eighty percent of being successful in life is showing up.”  Allen’s character in the film, one could argue, may have needed to lower the definition of success, but he raised a valid point – at least, as it relates to political parties’ ability to win races.  You can’t beat somebody with nobody – and in the New Hampshire House, there are a lot of “nobodys”, literally, who filed for office by last Friday’s filing deadline.

While each state party will fill additional candidate vacancies in the New Hampshire House this week, the reality is that, for most House races, those candidates who will truly compete for a seat have already filed, and are officially in campaign mode (which is more enjoyable than the “Finding $295 Million Mode” the House just completed).  As the campaign season begins in earnest, though, and partisan control of the NH House and Senate are squarely in play, we can already begin to project what the “baseline” number of seats will be for each party, by looking at which districts have slots unfilled during the filing period. 

Both parties are highlighting the strengths of their recruiting season (Democrats are highlighting the impressive percentage of incumbents seeking reelection, while Republicans are highlighting the impressive number of total candidates filing to run for the House), but neither data point addresses the question of how many seats are each party effectively ceding to the other party on day one.  Let’s take a look at that today, with a few caveats:

  • It is possible that a few House candidates who have filed through their town or city hall at the end of last week may still trickle in this week (indeed, at least a few dozen on Tuesday were received by the Secretary of State).  However, they are all supposed to be in by midweek, and any outlying straggler will not fundamentally change the analysis.
  • I am human – it is possible that I have missed somebody in the process of compiling the information.  If so, it is unintended – feel free to provide additional information via the comments section or email.
  • Anything can happen.  Dozens of additional candidates have been added by both major parties during the brief post-filing period window, and most of them will not win this November.  (At some point, probably post-November election, I’ll analyze exactly what percentage of party-added candidates end up winning.)  The working assumption, pending analysis, is that the overwhelming majority of winners filed by last Friday…but you never know.

With that, how do the two parties compare in the number of candidates who filed in the House’s 103 districts?

The Republican Party indeed did have more House candidates file than the Democrats did (425 Republicans vs. 330 Democrats), but they also have far more House primaries than Democrats (there are thoughtful arguments on both sides about whether House primaries are ultimately helpful or harmful to the party in the general election.)  Some specifics about the Republican candidates who filed:

  •  Out of the 103 districts, Republicans will have primaries in 35 of them – though only 16 of those 35 have a situation where the number of candidates exceeds the numbers of seats by more than one. 
    • In 12 of those 16 most wide-open primaries, the district is a Republican-leaning district – indeed, Republicans current hold 69 of the 81 total seats in those 12 districts.
    • In the other four wide-open Republican primaries – where they are being held in Democratic-leaning districts – Democrats currently hold 15 of 21 total seats.
    • The only strongly Democratic House district in the state where Republicans are holding a wide-open primary is Rockingham 12 (a D+7 district made up of Newmarket).  Two of the three incumbent Democrats retired (Doreen Howard and Dennis Abbott), and only two Democrats filed during the conventional filing period.  This might make following the results of this House race interesting on election night, particularly if the Republicans compete vigorously for a seat.
    • In the other 19 districts where Republicans have exactly one more candidate than slots, there is less of a clear partisan pattern.  12 of the 19 districts have Republican-leaning NHPVIs, and most of the others are only marginally Democratic districts. 
    • One conclusion from this analysis:  It is very unusual to find a Republican House primary in a strongly-Democratic House district, probably due to both the relative lack of Republicans in those districts, as well as the reality that the nominations probably won’t lead to general election success, anyway.
  • In 42 additional districts, Republicans have exactly the same number of candidates who filed by last Friday as there are slots in their district.  23 of these districts are Republican-leaning, though there are no obvious pattern among these 23 (they come from every county in the state except Strafford County, for example).
  • Finally, there are 26 House districts where Republicans failed to fill all the slots with candidates who filed by last Friday. 
    • In all but nine of these districts, Republicans were exactly one candidate short.  Most of those nine districts, though, sure have something in common:  seven of the nine are among the ten most Democratic-performing House district in the state (think Portsmouth, Keene, Lebanon, Berlin, Hanover, Concord, and Durham).  The eighth is Cheshire 4, a D+8 district represented by gubernatorial candidate Tim Butterworth.  The only real outlier here is Hillsborough 22, a D+4 Nashua-based district. 
    • In the 17 districts where Republicans were exactly one candidate short of a full slate, Democrats are generally dominant, holding 50 of these 17 districts’ 66 seats. 

The bottom line for Republicans, as it relates to their efforts prior to the filing deadline, is that their recruitment patterns are very logical:  in districts where the Republicans are safe, a lot of Republicans want to run; in districts where Democrats are very safe, Republicans don’t want to run; and in districts that are generally more competitive, Republicans were very effective at attracting candidates who wanted to file.  In a year where Republicans appear to be on the positive side of a national “enthusiasm gap”, this is not surprising. 

The two true outliers, from the Republicans’ perspective, are probably Rockingham 12, where Democrats may have left themselves vulnerable to losing a safe Democratic seat; and Hillsborough 22, where Republicans may be dropping the ball on a potential additional pickup opportunity.

The Democratic Party is highlighting its unusually high percentage of incumbents seeking reelection in 2010 (well above 70%), and that is a critical success in many vulnerable House districts.  However, while the minority-party Republicans have both a smaller group of incumbents from which to work, and have a smaller percentage of them seeking reelection, they also have far more candidates running, and far fewer holes left on their party’s ballot.  It’s a strong contrast of profiles entering the election season.  Here are some specifics about the Democrats who filed:

  • There are 15 districts (out of 103) where Democrats face a primary.  Only one of them has more than one candidate above the number of slots – Merrimack 4 (Hopkinton area).  However, all three incumbents Democrats (Chris Hamm, Derek Owen, and Gary Richardson) are veteran legislators, and likely to defeat the two challengers seeking their posts. 
    • In the other 14 primaries, there is exactly one more candidate than there are slots.  All but two of these districts are Democratic-leaning, including some of the most Democratic PVIs in the state (Portsmouth, Keene, Berlin, etc.).  In the 13 House district that both have Democratic primaries, and where Democratic performance in Democrat-leaning, Dems hold a 52-3 advantage.  In the two districts with Dem primaries where the PVI favors Republicans, Republicans hold a 9-4 advantage.  The key takeaway point here is that while the patterns are very similar to House districts featuring Republican primaries, there are many more Republicans primaries, especially in districts that lean in the opposing party’s direction. 
  • There are an additional 47 House districts where Democrats had exactly the number of candidates file as there were slots (Republicans had 42 such districts).  They are very evenly distributed, with 22 of them being Republican-leaning districts, and 25 of them being Democratic-leaning districts.  Like the Republicans, most of the districts with challenging PVIs that fully filled by filing are pretty competitive – it is difficult to convince somebody to aggressively campaign in a district with a PVI much above about +4 in the other party’s direction.
  • Finally, there are 41 districts where the Democrats were at least one candidate short of filling a slot at the end of the filing period, representing 86 seats.
    • In 15 of those 41 districts, Democrats were exactly one candidate short at the end of the filing period.  Those districts are all over the map, from Merrimack 10 (a D+10 district) to Hillsborough 27 (a 13-seat, R+7 district).  In cases like this, the lack of a full roster of filed candidates does not likely change the final outcome in November.  In other districts, however, it does suggest challenges ahead.  For example, incumbent Rep. Bob Matheson has represented Grafton 4, an R+2 single-member district that will be difficult for Democrats to defend in 2010.  Matheson did not file for reelection, and it was not filled by the filing deadline.  Sullivan 4, a D+4 five-seat district in Claremont with four Democrats and one Republican, failed to attract a full Democratic roster by the filing deadline – suggesting Republicans will likely be able to hold on to at least their one current seat. 
    • The remaining 26 districts where Democrats did not attract a full slate during the filing period include those where there were two or more vacancies.  22 of these 26 districts have Republican PVIs, including most of the strongest-performing Republican districts in the state (Merrimack 9, for example, is an R+17; Carroll 4 and Rockingham 6 are both R+10, etc.)  In the remaining four Democratic-leaning districts, three of them are very marginally Democratic (Hillsborough 20, Hillsborough 9, and Merrimack 6).  The only true outlier in this group of 26 multiple-vacancy Democratic slates is Cheshire 6, a D+8, 4-seat district that had three vacancies at the end of the filing period.  (Two of those three vacancies were filled by the party in the post-filing window.)  Interestingly, this is the same district with Rep. Jane Johnson, the most unlikely Republican winner in the entire House on Election Night 2008.  With only one Democrat filing in this four-seat district, and only two others being added subsequently, Johnson would appear to be in excellent shape to maintain her impressive – and unique – status.
    • Overall, in these 41 districts, there are 189 seats (including, obviously, many of the largest districts in the state).  In these 189 seats, Republicans enter the election season with a 131-58 advantage.

Compared to Republicans in districts where they were one candidate short, the difference seems to be that Republicans are generally short in districts where they are certain to win (even with a party-selected fill-in) or certain to lose (and thus, not worth expending inordinate effort).  Democrats, in contrast, have a wide array of situations, even among simply the “one-member short” districts.

It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that Democrats are generally on the defensive in these House matchups, due to a number of factors, including:

  • While one should be slow to extrapolate national-level data into New Hampshire House races, it is hard to deny that Republicans currently enjoy a substantial advantage in the partisan enthusiasm gap.  The most recent figures, from a USA Today/Gallup survey done around the time of NH’s filing period, shows about an 18-point enthusiasm gap.  Even if the actual figure is half of that in New Hampshire, the difference is significant, and it would likely make recruiting candidates markedly more difficult, especially at the lower levels of the ballot.
  • Democrats simply have more seats to defend.  Entering the filing period, Democrats controlled 222 of the 400 seats, while Republicans held 178.  The Democratic Party should be commended for attracting such a high percentage of incumbents to seek reelection – but it does not take away from the fact that, in a body where a third of the House retires every term, there are a lot of marginal Democratic seats for which to recruit or defend.
  • What comes up generally eventually comes down.  After three successive positive election cycles for Democrats (including the historic 2006 election), Democrats have frankly won just about any seat that was within reach.  Democrats hold a disproportionate share of the marginally-partisan seats (defined as districts with PVIs of between R+3 and D+3) – add to that a motivated Republican base, and a number of Democratic retirements (even only 25% of Dems retiring still represents over 50 retiring House members), and you get the figures outlined in this post.