Only eight House districts in the South had different presidential and congressional winners in 2012, leaving few targets for either party in 2014.
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
(CFP) — In a few little corners of the South, Democrats sit in congressional seats from districts that Mitt Romney carried in 2012. There are also seats – even fewer in number — where Republicans represent districts Barack Obama won
These anomalous districts – districts that behave one way in the presidential vote but the opposite way when it comes to picking a congressman – are, as you might expect, top targets for both parties in 2014.
But for Democrats hoping to make inroads on Republican hegemony in the South, the bad news is that across the entire region, there are only eight such seats — and five of those are seats Democrats must defend.
First, let’s take a look at the five seats occupied by Democrats that Mitt Romney carried in 2012:
North Carolina 7 – Veteran Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre held on to this seat by his fingernails in 2012, winning by a mere 650 votes over former Republican State Sen. David Rouzer. In this district, which takes in the southeast corner of the state including areas near Fayetteville and Wilmington, Romney clobbered Obama by 19 percentage points.
McIntyre is at the top of the Republicans’ target list. Not only does McIntyre face a rematch with Rouzer, he is also facing a primary challenger, New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, who thinks McIntyre hasn’t been supportive enough of the president.
McIntyre is white; Barfield is black. Overall, the district is 30 percent black, which means the black vote could tread close to a majority in a Democratic primary.
West Virginia 3 – Another longtime Democratic officer holder, Rep. Nick Rahall, carried 54 percent in here in 2012, at the same time Romney was crushing Obama by 32 percentage points in this district, which takes in the southern third of the state.
Rahall is hoping the power of incumbency can once again turn back a challenge from Republican former State Del. Rick Snuffer, whom he has beaten twice before.
Georgia 12 – Democratic Rep. John Barrow won a healthy 54 percent in this district in 2012, where Romney topped Obama by 11 percentage points. On paper, this should be a solid GOP district. But Georgia Republicans, to their great frustration, have not been able to defeat Barrow in five tries, even after gerrymandering his hometown of Athens out of the district.
Barrow was recruited by national Democrats to run for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat, but he opted for another House run instead. On the Republican side, an already contentious primary is shaping up between John Stone, the former chief of staff to Rep. John Carter of Texas, and Augusta businessman Rick Allen. Barrow beat Stone by 30 points in 2008.
Florida 18 – Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy narrowly ousted Tea Party favorite Allen West in 2012 in this district, which takes in parts of Martin and St. Lucie counties on Florida’s Treasure Coast. West went down even though Romney carried the district with 52 percent of the vote.
Perhaps the best news for Murphy, a top GOP target in 2014, is that West declined a rematch. A smorgasbord of Republican officeholders and activists are considering this race, with no clear frontrunner so far on the GOP side.
Texas 23 – In this majority Latino district that sprawls across the desert from El Paso to San Antonio, Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego ousted Republican Rep. Francisco “Quico” Conseco by a narrow margin in 2012.
Republicans hope to get this district back, and Conseco is considering a rematch. However, the former congressman would have to get past a Republican primary opponent, Dr. Robert Lowry, a Ron Paul acolyte.
Now, let’s take a look at the three districts where Republicans hold seats that Obama carried in 2012:
Virginia 2 – Republican Rep. Scott Rigell easily kept this seat in 2012 with 54 percent of the vote, even though Obama narrowly bested Romney here. While Rigell is a top Democratic target in 2014, this is a GOP-leaning district where Obama overperformed in 2012, due to the fact that 22 percent of the electorate in the 2nd District is black.
Earlier this year, Rigell was the target of an ad campaign from the National Association for Gun Rights, which hit the congressman for sponsoring legislation that would increase penalties for people who illegally purchase guns and transport them across state lines. Rigell, a lifetime member of the NRA, called the group’s charges “laughable.”
Despite that salvo, Rigell hasn’t faced any serious trouble from the right, and, so far, Democrats have struggled to come up with a top-tier candidate to take him on.
Florida 13 – When Bill Young came to Congress, bell bottoms were in and Nixon was still The One. After 22 terms, he’s the longest serving Republican in the House, and there has been speculation that the octagenarian might retire instead of seeking re-election in 2014.
If he does, this district, which includes parts of St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Dunedin in the Tampa Bay area, would be a prime opportunity for Democrats. Obama narrowly carried the district in 2012, even as Young was easily swatting away his latest Democratic challenger, St. Petersburg attorney Jessica Ehrlich, who is running again in 2014.
Florida 27 – In 2012, Obama carried this district, which was something of a surprise given that it includes heavily Cuban-American areas of Miami and Hialeah, which are traditionally Republican turf. But Obama clearly overperformed here in what has to be considered a safe district for Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is seeking her 11th term in 2014.
Ros-Lehtinen, the first Latina and the longest serving Republican woman in the House, carried 60 percent of the vote here in 2012.