Stu’s Dangerous Dozen: Unsafe House Incumbents

by Stuart Rothenberg October 26, 2011 · 11:22 AM EDT

For years now, I’ve been running lists of vulnerable open seats and incumbents, so there is no reason to wait until all states have completed redistricting. Here are the most vulnerable incumbents who are currently planning on seeking re-election. One caveat: I have excluded incumbents running against incumbents, whether in primaries or general elections. The most vulnerable Members are at the top of the list.

Larry Kissell (D-N.C.). Kissell finds himself in a redrawn district that moves north into Republican-rich Davidson and Rowan counties and out of Mecklenburg County. The political ramifications of the change are nothing short of dramatic, with what once was a 55 percent President Barack Obama district now becoming a 57 percent Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) district. Kissell, not known for his strong fundraising, would need a miracle to hold the seat.

John Barrow (D-Ga.). Barrow’s district goes from a 55 percent Obama district to a 59 percent McCain district. While the Congressman has tried to distance himself from the national Democratic Party, his prospects in a presidential year are somewhere between horrible and abysmal. Retirement would appear to be an option.

Bobby Schilling (R-Ill.). Schilling, an upset winner in 2010, won this district even though McCain drew just 42 percent in 2008. So what did Democratic mapmakers do? They made the district even more Democratic. Under the new lines, McCain drew just 38 percent of the vote. In a presidential year, Schilling faces an almost impossible task.

Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.). Bartlett’s new district reaches down into more Democratic Montgomery County, fundamentally changing the nature of the district. His 59 percent McCain district is now a 42 percent McCain district, and his new Montgomery County voters aren’t likely to find the 85-year-old legislator’s politics to their liking. If he runs for re-election, he will face a very formidable Democratic foe from the new part of his district.

Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.). Missouri lost a district and the GOP Legislature squeezed out Carnahan. Some of his district was given to Rep. William Lacy Clay (D) and the rest to Rep. Todd Akin (R). Carnahan hasn’t announced his plans, but since Akin is running for the Senate, a run in his district would seem more likely than against Clay in a district where African-Americans constitute a large majority in a Democratic primary. The open seat certainly leans Republican, especially with Obama at the top of the ticket (McCain won it with 53 percent in 2008), so if Carnahan does run for re-election, he’ll start off in a very difficult position.

Robert Dold (R-Ill.). The freshman Dold’s district is even less Republican than Schilling’s, but he probably has a slightly better chance of surviving than his GOP colleague. Dold won his current seat even though McCain drew just 38 percent there in 2008. McCain drew only 36 percent in the redrawn district, so Dold will have to overcome a strong Democratic wave at the top of the ticket. Still, this is an upscale district with a considerable Jewish population, and the president won’t be as strong here as he was three years ago. Dold could also benefit from the fact that Democrats haven’t recruited a proven vote-getter against him.

Timothy Johnson (R-Ill.). Johnson’s new district went 44 percent for McCain and 52 percent for George W. Bush in 2004, making it marginal at best. Former State Rep. Jay Hoffman (D) immediately announced his candidacy, though he now has the option of running in retiring Democratic Rep. Jerry Costello’s slightly more Democratic 12th district. No matter what Hoffman decides, Johnson is likely to have a tough fight.

Charles Bass (R-N.H.). Bass, a veteran lawmaker, regained the seat in 2010 that he had lost in 2008, and he faces a fierce rematch against Ann McLane Kuster (D), whom he narrowly beat during last year’s huge Republican wave. He represents the more Democratic of the state’s two districts — a district that Obama carried with 56 percent last time.

Judy Biggert (R-Ill.). Biggert, 74, was expected to retire rather than face an uphill climb in the president’s state. But the seven-term moderate apparently is so upset at the Legislature’s new map that she is planning on running again. The new 11th district gave McCain only 37 percent of the vote, but George W. Bush drew more than 49 percent when he ran for re-election in 2004. Former Rep. Bill Foster will be the Democratic nominee, and he has assets (personal wealth) and liabilities (a voting record).

Heath Shuler (D-N.C.). Shuler, a moderate Democrat, has always walked something of a fine line in this schizophrenic district. The Democratic vote is centered in Asheville, a city that one GOP consultant calls “the Berkeley of the East,” but most of the district’s general election voters are moderate to conservative. Shuler’s new district loses many Asheville voters, transforming it from a 52 percent McCain district to more than a 58 percent McCain district. He’s received the votes of Republicans before, but he’ll need even more of them now.

Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.). The moderate McIntyre’s problems are almost identical to Shuler’s. He won in 2010 in a district that gave McCain 52 percent of the vote two years earlier, while his new district gave McCain 57 percent. With Obama less popular this time, McIntyre faces a tough climb.

Dan Lungren (R-Calif.). Another election means another problem for Lungren, who somehow wins despite his reluctance to raise money. He will be running in a 46 percent McCain district this time, compared with the 48 percent McCain district he ran in last time, but he also will draw the same opponent, Ami Bera. Bera, a doctor who raises money nationally from Indian-Americans, ran a competitive race in a terrible year for a Democrat, so he hopes the better environment will help him close the 7-point gap he had in 2010.