Every decade, the Darwinian process known as redistricting descends on Capitol Hill, along with the grim reality that both parties must face: Several members are going to be staring down someone in their own party in a kind of survival of the fittest, and often it’s not pretty.
In the grand scheme of House control, several of the member-member matchups won’t cause a seat to flip to another party, and in such races both campaign committees stay neutral. But that doesn’t mean Hill colleagues will be, and that certainly doesn’t guarantee each member will play nice. As several of these redistricting battles are coming into focus, here are the top five that have the potential to enter scorched-earth territory.
Illinois’s 14th District: Rep. Joe Walsh (R) vs. Rep. Randy Hultgren (R)
No GOP freshmen in the Illinois delegation were quick to cozy up to one of their four other fellow first-term members, especially with Democrats drawing the lines in the Land of Lincoln. Both Walsh and Hultgren were drawn into the 14th District—and the antitax Club for Growth issued a preemptive statement saying they’d back Walsh in the new district, even before his decision to run.
The never cable-shy Walsh’s line of attack against the more subdued Hultgren is predictable—the tea party rising star will attack the longtime state legislator as a career politician while touting his own far right voting record. But Hultgren will have an equal and more salient attack, too: Walsh has been embroiled in an ongoing child-support dispute with his ex-wife that’s made the front pages several times.
Arizona’s 6th District: Rep. Ben Quayle (R) vs. Rep. Dave Schweikert (R)
Arizona did gain a seat in reapportionment, but the first draft from the state’s independent redistricting commission seems poised to match up both freshman Republicans in the Scottsdale-based seat with neither appearing ready to concede the safe GOP district.
As soon as maps were released, Schweikert was quick to lay claim to the 6th District. Sources close to Quayle have noted that the former vice president’s son—who won a narrow and dirty GOP primary in 2010—lives just outside this district and could be redrawn into it if minor changes are made.
Schweikert had the cash edge in the race at the end of the third quarter—raising $233,000 with Quayle’s $170,000—and he also has $524,000 in the bank, compared with Quayle’s $481,000. But the former vice president’s son raked in contributions from GOP leadership, getting donations from the political action committees of both House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.
Still, the map hasn’t been passed yet, and Arizona Republicans along with GOP Gov. Jan Brewer are making waves. But if the map, or even a similar one, becomes law, expect this one to get nasty.
Illinois’s 2nd District: Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) vs. former Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D)
While this isn’t technically a contest between two sitting members, the bad blood between Halvorson, who served one term in the House until losing last year to Republican Adam Kinzinger, and Jackson goes back over a decade, thanks to disagreements over building a third Chicago–area airport in Petone—which was outside Jackson’s current district and inside Halvorson’s.
The onetime state Senate majority leader made her bid official earlier this month—and caught an early break when the House Ethics Committee reopened its investigation into Jackson’s possible involvement in improprieties surrounding the appointment to fill President Obama’s old Senate seat, bringing his ethics problems back front and center.
Halvorson—who’s running a very grassroots campaign and even serving as her own press secretary—has made Jackson’s past problems the cornerstone of her campaign.
California’s new 30th District: Rep. Howard Berman (D) vs. Rep. Brad Sherman (D)
It’s not just the amusing rhyming nature of this inevitable race that makes this matchup one to watch. After California’s independent commission drew the two into the same space, neither man was going to back down from this solidly Democratic seat, although both began saying publicly and privately the other should be the one to stand aside. Their sniping in the press has continued to escalate, and Sherman released an internal poll in August showing him with a 25-point lead.
Both have begun to roll out their lists of endorsements: Berman has the backing of Gov. Jerry Brown, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Rep. Henry Waxman, while Sherman touted former President Clinton and several local elected leaders.
While Sherman still has a massive $3.7 million war chest, his fundraising bottomed out this last quarter, pulling in only $174,000, while Berman brought in over $819,000—including cash from Hollywood A-listers like Tom Hanks, Aaron Sorkin, Steven Spielberg, and Judd Apatow. That brought his cash on hand to $2.2 million.
California’s new 44th District: Rep. Janice Hahn (D) vs. Rep. Laura Richardson (D)
Hahn is one of the newest members, winning a July special election to succeed former Rep. Jane Harman, but she likely has the edge over Richardson. Hahn has quickly amassed top endorsements from Rep. Grace Napolitano and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa—critical in the heavily Hispanic district.
Richardson’s been the subject of ethics questions recently: She’s accused of forcing her staff to work for and contribute to her campaign. She’s denied the allegations, but her fundraising dropped off in the third quarter, bringing in only $72,000 with just $116,000 in the bank. Hahn, after her special election, raised $139,000. A third Democrat, Assemblyman Isadore Hall, outraised them both with $158,000.
This article appears in the Oct. 21, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily.