Politics: White House

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May 2, 2011, 11:04 a.m.

Ex-Ald. Manny Flores on 10/11 an­nounced his “dif­fi­cult de­cision” to skip a run for may­or and in­stead sup­port the can­did­acy of ex-Chica­go School Board pres. Gery Chico.

Flores, chair of the IL Com­merce Com­mis­sion, “said his fam­ily was chief among the per­son­al reas­ons he had for not run­ning.”

“It was a cal­cu­lated risk for Flores to go with Chico” while his ex-ally, Rep. Lu­is Gu­ti­er­rez, “is con­tem­plat­ing a bid.” Flores once de­scribed Gu­ti­er­rez as his polit­ic­al “ment­or.” On 10/11, Flores said he “looked up to Gery as a role mod­el.”

Flores: “Gery shares our val­ues and as­pir­a­tions and is the most qual­i­fied to lead.” After the news con­fer­ence, Flores said the may­or’s race “should not be about the per­son­al­it­ies or one in­di­vidu­al,” say­ing that in­stead “it should be about im­prov­ing schools and the eco­nomy.”

Chico “wel­comed the sup­port” of Flores but said his cam­paign is “not a Latino cam­paign.” Chico: “We have the best mes­sage and the most ex­per­i­ence and we can do the job from day one.”

Later in the day, a num­ber of po­ten­tial can­did­ates joined May­or Richard Da­ley at the Colum­bus Day parade down­town, in­clud­ing Cook Co. Sher­iff Tom Dart, Rep. Danny Dav­is and ex-WH CoS/ex-Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Mack, Chica­go Tribune, 10/11).

De­cision Day Loom­ing

As of 10/11 p.m. “Gu­ti­er­rez was torn over run­ning or stay­ing in Con­gress and lead­ing the fight for im­mig­ra­tion re­form.”

He will an­nounce his de­cision 10/14 when he makes a speech at the Univ. of IL at Chica­go.

Gu­ti­er­rez huddled with sup­port­ers 10/11 in Pilsen be­fore fly­ing to Clev­e­land to help rally voters to sup­port the re-elec­tion of Rep. Mar­cia Fudge (D-OH), just one of many stops Gu­ti­er­rez is mak­ing in oth­er states to help Dems on 11/2.

Na­tion­ally, Gu­ti­er­rez’s high pro­file on im­mig­ra­tion is­sues makes him a sought-after fig­ure by Dems “who need his help in get­ting out the His­pan­ic vote” (Sweet, Chica­go Sun-Times, 10/12).

The Ox­ford Eng­lish Dic­tion­ary defines “whirl­pool” as “a quickly ro­tat­ing mass of wa­ter in a river or sea in­to which ob­jects may be drawn, typ­ic­ally caused by the meet­ing of con­flict­ing cur­rents.” It is also “a tur­bu­lent situ­ation from which it is hard to es­cape.” After three straight wave elec­tions in 2006, 2008, and 2010, strong cross­cur­rents might be an ap­pro­pri­ate way to think about this year’s House races. It’s not ne­ces­sar­ily that voter an­ti­pathy to­ward all things Wash­ing­ton is suck­ing every in­cum­bent in­to a vor­tex; it’s more that this mood is con­cur­rent with a re­dis­trict­ing year. To­geth­er, they could threaten a sea change that could be more gen­er­a­tion­al than par­tis­an.

The Demo­crat­ic Party and con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats are suf­fer­ing from ter­rible na­tion­al fa­vor­ab­il­ity num­bers. The Re­pub­lic­an Party and con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans are see­ing even worse num­bers. At the out­set, the en­vir­on­ment looks to be de­cidedly more neut­ral than in the past three wave cycles. The states have com­pleted ap­prox­im­ately two-thirds of their decen­ni­al re­dis­trict­ing. The remap it­self looks like a par­tis­an wash. But neut­ral doesn’t mean calm. Con­sider the fol­low­ing five de­vel­op­ments — as a cer­tain cast mem­ber of the Jer­sey Shore might say, “We have a situ­ation.”

First, 31 mem­bers of the House (18 Demo­crats and 13 Re­pub­lic­ans) have an­nounced that they are not run­ning for reelec­tion (not count­ing the new va­cancy in Gab­ri­elle Gif­fords’s Ari­zona dis­trict). It’s not quite a mass ex­odus, but, in check­ing our Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port archives, we find that those are the most de­par­tures at this point in the cycle since 1996. For some in­cum­bents, new dis­trict lines present a con­veni­ent time to call it quits; for oth­ers, Con­gress’s dys­func­tion is the mo­tiv­at­or. As re­tir­ing Rep. Jerry Cos­tello, D-Ill., re­cently told The New York Times, “The fact is, I could stay and col­lect a paycheck. But “¦ in Con­gress, very little is get­ting done these days, and I don’t see that chan­ging in the near fu­ture.” As more fil­ing dead­lines ap­proach, could an­oth­er 10 or 15 mem­bers join their ranks? Sure.

Second, at least a dozen mem­bers seek­ing reelec­tion won’t be re­turn­ing. That’s be­cause 24 mem­bers are run­ning against each oth­er, thanks to the con­sol­id­a­tion of seats from re­dis­trict­ing. Sev­en of these races fea­ture two Demo­crats; three fea­ture two Re­pub­lic­ans; and two fea­ture a mem­ber from each party.

Third, the byproducts of all these re­tire­ments and “double-bunked” in­cum­bents are 47 dis­tricts with no in­cum­bent at all. Of these, 19 can best be clas­si­fied as newly cre­ated seats, in­clud­ing four in Cali­for­nia, two in Ari­zona, and six yet-to-be-drawn dis­tricts in Texas and Flor­ida. It’s likely that about a third of the “new” seats will be solidly Demo­crat­ic; a third solidly Re­pub­lic­an; and the re­mainder very com­pet­it­ive. However, re­tir­ing Demo­crats are leav­ing be­hind ap­prox­im­ately six vul­ner­able seats, com­pared with just one for the Re­pub­lic­ans. This means that the real num­ber of in­cum­bent seats that Demo­crats need to net to re­gain the House is closer to 30 than to 25.

Fourth, nearly 40 mem­bers face ser­i­ous elect­or­al prob­lems. For some, like Rep. Fred Up­ton, R-Mich., it’s largely ideo­lo­gic­al. For oth­ers, like Reps. Paul Gos­ar, R-Ar­iz., and Tim Hold­en, D-Pa., it’s mainly geo­graph­ic­al or re­dis­trict­ing-re­lated. Oth­er chal­lenges are gen­er­a­tion­al or the res­ult of self-cre­ated prob­lems (see the prob­lems fa­cing Rep. Dan Bur­ton, R-Ind.). In 1992, an­oth­er tur­bu­lent re­dis­trict­ing cycle, 19 mem­bers lost primar­ies, a res­ult of both re­dis­trict­ing and the House bank scan­dal. Al­though this year’s num­ber is un­likely to be that high, in­cum­bents would be well-ad­vised to heed cau­tion.

Fifth, and most crit­ic­al to Demo­crats’ chances of boun­cing back in the House, The Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port cur­rently rates 36 in­cum­bents (25 Re­pub­lic­ans and 11 Demo­crats) as vul­ner­able in their gen­er­al elec­tions. If you’re a Demo­crat on this list who sur­vived the 2010 GOP wave, your prob­lems are more likely re­dis­trict­ing-re­lated than any­thing else. This cat­egory ap­plies to three in­cum­bents from North Car­o­lina — Mike McIntyre, Larry Kissell, and Heath Shuler — and one from Geor­gia, John Bar­row. But Re­pub­lic­ans on this list can’t count on the 2010 wave to win reelec­tion. Among in­de­pend­ent voters, the wave has re­ceded. Vul­ner­able Re­pub­lic­ans in­clude Reps. Dan Lun­gren of Cali­for­nia, Joe Heck of Nevada, and Charlie Bass of New Hamp­shire — and this list could grow as more in­triguing re­cruits on the Demo­crat­ic side hit the trail.

What does it all add up to?

His­tor­ic­ally, it may be in­struct­ive to look at the last two times a pres­id­ent ran for reelec­tion while his party was in the House minor­ity. In 1992, George H.W. Bush lost reelec­tion. Non­ethe­less, his party picked up nine seats but not enough to win a ma­jor­ity. In 1996, Pres­id­ent Clin­ton won reelec­tion. House Demo­crats also gained nine seats. This was about half of what they needed for a ma­jor­ity. Dif­fer­ent White House res­ults, but the same House out­come.

An­oth­er way of siz­ing up this race is to think about the 2000 and 2004 elec­tions when, in terms of pres­id­en­tial vot­ing, in­de­pend­ent voters pretty much split down the middle and little happened to al­ter the House lineup. In 2000, George W. Bush edged Al Gore by 2 points among in­de­pend­ents, 47 per­cent to 45 per­cent. On the same day, prac­tic­ally noth­ing happened in the House, with Demo­crats pick­ing up two seats. In 2004, John Kerry de­feated George W. Bush by a single point among in­de­pend­ents, 49 to 48 per­cent, with little House turnover: Re­pub­lic­ans picked up three seats. Con­trast that with 2008, when Obama beat John Mc­Cain by 8 points among in­de­pend­ents, 52 per­cent to 44 per­cent, with Demo­crats gain­ing 21 House seats in that elec­tion. That was on top of the 31 seats that Demo­crats had gained two years earli­er.

This his­tory sug­gests that in­de­pend­ents can serve as a tip­ping point when they start mov­ing de­cis­ively in one dir­ec­tion in the pres­id­en­tial race. Al­though we don’t yet know wheth­er Obama will win reelec­tion, the House looks headed for a makeover. At the mo­ment, Demo­crats also look headed for either the 1992 or the 1996 scen­ario: a small “bounce back.”

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