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We now turn our attention to that most vexing of America’s regions, the South. It has gone from being dominated by Jim Crow-enabling Dixiecrats in the 1950s to being competitive in the 1970s and 1980s in terms of House and Senate elections, to becoming the bedrock of GOP support from the Newt Gingrich revolution of 1994 onward. Many districts in the South, even under the best of conceivable circumstances, are simply not in play. Yet not all is lost. Many parts of the South are trending toward Democrats, particularly in places with younger and more diverse populations. Suburbs in Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida offer some of the most promising opportunities- at least on a national level. And remember, in 2016, Clinton-Kaine did better in Georgia than in Ohio, in Texas than Iowa, and in Virginia than Minnesota. So here are some of the most competitive districts in the South- along with my suggestions of some candidates that can win them.

Florida- 02: This is definitely a district favorable to Republicans; although it has a piece of Tallahassee, it also encompasses much of the state’s conservative panhandle. Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum could make a race out of it, however. At only 37, he is one of the party’s brightest young talents. In his capacity as mayor, he has refurbished civic life in Tallahassee, sponsoring mentorship programs, championing early childhood education, and working to reduce criminal recidivism. Interestingly, Gillum may have his sights higher than a mere congress seat- he is being encouraged to run for governor, and was reportedly on Hillary Clinton’s original list of vice-presidential choices.

Florida- 15: This district is also friendly to the GOP, but I’d think that many Republican voters would give due consideration to United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, whose jurisdiction covers the middle section of Florida. He’s got bipartisan credentials- including pursuing corruption charges against a Democratic congresswoman.

Florida- 18: Pat Murphy was expected to win Florida’s Senate race last year, until Marco Rubio decided to seek re-election after all, and ended up winning handily. Murphy’s old congressional district was then won by a Republican. But in 2018, Murphy is poised to make another run for the 18th, which covers much of Palm Beach. At only 33 years of age, Murphy has a great career ahead of him if he gets a couple more lucky breaks.

Florida- 25: On paper, the 25th, 26th, and 27th districts look competitive. Yet each of them is currently controlled by Republican congressmen, and each is home to a large population of Cuban-Americans. While younger Cubans are questioning their parents’ historic alliance with the G.O.P., movement in this direction can be encouraged by some good candidates. Mario Diaz-Balart is a Miami institution, but in a big election, popular incumbents can fall. This is especially so if the Trump administration continues to alienate Hispanic voters. I have chosen a candidate who can mobilize an impressive grassroots army and reframe the conversation. Lucas Benitez helped found the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to end the exploitation of field workers in the region’s tomato farms. From there, he launched the Campaign for Fair Food, a massive grassroots campaign that successfully got several restaurant chains to agree to purchase tomatoes only from certified, approved growers who paid fair wages. He’s a Cesar Chavez for the 21st century.

Florida- 26: Key West, the Everglades, and south Miami are all covered by this district. I only have one Kennedy in my list of congressional prospects, and it’s this one. For years, Anthony Kennedy Shriver has been a bastion of Miami civic life. Like his mother Eunice, he is an activist for the mentally handicapped; he has chaired the Best Buddies organization, which helps the developmentally disabled win friends and make connections.

Florida- 27: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is another true Florida institution, but she might face a close race- especially if someone like Guillermo Fernandez challenges her. Fernandez was the head of the Latin Builders Association. He’s one of Miami’s most highly regarded businessmen and his construction industry ties are in the best entrepreneurial spirit.

Kentucky- 06: The Cook PVI rates this as Republican +9, but Kentucky is a weird state. It elected a Democratic governor twice- by landslides- in 2007 and 2011, and still has a greater percentage of registered Democrats than many blue states. In fact, this district was held by a Democrat, Ben Chandler, for a decade up to 2012. Former Kentucky secretary of state Allison Grimes would be a solid choice to take on incumbent Andy Barr. She lost a highly touted Senate race against Mitch McConnell back in 2014, but one should keep in mind that 1) she was up against the freaking Senate then-Minority Leader, and 2) it was a deeply Republican year in a deeply Republican state. When she isn’t required to distance herself from President Obama, she’d be a formidable candidate.

South Carolina- 07: This race may be another pipe dream, but the Palmetto State is slowly trending blue, and becoming better educated, more suburban, and more like legit swing states North Carolina and Virginia. This district itself is new, apportioned after the 2010 census, and so its incumbent, Tom Rice, hasn’t had the time to become a part of the furniture. Vincent Sheheen, a state legislator who made his two races against Nikki Haley far more competitive than they should have been, could have what it takes to win.

Texas- 23: Amazingly, this district’s population is two-thirds Hispanic and still has a Republican congressman. Encompassing part of San Antonio to part of El Paso, it’s a massive district- about the size of West Virginia- and should be part of any attempt to get progressives the House Majority. While I’ve tried to avoid picky gimmicky celebrities, I think the best choice would be San Antonio Spurs legend David Robinson. If this seems kooky, hear me out: Robinson is one of the very best citizens and teammates in NBA history- a Naval Academy grad, always soft-spoken, polite, and thoughtful. Since he retired, he’s worked hard to set up a school for inner-city kids in San Antonio and has learned a lot about finance and administration along the way. There’s nobody in NBA history I’d be happier with as a neighbor, as a fellow citizen, as my representative, than David Robinson. I surely hope he’d consider a run.

Virginia- 02: Generally, we can divine a trend from the 2016 election: Donald Trump’s message played out very well in the Rust Belt, in Appalachia, and in already blood-red sections of the South. It was most heavily resisted in suburbs- including many suburbs that were friendly to Mitt Romney four years earlier, in places with growing minority populations, and in areas with high levels of college graduates and jobs that supported them. Into this mix, Virginia’s 2nd district, covering much of Virginia Beach, should be considered in play. It’s only slightly more Republican than the nation as a whole, I have the perfect candidate in mind. Given the strong naval presence in this area, Rear Admiral Gretchen Herbert would be a compelling candidate. Lately the head of Naval Cyber Forces, her postings on the Virginia shore and mastery of national defense issues would make her the candidate to beat. She’s also clearly not timid about getting into the political fray, having joined 94 other high-ranking military officials in endorsing Hillary Clinton.

Virginia- 05: Difficult to win even in good circumstances, this district runs like a thick vertical line through the middle of Virginia and was once held by Tom Perriello, who was my pick to become Virginia’s next governor. Presently, however, I think a strong case could be made for a man who went from obscurity into a figure of national stature during the DNC– Charlottesville resident Khzir Khan. (It speaks volumes that Khan lives in the same town as Monticello.) You may remember him as at the man who tragically lost his son in Iraq, challenged Donald Trump’s anti-Islamic rhetoric, and stood up for the Americanism of his country’s Muslim community.

Virginia- 07: This looks like an extremely Republican district- Cook’s PVI lists it as R+10. Keep in mind that it’s representative is David Bratt- the Tea Party enthusiast who successfully primaried Eric Cantor for not being conservative enough. This district is fairly well-to-do, highly educated, and unlikely to sustain this kind of foolishness for long. Kelly Thomassen could make a solid run in a tough race. She is presently the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and her long history of working with Terry McAullife and Mark Warner would give her the inside track.

Virginia- 10: Political junkies watch this district with great interest, it’s a rare dead even on the Cook PVI and it is often described as a swing district among swing districts. Republican Barbara Comstock won in a close race last year, and she might have her eyes on higher office, perhaps challenging Tim Kaine in 2018. Whether or not this is a fight for an open seat, Aneesh Chopra is well suited for this affluent, highly suburban congressional district. Chopra has served as the Chief Technology Officer of the United States, and is an expert on making government more responsive to innovation.

So…not as many competitive districts as some of the other regions we will explore. This is partly because some sections of the South are prohibitively bad for progressives. But moreover, two states that were competitive in last year’s the presidential election, North Carolina and Georgia, do not have any true swing districts due to both partisan gerrymandering and a certain amount of racial and political “self-gerrymandering.” If Roy Cooper is able to hold on in the 2020 election, his governorship can serve as an effective leverage to carve out some more fairly drawn districts in what may well become America’s premier swing state.

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Welcome to the third installment of our series on rebuilding the strength of the Democratic Party in preparation for 2018. In our first post in the series, we explored several optimal chances to win governorships in competitive states. In the second, we looked at far more difficult prospects- keeping a batch of seats that are already overwhelmingly Democratic in progressive hands.

For this installment, we turn to the House of Representatives, which has been under Republican control since the 2010 midterm elections. Here, progressives are playing the game on a board designed by the opposition: Republicans controlled many of the state legislatures that drew the congressional districts after the 2010 census. For that reason, very few truly competitive “swing” districts exist, so taking back the House will require strong candidates, peerless fundraising, listening to constituents, and most importantly of all, fervent grassroots activity. We need to make phone calls, knock on doors, donate, drive people to the polls, and do the sorts of things that can swing elections. To win the House, we need to keep the seats we have, and win 25 additional seats. That is a very challenging objective, but here is my roadmap for accomplishing this task.

To help this process along, I’m making some endorsements for House candidates. In all, I have identified 74 pick-up opportunities. Since that would make for a very long and unwieldy post, I’m dividing it into four posts, looking at one segment of the country in particular: the Northeast, the South, the Midwest, and finally the Prairie and West Coast. Today, we explore the Northeast. In doing my research for this, I was surprised at how many Republicans held fairly neutral congressional districts, especially in what I regard as safe “blue” states: New York and New Jersey. But it’s a good example of how Trumpism has made its greatest inroads in Rust Belt areas with lots of discouraged, frustrated, and anxious blue-collar workers.

So without further ado, here are the Northeastern districts that I believe are winnable- and the candidates that can help win them.

Maine 2: It might surprise you to know that one of the most rural congressional districts in the nation isn’t on the prairies or the mountain states- it’s right in the northeast. Maine’s 2nd covers most of the state outside of the Portland metro area and its “Vacationland” south coast. For years, Michael Michaud held onto this district easily, but when he ran for governor in 2014, Bruce Poliquin ran for the empty seat and won it. In fact, it’s the only congressional district in New England held by a Republican. To make matters worse, Donald Trump won the 2nd congressional district and it’s accompanying electoral vote, since Maine apportions theirs by congressional district. There has recently been a movement to encourage scientists to run for office, and in such a rural and environmentally-conscious district, I think that’s a wise choice. My pick is Jacquelyn Gill, a professor of biology and ecology at University of Maine, Orono. As an expert on climate change, she’s in a great position to become a strong public voice from one of the most naturally beautiful congressional districts in the country.

New York- 1: The eastern half of Trumpy Long Island leans slightly Republican, but if the public sours against him, this can be a prime pickup opportunity. As a former state senator, Brian X. Foley has succeeded in winning in historically Republican territory and is a devoted advocate for victims of domestic violence.

New York- 11: This downstate district is also slightly Republican as per the Cook PVI index, and comprises Staten Island and parts of a couple other boroughs. My endorsement goes to Matthew Titone. As a lawyer and state assemblyman, adoption and LGBT issues are his stock and trade, and would work well in a fiscally-conservative/socially liberal area such as this.

New York- 19: I am all for giving worthy candidates a second chance. The fightin’ 19th winds down much of the Hudson river valley, and I’d love to see a rematch between professor and campaign finance reform activist Zephyr Teachout and incumbent John Faso.

New York-21: I grew up in this district, which covers much of the Adirondack Mountains as  well as my home town of Gloversville. After a few terms of a Democratic congressman, this seat fell to Elise Stefanik, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. She’s a Paul Ryan protege and a very tough candidate to beat, even in a district that is theoretically evenly matched between Republicans and Democrats. I pick former congressman Scott Murphy, who is still young, sharp, and a conscientious venture capitalist who knows more about creating jobs than Stefanik ever will.

New York- 22: This district is on many peoples’ watch list of pickup opportunities, and incumbent Claudia Tenney is looking shaky and may not win in a year favorable to Democrats. In such a situation, I would be inclined to give a second chance to Kim Myers, who ran a close race in 2016.

New York- 23: Tom Reed is slowly losing steam and not listening to constituents. In fact, a professor at my old college, Houghton, has been trying to get a hold of him for months now to no avail, as she documents in her very thoughtful blog, “May I Call You Tom?.” I’d love for this professor to run for office, but if she doesn’t, I’d like to suggest an out-of-the-box pick for this district, which winds through the affluent Rochester suburbs down to the poverty-stricken Southern Tier.  Svante Myrick would be a terrific candidate who could attract loads of positive publicity. His tenure as mayor of Ithaca has been nothing short of incredible, and he was even a finalist for the World Mayor Award. The only question is- can he connect to rural voters?

New York- 24: This is a slightly Democratic-leaning district which nonetheless has a Republican incumbent. Since it contains most of the Syracause metro area, I don’t see how one could go wrong with Syracuse mayor Stephanie Miner as a challenger. She is a dynamic speaker, as you can see from her talk to the women’s march in Seneca Falls last month. She’s made no bones about opposing Trump’s policies on refugees, and would be a feisty, dynamic, and conscientious candidate.

New York- 27: The 27th serves many of Buffalo’s north suburbs as well as Niagara County. Its congressman, Chris Collins, was one of the first to endorse Donald Trump’s candidacy in the primaries, and his fortunes are, for better or worse, now yoked to his. It’s a tough district for Democrats- Jack Kemp covered much of the same territory for many years, as Barry Goldwater’s running mate William Miller did before him. So we need to bring out the big guns. There aren’t many Buffalonians who were more revered than the late journalist Tim Russert, and we need to bring his young son Luke– a solid journalist in his own right- to harness Buffalo’s blizzard-like rage against economic injustice.

Pennsylvania- 06: This bizarre, gerrymandered monstrosity of  a district meanders across the exurbs and smaller cities orbiting around Philadelphia. Judy Schwank could be a compelling candidate that could make inroads into its agricultural areas; she’s a professor whose scholarship focuses on agricultural and responsible land use. She also sits in the Pennsylvania State Senate, and has been elected to office from competitive Berks County.

Pennsylvania- 07: The 7th also leans- ever so slightly- Republican, and could easily be won under good conditions. Like the 6th, it is heavily gerrymandered and barely contiguous. Katie McGinty, who lost in a squeaker of an election to Pat Toomey in last year’s Senate race, would be a terrific candidate who should be able to generate the money and the interest to take out incumbent Pat Meehan.

Pennsylvania- 08: Covering much of suburban Bucks County, this is yet another district designed to give the Republicans a slight advantage. Patrick Murphy held this seat for a while, then lost in 2010, but he’s an even stronger candidate today. He served as Undersecretary for the Army, developing a close rapport with soldiers and becoming a champion on veterans’ issues.

Pennsylvania- 15: Lehigh Valley is nestled in this congressional district, one of the areas most hostile to environmentalism, and heavily dependent on fracking and coal. It’s representative, Charlie Dent, is one of the most sensible Republicans in Congress, but he still needs a challenger. (With apologies to my friend Chris, who once worked at one of his offices.) Jennifer Mann. She has represented the city for 14 years in the Pennsylvania House, and has recently moved into the private sector with a consulting company.

Pennsylvania- 16: I also feel bad about suggesting a challenger to this seat– I went to college with the nephew of its new congressman, Lloyd Smucker. Nevertheless, enter Ephrata native Lindsay Holst, who has covered digital strategy for the White House the last several years, and was recently named one of the 50 most beautiful people on Capitol Hill.

Pennsylvania- 18: According to the Cook PVI index, Republicans enjoy a six-point advantage in this district, all other things being equal. It’s rural, it’s 96% white, it borders West Virginia, and its congressman, Tim Murphy, has rarely faced a serious challenger. In such a scenario, I would pick Rick Fernandez. Never heard of him? He’s the director of the Fred Rogers Center at St. Vincent College in Latrobe. And he would be perfectly poised to bring Mister Rogers’s values of neighborliness, kindness, peace, and social justice to Washington. Especially in an era where PBS is in danger of encroaching privitization.

New Jersey- 02: The second district of the Garden State hugs much of Atlantic City and south Jersey. Frank Lobiondo has represented this seat since the Gingrich Revolution way back in 1994. He might meet his match in Bob Andrzejczak, who is only 30 years old, a Purple Heart recipient who unfortunately lost his leg in Iraq, and a promising young member of the New Jersey General Assembly.

New Jersey- 03: One recent article called this district a carpetbagger’s paradise, unable to attract candidates- from either party- with substantive ties to the area. Although it is heavily urban and covers much of south-central Jersey, it experienced a wild swing– it went from giving 52% of its vote to Obama in 2012 to giving 54% to Trump in 2016. Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt has worked hard to cut down on wasteful bureaucracy and make local government more manageable. She would have a message that would really deliver in this region, which the PVI index lists as tilting +1 Republican.

New Jersey- 07: Although this district is rated Republican +6, its suburban and affluent character makes it a prime takeover opportunity; it voted for Clinton over Trump while re-electing a Republican congressman, Leonard Lance. Seeing as how this is the case, maybe a smart move would be to run…a rogue Republican. Christine Todd Whitman has served as governor of New Jersey and as George W. Bush’s first EPA administrator. But in the intervening years, she has slowly become disillusioned with her party. She wrote a book, It’s My Party Too about the marginalization of moderates such as herself, still supports environmental activism strongly, and hates Donald Trump so much that she bit her lip and endorsed Hillary for president in the general election. Now 70 years old, she might very well make the last act of her political life a conscientious run for Congress as a Democrat-caucusing independent or however she wants to fancy herself.

New Jersey- 11: Since the dawn of the republic, the Frelinghuysen family has loomed large in New Jersey politics. Various members of this dynasty fought in the American Revolution, served as secretary of state, ran as Henry Clay’s running mate, and perennially controlled a seat in Congress. Such is the case with Rodney Frelinghuysen, whose district includes, like the 7th, some of the most affluent areas in the country. My pick to challenge him is another solid educator, Helen Streubert. As the newly minted president of St. Elizabeth College, she oversaw the college’s transition to lay leadership and a co-education model. (It had been the last all-women’s college in New Jersey.) She’s a redoubtable Pope Francis Catholic who could really make waves in New Jersey politics.

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