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.