NRCC Targets Foreshadow Power of Partisanship in 2014 Elections

by Devin McCarthy // Published January 18, 2013

A memo from the National Republican Congressional Committee obtained by the National Journal Wednesday identifies seven Democratic Members of Congress as the primary targets for an expanded Republican majority in 2014: Mike McIntyre, Jim Matheson, Nick Rahall, John Barrow, Collin Peterson, Ann Kirkpatrick, and Ron Barber. It is no coincidence that those seven representatives also happen to be representing the seven most Republican districts currently controlled by Democrats, according to FairVote's partisanship index. 

In other words, the power of partisanship in governing outcomes had led Republicans to make their top seven targets the only Democrats representing a district were Barack Obama's 2008 presidential election trailed his national average by more than four percentage points.


The NRCC's strategy is telling for two reasons. First, it shows the power of hardening partisanship in American congressional elections, as our partisanship index is based entirely on the results of the 2008 presidential race and is still a perfect predictor of the GOP's 2014 congressional strategy. For more partisanship analysis, stay tuned for FairVote's upcoming Monopoly Politics 2014 report and accompanying partisanship-based forecasts for the 2014 midterm election, using new partisanship data based on the 2012 presidential race. FairVote's Monopoly Politics 2012 report was correct in its predictions for all 333 seats that it said were safe for one party, and accurately identified the partisan lean in most of the remaining districts.

Furthermore, the NRCC strategy is another indication of the decline of the congressional moderate - especially Members of Congress representing districts that favor the opposing party. As FairVote has shown, the number of such representatives will be lower in the 113th Congress than at any other point in modern congressional history, primarily due a lower advantage for incumbents and the increased importance of partisanship for voters.

While the RNCC may not succeed in its plans to oust all seven of these Democrats, it does seem unlikely that all seven will survive. In 2012, a year in which Democrats had an advantage over Republican candidates overall by a margin of about 4%, four of the seven Democratic targets won by a margin of less than 4% and three by a margin of less than 1%. If 2014 is a relatively even year between the two parties, those four candidates (McIntyre, Matheson, Barber, and Kirkpatrick) will be very vulnerable.

On the other side of the partisan coin, Democrats in 2012 defeated every single Republican in a district where Obama bettered his average by 2% - excepting an anomaly caused by California's Top Two system in which only two Republicans were on the general election ballot in a Democratic district. Thus, they have fewer obvious Republican incumbents to target in 2014, at least based on partisanship.

Given that in 2012 no new candidates of either party were elected to a represent a district with a partisanship of greater than 54% favoring the opposing party, the number of congressional moderates is likely to fall still further in 2014. Indeed, if it's a nationally close election, it's all too possible that the small band of 'shared representation' will be confined to districts in the six-percentage point partisanship range between 46% Democratic and and 52% Democratic - just 14% of all districts.