In 2008, John McCain won 49 Congressional Districts with Democratic Representatives. In the 2010 Republican House landslide, 37 of those seats fell. Accounting for losses in districts they had held which voted for President Obama, Republicans netted 35 members out of the crossover districts. These seats, while not nearly as numerous as they have been in decades past, are often the top targets of the minority party. They don’t always prove fertile, even in a good year: a dozen Democratic seats that went to McCain stayed blue in 2010. But with enough pressure and favorable winds, they are usually the first to fall in a wave. They’ve also seen some of the most contentious encounters between Representative and constituent.
With current town hall protests garnering attention and earning comparisons to the Tea Party protests in 2009, its important to remember who got protested back then and now, how many of these Capitol Hill residents receiving the yelling are actually vulnerable, and what comes next. Democrats and their supporters are going on the offensive heading into the midterms for 2018, and need to pick up over two dozen House seats to win control of the lower chamber. Casting as wide a net as possible is important: twenty-three Republicans represent districts that voted for Hillary Clinton, but that’s still short of the number they need to flip the House. Republicans in districts that went narrowly for Trump will become important targets as Democrats try to move the line.
Some of the most-covered protests won’t actually lead to the yelled-at member’s ouster: it’s more about optics, attention, and energy. Jason Chaffetz isn’t going to be one of the heads on a stick, even in a good year: he repeatedly wins by large double digits in a state that, despite giving Trump a far lower share in 2016, still preferred him strongly to Clinton. But just like the ultimate futility of a conservative launching a campaign against Nancy Pelosi in 2010, the simple act of challenge matters to help fuel a base reeling from a Presidential loss and readying itself for a midterm. Louis Gohmert has responded to protesting constituents’ requests for a town hall with a “nah“. He’s not vulnerable next year either, but that hasn’t stopped said protesters from spreading his response around social media. Pretty much every high profile Republican is being targeted, whether or not they even face an election next year. With the Senate Majority Leader and first term Senators like Joni Ernst facing the heat, one almost forgets that it is the Democrats on the defensive in the U.S. Senate next year: only nine Republicans, all but one in Trump states, face re-election in 2018.
In the run up to 2010, a plethora of House Democrats announced retirements. While they gave numerous reasons about why (“a long, proud career” and “family”), many could see what was coming: they had experienced near-constant push back when they ran into their constituents. After the town hall protest part of this cycle wears down, a wave of similar retirements from Republicans could come- if they are sensing the same thing. If the President’s approval ratings rise, and things start to chug along well for the Republican Congress, we won’t see many fond farewells. In addition to monitoring special Congressional elections and Senate votes, we are going to track those announcements, along with the previous election results in their respective seats. Perhaps its a cliche at this point after 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014, but this will be an interesting midterm.