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The One-Term Caucus? Top House Targets in 2016

The One Term Caucus? Top House Targets in 2016
Poliquin arrives last week for check-in for new members. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

They haven’t even been sworn in yet, but these members start off the cycle as underdogs in their quests for re-election in 2016.

Most of 2016′s initial targets are incoming Republicans, swept into office in a GOP midterm wave. They will represent districts Democrats carried with big margins in presidential election years — seats the newly minted Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Luján will probably want back. Only one vulnerable Democrat made this list.

What’s more, the window for either party to oust these freshman could close quickly. It’s easier to defeat an incumbent in their first re-election, before they solidify a stronghold on the seat.

In alphabetical order, here are the incoming members who start the 2016 cycle as underdogs:

Rep.-elect Brad Ashford, D-Neb.
The Democrat defeated GOP Rep. Lee Terry by a 3-point margin in this Omaha-based district. But Ashford shouldn’t get too comfortable. Mitt Romney carried this district by a 7-point margin in 2012.

Republicans say Terry’s gaffes, and his gaffes alone, were what made him vulnerable. Ashford successfully capitalized on Terry’s chronic foot-in-mouth disease to win — with a major investment by national Democrats.

But there’s a long line of potential Republican opponents who could challenge Ashford in two years.

Republican Chip Maxwell, a tea party Republican who toyed with an independent bid in 2014, already announced his intention to run.

There are other potential Republican challengers:

  • Former Omaha City Councilman Dan Welch, who lost a bid for mayor of Omaha in 2013.
  • Current Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, the first woman elected to that office.
  • Attorney Bryan Slone, who lost a bid for governor in the Cornhusker State.
  • State Sen. Beau McCoy, who also ran an unsuccessful bid for governor in Nebraska.
  • Omaha City Councilwoman Aimee Melton.

As one of the few GOP-leaning seats held by a Democrat on the map, expect Republicans to line up behind their nominee.

Rep.-elect Rod Blum, R-Iowa
Rep. Bruce Braley’s poor performance in the Senate race helped Blum pull off an upset in this northeastern Iowa district, which President Barack Obama carried by a 14-point margin in 2012.

Democrats said their candidate, state Rep. Pat Murphy, had baggage, and Republicans capitalized on it — including video footage of an angry tirade on the state House floor. Privately, Democrats griped Murphy ran a lazy campaign, assuming the seat would be safe for him.

But Democrats say there is a deep bench here, including the four Democrats Murphy defeated in the June primary. They include Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman Monica Vernon, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014, and state Rep. Anesa Kajtazovic.

Democrats concede they’ll have to spend a few million on the race, but they are optimistic they can pick up the seat in 2016.

Rep.-elect Cresent Hardy, R-Nev.

Dismal turnout in Nevada helped propel Hardy over Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford, 49 percent to 46 percent — even though Obama carried the district by double digits last time.

But in 2016, soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid will be up for re-election. Democrats plan to run an aggressive get-out-the-vote operation, and party leaders say that will all but sink Hardy’s re-election hopes.

The DCCC is aiming to convince Horsford to run a comeback bid for his seat. Privately, Nevada Democrats confess they have a thin bench, thanks to a statewide drubbing earlier this month.

Rep.-elect John Katko, R-N.Y.

Katko defeated Rep. Dan Maffei, by an astonishing 20-point margin in this Syracuse-based district — marking the second time a GOP wave felled the Democrat. But the district prefers Democrats in presidential cycles, picking Obama by a 16-point margin in 2012.

If Hillary Rodham Clinton is the Democratic presidential nominee, she’ll likely get strong support from the Empire State, where it’s rumored she’ll base her campaign headquarters. That stacks the odds against Katko.

Maffei could look to run again, but after losing the seat twice he could sit out another bid.

Current Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, the former co-chair of the state party, was also mentioned by Democratic operatives as a potential challenger. Miner won re-election last year.

Rep.-elect Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine

Poliquin captured this open seat in northern Maine by a 5-point margin. His victory was boosted by Republican Gov. Paul R. LePage’s win, as well as a third-party candidate who drew 11 percent of the vote in the House contest.

But Maine’s 2nd District prefers Democratic in presidential elections. Obama carried the district by a 9-point margin in 2012.

And Poliquin captured the seat with 47 percent of the vote — meaning more than a majority of the district voted for someone other than Poliquin. Democratic operatives say that leaves him vulnerable in 2016.

National Democrats, including the DCCC, hope state Sen. Emily Cain, who lost to Poliquin, mounts another challenge. Cain could not be reached for comment, but she told the Kennebec Journal she is “flattered” by Democrats’ request and is contemplating another run.

Democratic state Rep. Jeff McCabe is also contemplating a bid, the Kennebec Journal reported.

Correction 1 p.m.

An earlier version of this post misspelled the names of Nebraska state Sen. Beau McCoy and Rep.-elect Cresent Hardy.


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