The Five Vacant House Seats — And The Special Elections To Fill Them : It's All Politics Here's the scoop on the five vacant House seats and the schedule for filling them.
NPR logo The Five Vacant House Seats — And The Special Elections To Fill Them

The Five Vacant House Seats — And The Special Elections To Fill Them

Deutch is heavily favored to keep the Fla. 19 seat in Democratic hands next Tuesday. hide caption

toggle caption

Deutch is heavily favored to keep the Fla. 19 seat in Democratic hands next Tuesday.

The current makeup of the House is 253 Democrats, 177 Republicans, and five vacancies. Here's a look at the five open seats and the efforts underway to fill them.

APRIL 13: Florida 19Robert Wexler (D) resigned 1/3/10 to join the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation, a DC think tank.

Wexler had seven blow-out victories in his congressional career, and it's hard to imagine that state Sen. Ted Deutch (D) will not enjoy the same result on Tuesday. The district is heavily Democratic and went 65 percent for Barack Obama in 2008. That year the Republican candidate for the seat, Ed Lynch, got just 27 percent of the vote against Wexler. Lynch is running again and calling for repeal of the recently-enacted health-care legislation, in a district that includes many elderly voters who live in the condos lining up places like Boca Raton. But, as George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post reports, seniors "are the strongest opponents of the new health care bill, perhaps distrusting its promise to preserve Medicare benefits while squeezing $500 billion in savings from the senior health program." The story also says that Lynch is arguing that the district's large Jewish population "should be concerned by the Obama administration's stance toward Israel and its recent criticism of Israel for planning to build homes in a disputed area of Jerusalem."

It's hard to see that tactic working in this district, where most voters know that Deutch, who like Wexler is Jewish, has long been active in pro-Israel causes. Besides, Deutch argues the issue is not the Mideast but quality health care, and he says the new legislation will help the district's seniors.

Neither the NRCC nor the various Tea Party activists from the district have gotten involved in the campaign. Also on the ballot is another conservative, Jim McCormick, running on a "no party" line.

The Examiner's Daniel Tilson writes, correctly in my view, that Deutch is the "runaway favorite" in the race. But there's a "but":

The challenge for Deutch .. is not so much to win — as that seems a foregone conclusion — but instead to Win Big, to get folks to turn out in large numbers, to give him a landslide victory and send a strong message to the Florida Republican Party that the Democratic base is energized and ready to do battle come November.

Rating: Safe Democratic.

MAY 11: Georgia 09Nathan Deal (R) resigned 3/21/10 to run for governor.

Deal's resignation was not as smooth as he would have liked; even though he's no longer in Congress, the Office of Congressional Ethics still admonished him for improperly using his office to help his family's auto salvage company. Deal denies any wrongdoing. In any event, all eight candidates seeking to replace him — six Republicans, one Democrat and one independent — run on the same ballot. If no one gets a majority of the vote, a runoff will be held June 8. The leading Republicans in this GOP-heavy district — John McCain won 75 percent of the vote here in 2008 — are state Sen. Lee Hawkins and state Rep. Tom Graves. The Democrat is Mike Freeman, a retired pastor.

Rating: Safe Republican.

MAY 18: Pennsylvania 12John Murtha (D) died 2/8/10.

Following Murtha's death, a slew of famous Democratic politicians — notably former state Treasurer & Auditor General Barbara Hafer and former Lt. Gov. Mark Singel — announced they were in the race to succeed him. But all dropped out, leaving Mark Critz, a top Murtha aide, as the party's nominee. Tim Burns, a businessman, is the Republican candidate. Both candidates are already on the air, with Critz talking about the economy and Murtha, and Burns talking about his conservative views on abortion, faith and guns. The district leans Democratic but is certainly culturally conservative; if memory serves, Murtha called people here "racists" and "rednecks." With big Democratic primaries for the Senate and governor on the same day — the GOP statewide slate is already set — some think there could be a larger Dem turnout on the 18th.

Rating: Tossup.

MAY 22: Hawaii 01Neil Abercrombie (D) resigned 2/28/10 to run for governor.

Republicans think they can pull off a Scott Brown-like surprise here. All candidates in the special election run on the same ballot, so the GOP is hoping that the two major Democrats in the race — ex-Rep. Ed Case and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa — will split the vote and allow the Republican candidate, Honolulu City Councilmember Charles Djou, to win. Previous efforts to get either Case, who gave up his 2nd CD House seat in 2006 to challenge Sen. Dan Akaka in the primary, or Hanabusa to drop out went nowhere, so the DCCC instead decided to just go after Djou with negative ads.

The only Republican to ever capture this seat was Pat Saiki, who won the first of her two terms in 1986 because the Democrats beat each other up.

Politico's Ben Smith is reporting that the DCCC is working behind the scenes on behalf of Case, figuring him to be the stronger candidate than Hanabusa, who is seen by some as too liberal. That has left Asian-American Democrats furious, and many resent the involvement in the primary by the DCCC. Meanwhile, there seems to be lingering resentment directed at Case for having challenged Akaka for his Senate seat, and aides to veteran Sen. Dan Inouye (D) are working on Hanabusa's behalf.

Rating: Leans Democratic.

NO DATE SET: New York 29Eric Massa (D) resigned 3/8/10 following the revelation of a sex scandal.

Democrats did very well in upstate New York special elections in 2009, retaining the Republican-leaning seat vacated by Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and picking up the historically GOP seat of now-Army Secretary John McHugh (R). Early predictions in both specials had the Republicans ahead. And so while one might think it risky to even speculate on who would be favored in the race to succeed Massa, who resigned following reports he had sexually harassed a male staffer, nearly everyone seems to feel that this is Republican territory ... that if they can't win here, they can't win anywhere.

But now, lo and behold, there seems to be signals being sent from Gov. David Paterson's (D) office that there won't be a special election for Massa's seat because the state is already hurting for cash, and a special would cost some $750,000 or so.

Republicans are not buying that argument, saying that Paterson and the Dems just don't want to give the GOP the opportunity to brag about what appears to be a solid chance of a pickup. The Republican candidate, former Corning Mayor Tom Reed, is hopeful that Paterson will change his mind, but for now it looks like the seat won't be filled until November — when Democrats are likely to retain the governorship and both Senate seats.

An editorial in the Monroe Messenger Post — a paper I often cite — says there is "no excuse" for the seat to go without a special election "right now." Failure to call for a special election would be "politically expedient" for the Dems" but also "unfair" to the residents of the district. to the 650,000 or so residents of the district, who are not currently represented in the House":

Schedule the election. As soon as possible. And may the best candidate win. Democrats may not be satisfied with the outcome. Perhaps it's Republicans who won't be satisfied. But all voters — Democratic and Republican — deserve the satisfaction of having their say at the ballot box.

An editorial in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle agrees:

Despite the unbudgeted costs and logistical issues, political representation during this tumultuous time in Congress is needed. Job creation, finance reform, immigration issues, agricultural subsidies and the distribution of federal stimulus monies are just a few of the agenda items.

With Massa's resignation just two weeks before the health care reform vote, the district missed out on important representation.

By delaying a decision, the Democratic governor adds fuel to the charges that politics are at play. Voter enrollment in the district is 42 percent Republican and 31 percent Democrat.

Paterson shouldn't wait another day. Given New York's sputtering economy, it's important for citizens in the 29th district to have a voice.

The Democratic candidate, whenever the race is held, will be Matthew Zeller, who served with the Army in Afghanistan.

Rating: Republican favored.