How Vulnernable are House Districts Clinton Won? Preliminary Analysis of NY-24, NJ-7, VA-10 By Paul Joyce
The Utica College Center of Public Affairs and Election Research has been analyzing congressional districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 that are currently held by Republicans. Our preliminary analysis has suggested that several of these incumbents are less vulnerable than conventional wisdom suggests, including seats in Texas, Florida, California and Pennsylvania. Our analysis now shifts to states that have just one of these seats, including NY-24, NJ-7, and VA-10.
New York’s 24th congressional district consists of Syracuse, and all of Cayuga, Onondaga and Wayne Counties, as well as part of Oswego County. The district has flipped between Democrats and Republicans in recent years. Hillary Clinton won the district by 3.6 percent. Republican incumbent John Katko took office in 2014, upsetting incumbent Dan Maffei, and won reelection in 2016 with 61 percent of the vote.
New Jersey’s 7th district contains all of Hunterdon County and parts of Morris, Essex, Somerset and Union Counties. The district narrowly voted for Clinton by just 1 percent. A Republican has held the seat since 1980. Republican Representative Mike Ferguson survived the wave election of 2006 before retiring in 2009. His successor, Leonard Lance, was elected in 2008 and has won reelection four times, with 54 percent of the vote or higher. Five candidates thus far are seeking to become Lance’s Democratic challenger.
Virginia’s 10th district is comprised of Clarke, Frederick and Loudon Counties with parts of Prince William and Fairfax Counties. Hillary Clinton won by 10 points, but like NJ-7, a Republican has represented the district since 1980. Frank Wolf, elected that year, held the seat until his retirement in 2015, also surviving the 2006 wave election. Barbara Comstock took office in 2014, winning 56 percent vote, and was reelected in 2016 with 53 percent of vote. Seven candidates thus far are seeking to become Comstock’s Democratic challenger.
Representatives Comstock, Katko and Lance have all been critical of Trump. Comstock and Katko even called for Trump to drop out of the presidential race. All three representatives voted against the American Healthcare Act, citing obligations to their constituents to maintain coverage for as many people as possible.
Each of the three were vocal about Trump’s firing of James Comey and the administration’s potential linkages to Russia. Lance called for the Russian probe to continue without Comey while also encouraging him to testify. In an interview with MSNBC, he said he could not confirm Trump’s claims that there was no collusion with Russia. Katko said that he would support a special prosecutor if it was necessary to uncover the truth surrounding Trump and Russia, while Comstock questioned the timing of Comey’s firing and called for an independent commission to investigate potential collusion.
Though Democrats are targeting these districts, incumbency advantage is powerful in the House. 97 percent of House incumbents were reelected in 2016. This was slightly higher than the post-World War II average of 94 percent.
Analysts should not dismiss how VA-10 and NJ-7 have been in Republican control for 37 years and survived the 2006 wave election for Democrats. Meanwhile, Congressman Katko was reelected decisively in 2016, so he will be difficult to defeat, even with low public approval ratings for President Trump. Representative Comstock won a much closer race, in a district that supported Clinton by a greater margin, and appears to be the most vulnerable of the three early on.
Paul Joyce is an MPA candidate at the University of Albany.