Weren't we gerrymandered together? 

Catch of the Day: Competitive House Races?

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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The Catch to Philip Bump at the Washington Post's The Fix for making an often-overlooked point: Even though few House seats are truly competitive in any particular election cycle, quite a few districts have close elections over time:

The Fix and other political analysts will often remind folks that only a few dozen congressional districts are genuinely competitive. This map shows that much of the country -- at the very least -- has the potential to be competitive. Even then, though, it's not even close to half.

Actually, the maps Bump supplies undersell the story. He's looked back at all House races rated "toss-up" by the Cook Political Report in its final pre-election edition for each cycle beginning in 2000. His totals would have been higher had he added those rated "leaning" to Democrats or Republicans. Or those that were rated toss-up (or leaning) at some point during the cycle. Or if he had added, say, any election that a rating system considered a toss-up; the various prognosticators wind up with very similar results, but there are always a few races on which they differ.

I'll agree, however, that there still aren't enough competitive districts. What this exercise points out, however, is that it's not all about gerrymandering. Plenty of districts are potentially competitive, and few wind up with down-to-the-wire contests. To me, that means we need to find ways to divert some of the enormous flow of dollars from the most competitive and highest-profile elections (especially presidential general elections) toward seemingly lopsided House races. Yes, some districts will never produce anything interesting no matter how much they are seeded, but plenty will.

In fact, it's only indirectly about the money. The biggest component of a real campaign in a marginally competitive district is a solid challenger to an incumbent (or, in an open seat, quality candidates for both major parties). But good candidates won't run if they believe they can't win. And that's where the money comes in: the easier it is to raise enough to run a serious campaign, the better the chances of drawing a serious candidate. As regular readers know, I favor public financing floors (but no ceilings; I'd let them raise whatever they could without any contributor limits) for House elections so that every major party nominee can run at least a bit of a campaign. That's one way to do it; there are probably others.

Meanwhile: Nice catch!

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To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net