Cook: By the Numbers, State House Control a Toss-Up

by Michael Cook (michael@cooksoutlook.com) 102 views 

This week, candidate filing closed which means we now know for certain who will be on the ballot. This year both political parties will fight for control of the State House of Representatives, which is currently held by Republicans by a 51 to 49 margin.

After analyzing the House candidate filings, I believe that based on hard numbers, and a touch of opinion, which party controls the State House next year is basically a toss-up.

Based on past elections results, and who filed for office, I believe Republicans start off with 43 safe seats and Democrats start off with 42 safe seats. This means there are currently 15 seats that could be qualified as potential toss-ups.

Based on my analysis, there are two things that come to mind:
1) Either political party could control the House next year.
2) Whichever party is in control next year, holds it by a very slim margin.

Here is how I arrived at this conclusion.

Regardless of what happens in November, Republicans will automatically hold 35 House seats and Democrats 27 seats due to either incumbents without opposition, races that will be decided in the primary, or races where only one person filed.

There are four incumbents whose General Election opponent is a Libertarian, which means you could bet the farm they win re-election. Reps. Ken Bragg, Deborah Ferguson, Charlene Fite and Sue Scott fall into this category and will all be back in January 2015.

Now let’s examine incumbents who face opposition from a member of a major party this November.

In my opinion, incumbents that won re-election last time with 53% or more will, with two exceptions, likely win re-election. Winning a previous election by six points or more is a clear victory by the incumbent making their chances for re-election this time highly likely. That’s not to say these incumbents can’t be beat this year, it’s just that their challengers have a tough hill to climb on the road to victory.

Furthermore, for Democrats who won last cycle by six points or more when Barack Obama was on the ballot means they’re very sturdy candidates this cycle.

Currently, there are 14 Democratic incumbents facing Republican opposition who won their last election by six or more points. For two of these Democrats, Wes Wagner and Homer Linderman, Republicans didn’t even field candidates against them in 2012 when Obama was on the ballot. This fact alone tells me they’re strong picks for re-election.

There are seven Republican incumbents currently facing Democratic opposition who won last time by more than six points, which means they’ll be tough to beat this cycle. However, two of these Republican incumbents may be vulnerable and I’ll cover that in a moment.

Therefore there are 15 House seats that I consider to be a toss-up at this point. They are races where the incumbent won by less than six points last cycle, are open seats, or feature two incumbents who may be vulnerable based on my analysis.

Here are the House races to watch:
Dist 14 – (R) Trent Ellis vs. Buddy Fisher vs. (D) Camille Bennett
Dist 18 – (R) Richard Womack (i) vs. (D) Damon Daniels
Dist 19 – (R) Justin Gonzales vs. (D) Jeremy Ross vs. Matt Smith
Dist 32 – (R) Pat Hays vs. Jim Sorvillo vs. (D) John Adams
Dist 35 – (D) Clarke Tucker vs. (R) Stacy Hurst
Dist 41 – (D) Danny Knight vs. (R) Karilyn Brown vs. Alan Pogue
Dist 52 – (R) John Hutchison (i) vs. Dwight Tosh vs. (D) Radius Baker
Dist 59 – (D) Ron Carroll vs. (R) Jack Ladyman
Dist 61 – (D) Scott Baltz (i) vs. (R) Doug Driesel
Dist 63 – (R) James Sturch vs. Anne Moore vs. (D) Lackey Moody
Dist 68 – (D) Tanchany Evans vs. (R) Trevor Down vs. Ingram Phillips, Zach Sellers
Dist 70 – (D) Frank Shaw vs. (R) David Meeks (i)
Dist 93 – (R) Jim Dotson (i) vs. Bill Burckart vs. (D) Leah Williams
Dist 96 – (D) Tom McClure vs. Grant Hodges vs. Damon Wallace
Dist 100 – (D) Wilma Mae Tilley vs. Neida Speaks

Two incumbents are on the above list that won their election with more than 53%, but I believe should be considered as potentially vulnerable.

Rep. Jim Dotson faces a very tough Republican challenger in the primary and then, if he wins, Bentonville City Council member Leah Williams in the general election. The other is David Meeks who doesn’t have a real job and is just a full-time politician living off reimbursements and per diem. “He claims to be a fiscal conservative, but he lives off the government” is an attack his challenger Frank Shaw likely uses against him this fall, which in a fiscally conservative district could be devastating for Meeks.

But if you believe I’m wrong to include Dotson and Meeks in the list, it means Republicans start off with 45 safe seats and Democrats 42 seats with 13 races to fight over. Also, for open Northwest Arkansas legislative seats this year, Arkansas Democrats recruited some strong candidates which could lead to some surprises this fall.

For Republican and Democratic challengers who didn’t make the toss-up race list, never fear. We’ll revisit the toss-up race list in a few months, paying close attention to the challengers’ fundraising reports and reviewing polling data. This list could either expand or contract as more information becomes available.

There’s going to be much attention to the high-profile races this year, but the fight to control the State House is just as important for both political parties.

No matter how you slice it, the fight to control the State House is a complete toss-up.

Editor’s note: Michael Cook is a Democratic political consultant. Two of his clients, John Adams and Clarke Tucker, are listed on the toss-up race list.

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