New York and Texas: Home of the Least Competitive Congressional Districts

The question of who can vote in a state’s primary election is a major factor in increasingly partisan general elections. Along with redistricting, the process of drawing an electoral district’s borders, partisan primaries heavily restrict voter choices in a general election.

New York and Texas have different primary systems, but each state has two of the least competitive congressional districts in the United States. New York has a closed primary system so the candidate’s party affiliation determines who votes for them in the primary. Texas has a somewhat more complicated system, best described as semi-open (partisan) primaries.

Discussing New York’s 13th and 15th congressional districts, it is difficult to separate U.S. Reps. Serrano and Rangel.

New York’s 15th Congressional District

Jose E. Serrano has been in Congress since 1990. Due to redistricting, NY-15 switched representatives in the most recent election.

Before Serrano, Charles Rangel held the seat or 20 years. When he took over for Rangel in 2012, he won with over 97 percent of the vote. During the 2012 primary, Serrano was one of 17 Democrats who went unopposed.

In comparison, Rangel attracted on average of over 90 percent of the vote when he represented NY-15. Even after accusations of ethics violations, Rangel still received 80 percent of the vote in 2010.

According to The Washington Post‘s database on congressional votes, Serrano rarely crosses party lines and has a partisan voting record of 95 percent.

New York’s 13th Congressional District

Charles Rangel has served his constituencies since 1971. In that time, regardless of district, he has faced closer primary contests than general elections.

This began in 1970 when he put up a primary challenge against veteran Democratic Representative Adam Powell Jr., winning the primary by over a hundred votes. Rangel ended up facing Adam Powel IV in another primary a few decades later.

Rangel’s victory in 2012, his first in the 13th district, saw him overcome another difficult primary against Adriano Espaillat, winning roughly 45 percent. That number seems close, but considering only 13 percent of the 284,000 registered Democrats in the district voted in the June primary, the numbers do not portray the whole picture.

The congressman ended up winning the general election with 73 percent of the vote. It is a pretty safe district for the candidate who can garner a notably small percentage of the electorate in a Democratic primary election.

Rangel has a similar voting record as Serrano.

Texas’ 11th and 13th Congressional Districts

As it stands now, the Department of Justice is challenging the latest redistricting maps in Texas. According to Cook’s Partisan Voting Index (PVI), Texas has two of the least competitive Republican districts in the country, TX-11 and TX-13.

The PVI is based on comparing each district’s average over the past two presidential elections. Barring any drastic changes, U.S. Reps. Michael Conaway and Mac Thornberry  — representing the 11th and 13th, respectfully — are considered safe in 2014.

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Conaway took over TX-11 in 2005 from Chet Edwards, a moderate Democrat who was redistricted to TX-17. Because of how the 11th was redrawn, Conaway has never received less than 76 percent of the vote in a general election and has yet to face a serious primary challenger.

One of the more conservative members in the House, the American Conservative Union gave Conaway a 100% rating in 2012.

Mac Thornberry has been in office since 1996 and has gone unopposed in the GOP primaries 5 times.

Both Thornberry and Conaway were two of the 144 Republicans in the House who voted against the bipartisan deal to end the partial government shutdown and raise the nation’s borrowing authority. As if reading from the same script, they both cited their objections to increasing government spending and the Affordable Care Act.

 

Conclusion

Redistricting is a common practice by states, but it can greatly impact how winnable a congressional district can be by a specific party. Two of the most progressive districts are in New York, a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 5.6 million to 2.8 million — nearly 2 to 1.

Texas is solidly Republican, although changing demographics and a questionable future over redistricting may change this in the long-term. With the homogenous environment in these 4 congressional districts, the partisan base is strong enough to keep current incumbents in office so they only need to legislate to appease this base.

Where Are the Most Competitive Congressional Districts?