House Republicans have taken a broad, political hit over their positioning over the fiscal cliff negotiations. But for campaign committee officials looking to hold control of the House in 2014, the controversy over funding for Hurricane Sandy could do more to threaten the GOP's House majority.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s epic rant Wednesday against House Republicans for delaying funding for Sandy victims notably spared his fellow New Jersey Republicans from blame. But in reality, they’re the most likely victims if public opinion in the Garden State turns even more sharply against Republicans.
New Jersey is one of the rare bright spots for House Republicans in the Northeast, a region that has turned decidedly against the party’s congressional wing over the last decade. There isn’t a single House Republican left in New England, and Republicans only hold five of the state’s 27 House seats in New York. But in Jersey, there’s an even split of six House Republicans and Democrats, along with the state’s Republican governor.
That could change if moderate Republican voters, many of whom have stuck with the GOP to support their local member of Congress, view the Sandy controversy as a last straw. When Republicans in the region, like New York Rep. Peter King, are eagerly slamming their own party, it’s clear the political blowback could be very severe for Republicans in the region, even in the long-term.
Two New Jersey Republicans represent districts President Obama carried in 2012 – Reps. Jon Runyan and Frank LoBiondo. Both would be logical Democratic targets, particularly Runyan. Democrats view a third, Rep. Scott Garrett, as potentially vulnerable because his outspoken conservative views are to the right of an affluent suburban district that narrowly favors Republicans. Against a weak Democratic opponent in 2012, he only took 55 percent of the vote. And Reps. Leonard Lance and Rodney Frelinghuysen aren’t out of the woods entirely, representing GOP-favored districts, but not overwhelmingly conservative seats.
Gerrymandering and partisan polarization have limited the number of truly competitive House districts in the country, making the GOP’s 17-seat majority in fairly secure shape. But a political wave still has the potential to shake things up. And in New Jersey, the possibility of a localized wave taking out several vulnerable members in 2014 could give Democrats a beachhead from which to compete for control of the House.