Vanishing seats mean new rivals

Longtime House members could face their toughest primary opponents yet in 2012 — fellow lawmakers.

Ten states are losing congressional districts in the upcoming round of redistricting, and the ensuing intra-party battles could result in some of the most contentious races of the cycle.

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The potential match-ups include races between Democratic Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Betty Sutton in Ohio; Democratic Reps. Brian Higgins and Louise Slaughter in New York, and Republican Reps. Charles Boustany Jr. and Jeff Landry in Louisiana.

And these members would be facing each other on their own — both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the National Republican Congressional Committee will take a hands-off approach in any of those scenarios.

“There are so many permutations that you just can’t predict it right now,” said Kucinich. “Running against a colleague isn’t in my thinking right now, but I intend to remain to Congress.”

Kucinich is among the few members who have taken a public approach to the potential elimination of his district, already trying to mobilize his supporters through e-mail and fundraising appeals.

While Ohio must shed two House seats, one of them is almost certain to come from the northern part of the state, and Kucinich’s district is the most likely target. If he doesn’t end up having to face Sutton, he could find himself having to run against Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio).

Sutton would only say at this point that she has every intention of running for re-election no matter who her opponent is, but called talk of specific match-ups “nothing more than speculation at this point.”

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That’s the approach for most members facing redistricting trouble — the oft-repeated line is that they intend to remain in the House, while they dismiss the potential for messy intra-party politics or argue that’s still too far in the future to worry about.

Most states will decide their new congressional lines sometime later this year.

Higgins downplayed the potential for a match between himself and Slaughter, calling it “just one scenario of many that have been floated.”

He said he’s well aware of the focus on western New York given the population loss from his part of the state, but joked that since his district occupies the northwest corner of the state, “they can’t push it any further left because I’d be in the lake.”

The redistricting calculation in that region could be reconfigured thanks to Rep. Chris Lee’s (R-N.Y.) recent resignation, but, Higgins said, “under any scenario, my plan is to run for re-election and win.”

DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) said the committee expects a handful of races across the country to pit Democratic incumbents against one another, and that the committee will take a hands-off approach.

“We will not endorse one over the other,” said Israel. “It’s a fair fight.”

Israel noted that while “Republicans are going to have the same problem ... our policy is that when you have Democrat on Democrat, may the best Democrat win.”

Down in Louisiana, the attention has focused on Landry and Boustany, whose districts could be combined into one long area stretching from the Mississippi River to the Texas border.

“It doesn’t bother me that I may end up in someone else’s congressional district,” said Landry, a freshman member. “I’m willing to accept whatever the legislature draws up and we’ll take a hard look at where my parish ends up.”

Republicans in Louisiana say there is some controversy over the redistricting proposal, with Landry’s backers concerned that the plan doesn’t offer the freshman lawmaker a fair shake. The proposed coastal district could be drawn to the advantage of Boustany, an eight-term incumbent.

Retirements or campaigns for higher office will likely prevent some match-ups from materializing, but it’s not yet clear where that would be the case, since members haven’t tipped their hands when it comes to 2012.

Massachusetts, for example, must shed a congressional district, and a Senate run by a House member could alleviate a potentially contentious incumbent vs. incumbent primary. Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) could opt for a race against Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), which would ease Democratic redistricting tensions there. 

While intra-party match-ups are sure to be among the most intriguing next year, there are plenty of other possibilities that would pit an incumbent Democrat against an incumbent Republican.

One such high-profile match-up could see Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) square off against Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa). Given that Boswell’s district contains Des Moines, and Latham’s district doesn’t hold one of the state’s major population centers, observers say the Republican’s district may very well be on the chopping block.

A similar scenario could emerge in New Jersey, where Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) is among the most likely redistricting target. But it may be tough to squeeze him into a district with another Republican, which means if Lance’s district is the one to go, he could end up facing a better-positioned Democratic incumbent like Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J). No matter where he ends up ahead of 2012, Lance said he intends to run again.

Until the new lines are drawn, though, lawmakers will just have to wait and see who their opponent will be.

“Redistricting is going to be a great adventure,” Kucinich said with a laugh. “And not just for me.”