Freshman Republicans in Congress Here to Stay

Conservative state legislators back home making it easier for GOP class to stay another term in House.

Bobby Schilling
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The majority of the 87 freshman Republicans who overtook the House of Representatives in 2010 are likely to serve a second term in the 113th Congress, despite their reputation as obstructionists in the 112th.

"The overall sense is that most of those 87 are likely to keep those jobs," says Republican pollster Scott Rasmussen. [See a Collection of Political Cartoons on Mitt Romney.]

While the freshman class has failed to repeal President Obama's healthcare reform as it promised or implement a cost-slashing budget, the group's done a fierce job of blaming those shortcomings on what it considers to be its dysfunctional counterpart—the Democrat-led U.S. Senate. And back home, their constituents are proud of the job they've tried to do.

"I always joke the best decision the Republicans made in 2010 was not to win the Senate," Rasmussen says. "If the Republicans controlled the House and the Senate right now they would be doing worse because then the Republicans would have [borne] some responsibility."

Rasmussen says those in the 2010 class average about a four-to five-point advantage over their Democratic opponents, a lead that is roughly the same as it was heading into the 2010 election.

Since the 87 GOP freshman won election in 2010, there has been only one week in which the majority of voters have picked a Democratic congressional candidate to a Republican one in a generic Rasmussen poll. [Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy.]

Many in the freshman class have their state legislators back home to thank for their job security.

"It was the great untold story of 2010, hundreds of conservatives were elected to state legislators," Rasmussen says.

In Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio, swing states that saw 19 freshman Republicans elected in 2010, all have Republican state legislators that Kyle Kondik, the House editor at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, says made their congressional districts more conservative.

"I think redistricting has generally been good for Republican freshman," Kondik says. "Chances are pretty good for the majority."

Redistricting helped many outside of the key swing states as well. Kondik argues Texas Republican Rep. Randolph Blake Farenthold won on a fluke in 2010. The congressman beat Democratic incumbent Rep. Solomon Ortiz by 799 votes. But after redistricting, the district he won has become more conservative, an R+13 district, according to the Cook Political Report.

So far, none of the freshman Republicans has lost in a primary, although there are still a few competitive races set for August.

"I think that is insightful," Kondik says. "I think it is hard in a primary to say these freshman haven't been conservative enough."

Kondik estimates only about 30 Republicans out of the 87 are even in competitive general election races. And he has only 11 of them facing off in toss-up or leaning-Democratic districts.

Some of the most competitive races are coming in the state of Illinois, where a Democratic-leaning state legislature made things harder for freshman Republican Reps. Bobby Schilling, Robert Dold, and Joe Walsh.

In New York, Republican Ann Marie Buerkle is another freshman facing a tough re-election campaign, a rematch against former Congressman Dan Maffei in what Kondik says is a leaning-Democratic district.

Buerkle campaign manager David Ray, however, says the district actually has about 4,300 more registered Republicans in it than Democrats. And with healthcare again at the front of voters' minds (a key issue that got Buerkle elected in 2010), Ray says he's confident she's got a solid shot.

Ray says like a lot of Republican freshman who ran in 2010, Buerkle's going to continue fighting with the same conservative ideals that won in 2010 and that included voting on repealing the president's healthcare plan for the 30th time.

"She campaigned on a pretty simple idea, which was to change the way Washington does business, two year ago," Ray says. "She has kept the promises she campaigned on. She campaigned on repealing and replacing that healthcare law. She will be voting to repeal again this week."