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Erik Paulsen's (Semi) Close Shave Could Get Closer in 2010

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Congressional Quarterly recently identified Congressional districts that split their ticket in the 2008 U.S. House and presidential contests.

Almost one-fifth of the current Republicans in Congress were elected without the help of John McCain. In total, 34 of the 178 GOPers elected in 2008 (19.1 percent) carried districts that McCain lost to Barack Obama.

Four of these districts are located in the Upper Midwest: those of rising Republican star Paul Ryan (WI-1), veteran Congressmen Tom Petri (WI-6) and Tom Latham (IA-4), and Jim Ramstad's newly minted successor, Erik Paulsen (MN-3).

In many ways, Paulsen's victory was one of the most impressive of these 34 Republican representatives. Paulsen was one of only three GOP freshmen Congressmen elected in Obama districts - with the average length of service of 7.3 terms in this group.

In fact, most of the Republicans who survived the Obama wave (20 representatives) had been in Congress for more than a decade.

Indeed, there is data to suggest Paulsen's victory was certainly out of the norm. Paulsen received the lowest percentage of votes of any of these 34 Congressmen, at 48.5 percent. Paulsen also received just 2.5 more points in his district than McCain - the third lowest differential among the group. And Paulsen was one of just 11 Republicans who won in Obama districts with a margin of victory in single digits (7.6 points).

By some metrics, Paulsen's seemingly shaky victory can be partially explained by the presence of a strong third party candidate in his race, the Independence Party's David Dillon. No other Republican member of Congress from an Obama district squared off against a third party candidate who received 10 percent of the vote.

In fact, the percentage of votes cast for third party candidates was 39.5 percent higher in Minnesota's 3rd district than in any other Obama district won by a Republican U.S. House candidate.

Dillon's notable candidacy thus not only depressed Paulsen's percentage of the vote to some extent, but also contributed to Paulsen's narrow differential versus McCain (who did not face a significant third party candidate in the presidential race).

However, there is some cause for concern for Paulsen, who represents a district that Obama carried by 6.4 points.

Polling data suggests Dillon received the support of about twice as many self-identified Democrats (9 percent) as Republicans (4 percent), according to a SurveyUSA poll conducted a few days prior to the election.

While it is certainly plausible, as IP supporters are quick to point out, that many of these Dillon voters would simply have stayed home and not voted for either major party candidate if Dillon was not on the ballot, there is no evidence to suggest the relative partisan breakdown among these voters would have been split any differently between DFLer Ashwin Madia and Paulsen.

Thus, while many Minnesota Democrats would like to believe controversial 2-term Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (MN-6) is the most vulnerable GOP target in 2010, this is not likely to be the case - even though Bachmann's district is turning bluer and she won her race by a narrower margin than Paulsen.

First, Bachmann's district is still much more reliably Republican (McCain carried it by 8.7 points) than Paulsen's. Second, though it is true Bachmann won her race by less than half the margin (3.0 points) as Paulsen (7.6 points), she too ran against an Independence Party candidate who reached the 10 percent mark. And that candidate, Bob Anderson, was ideologically much closer to Bachmann than DFLer Elwyn Tinklenberg, and split the support of partisans almost straight down the middle.

As such, should the IP fail to run a candidate in Minnesota's 3rd District in 2010, or should that candidate not be as strong as David Dillon, Paulsen, seasoned campaigner though he may be, will still be a real target. Of course, a national surge back to the Republican Party during the mid-term elections would go a long way to make that target much more difficult to hit.

Republican U.S House Members Elected in Obama Districts

District
Member
Term
GOP
DEM
Third
MoV
MN-3
Erik Paulsen
1
48.5
40.9
10.6
7.6
LA-2
Anh Cao
1
49.5
46.8
3.7
2.7
CA-3
Dan Lungren
8
49.5
43.9
6.6
5.6
CA-50
Brian P. Bilbray
5
50.2
45.2
4.6
5.0
NJ-7
Leonard Lance
1
50.8
41.6
7.6
9.2
WA-8
Dave Reichert
3
51.1
48.9
0.0
2.2
CA-44
Ken Calvert
9
51.2
48.8
0.0
2.4
MI-11
Thaddeus McCotter
4
51.4
45.4
3.2
6.0
PA-6
Jim Gerlach
4
52.1
47.9
0.0
4.2
NE-2
Lee Terry
6
52.5
47.5
0.0
5.0
IL-10
Mark Steven Kirk
5
52.6
47.4
0.0
5.2
CA-26
David Dreier
15
52.6
42.4
5.0
10.2
IL-13
Judy Biggert
6
53.6
43.6
2.8
10.0
OH-12
Pat Tiberi
5
55.6
41.4
3.0
14.2
CA-48
John Campbell
2
55.6
40.7
3.7
14.9
MI-8
Mike Rogers
5
56.5
40.2
3.3
16.3
IL-6
Peter Roskam
2
57.6
42.4
0.0
15.2
CA-25
Howard P. McKeon
9
57.7
42.3
0.0
15.4
FL-18
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
10
57.9
42.1
0.0
15.8
CA-24
Elton Gallegly
12
58.2
41.8
0.0
16.4
CA-45
Mary Bono Mack
6
58.3
41.7
0.0
16.6
PA-15
Charlie Dent
3
58.6
41.4
0.0
17.2
MI-6
Fred Upton
12
58.9
38.6
2.5
20.3
NJ-2
Frank A. LoBiondo
8
59.2
39.0
1.8
20.2
VA-4
J. Randy Forbes
4
59.6
40.3
0.1
19.3
VA-10
Frank R. Wolf
15
60.1
37.5
2.4
22.6
IA-4
Tom Latham
8
60.6
39.4
0.0
21.2
FL-10
C.W. Bill Young
20
60.7
39.3
0.0
21.4
IL-16
Donald Manzullo
9
60.9
36.1
3.0
24.8
DE-AL
Michael N. Castle
9
61.1
38.0
0.9
23.1
MI-4
Dave Camp
10
61.9
35.7
2.4
26.2
WI-6
Tom Petri
15
63.8
36.2
0.0
27.6
WI-1
Paul D. Ryan
6
64.0
34.7
1.3
29.3
NY-23
John M. McHugh
9
65.3
34.7
0.0
30.6
Note: data from CQ Politics compiled by Smart Politics.

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