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Can Colbert Busch End the Nation's Largest Democratic Pick-Up Drought?

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South Carolina Democrats have recorded 47 consecutive contests without picking up a GOP-held U.S. House seat, eclipsing Missouri (46), Nebraska (33), and Georgia (30)

elizabethcolbertbusch10.jpgTwo special elections to the U.S. House will be conducted over the next two months - in South Carolina's 1st congressional district and Missouri's 8th.

Both elections are being conducted to fill seats opened up by exiting Republicans, and both are being held in states where the Democratic Party has endured its longest dry spells in the nation as the Party attempts to find its political footing in troublesome regions around the country.

Up first on May 7th is South Carolina, where Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch will face former Governor Mark Sanford, who previously held the Charleston- and coastal-area seat from 1995 to 2001.

The high profile race features two well-known and well-funded candidates and remains competitive in a significantly GOP-leaning district due to the personal background of the candidates in the race.

But can Colbert Busch steal a seat for the Democrats in the Palmetto State three weeks from Tuesday?

If she does, she'll accomplish something nearly four-dozen previous Democratic candidates have failed to do in her home state.

A Smart Politics review of U.S. House election data finds that Democrats in South Carolina have endured the nation's greatest stretch in futility by failing to pick up a GOP-held seat in 47 consecutive contests - one more than Missouri with no other state above 33.

Smart Politics determined the election cycle (or special election) in which the Democratic Party last picked up a seat held by a Republican in each state and tallied the number of subsequent general and special election contests in which the Party failed to pick up a GOP-held seat.

(Excluded from this analysis were brand new districts created when a state gained House seats after reapportionment as well as interparty incumbent-on-incumbent matchups).

During the 2012 cycle, Democrats picked up at least one Republican seat in nine states: California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan (in 2012's 11th CD special election), Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, and Texas.

Add to that an additional seven states where Democrats were unable to pick up seats in 2012 because they already had a monopoly on the state's U.S. House delegation: Massachusetts (winning every House contest since the 1994 election), Rhode Island (1994), Maine (1996), Vermont (2006), Connecticut (2008), Delaware (2010), and Hawaii (2010).

That leaves 34 states in which Democrats have failed in at least one cycle to pick up any Republican-held seats.

South Carolina leads the way at 47 consecutive contests, with Democrats failing to make a dent in the state's GOP-held districts for the last 25 years since the 1988 cycle.

Liz Patterson was the last Democrat to accomplish such a feat - winning an open 4th CD race in 1986 previously held by Republican Carroll Campbell.

Patterson narrowly won by 4.1 points over Bill Workman and carried the district two more times before losing by 2.9 points to Bob Inglis after redistricting in 1992.

Since Patterson's 1986 win Democrats have suffered defeats in 46 general election contests plus one special election in districts held (or vacated) by Republicans.

Moreover, South Carolina Democrats have come close to victory only a few times during this 25-year drought, losing by single-digits just four times across these 47 contests:

· SC-02 (1988): Jim Leventis lost by 6.1 points to nine-term GOP incumbent Floyd Spence.

· SC-01 (2008): Linda Ketner lost by 4.0 points to four-term incumbent Henry Brown.

· SC-02 (2008): Rob Miller lost by 7.6 points to four-term incumbent Joe Wilson.

· SC-02 (2010): Miller lost by 9.7 points in a rematch against Wilson, then a five-term incumbent.

If Colbert Busch should win the 1st CD race in South Carolina next month, then Missouri will have the longest such Democratic pick-up drought in the country at 45 straight contests dating back to 1994.

The last time a Missouri Democrat picked up a Republican House seat was after redistricting in 1992 when Pat Danner upset nine-term incumbent Earl Thomas Coleman by 10.9 points in the state's 6th CD race.

Democrats are not expected to be competitive in Missouri's 8th CD race to replace Jo Ann Emerson this June.

The district has a +17 GOP tilt according to the newly released Partisan Voting Index by the Cook Political Report. That makes it the 45th most Republican district in the country.

By contrast, South Carolina's 1st CD has a +11 Republican advantage, or the 118th most Republican-leaning district in the nation (but ripe for a pick-up opportunity with Sanford carrying significant personal baggage after the very public unraveling of his extramarital affair in 2009 and subsequent House censure for ethics violations during his second term as governor).

After Missouri, Nebraska is next at 33 consecutive races since the last Democratic pick up in 1988 (Peter Hoagland in the 2nd CD), followed by Georgia at 30 (John Barrow, 2004, GA-12), and Oklahoma at 25 (Brad Carson, 2000, OK-02).

Rounding out the Top 10 are Tennessee at 23 (Lincoln Davis, 2002, TN-04), Washington at 22 (Rick Larson, 2000, WA-02), Alaska at 20 (Nick Begich, 1970), Ohio at 19 (Steve Driehaus, Mary Jo Kilroy, John Boccieri in 2008), and Wyoming at 18 (Teno Rancalio, 1970).

The 2013 special election in South Carolina between Colbert Busch and Sanford will also see a third party candidate on the ballot - the Green Party's Eugene Platt.

Platt, a James Island Public Service District Commissioner, is the first Green candidate ever elected in the Palmetto State.

Platt was the Democratic Party's nominee in the 1st CD race back in the 1990 cycle, losing by 31 points to two-term GOP incumbent Arthur Ravenel.

Democratic U.S. House Pick-Up Droughts by State

Rank
State
Last pick up
Drought since
# Contests
1
South Carolina
1986
1988
47
2
Missouri
1992
1994
46
3
Nebraska
1988
1990
33
4
Georgia
2004
2006
30
5
Oklahoma
2000
2002
25
6
Tennessee
2002
2004
23
7
Washington
2000
2002
22
8
Alaska
1970
1974
20
9
Ohio
2008
2010
19
10
Wyoming
1970
1980
18
11
Pennsylvania
2008
2010
17
12
Indiana
2006
2008
15
12
Montana*
1974
1978-1990; 1998
15
14
Virginia
2008
2010
13
14
Kentucky
2006
2008
13
16
Utah
2000
2002
12
17
Alabama
2008
2010
11
17
New Jersey
2008
2010
11
17
North Carolina
2008
2010
11
17
Wisconsin
2006
2008
11
21
Kansas
2006
2008
9
21
Arkansas
2000
2002
9
23
Oregon
1996
1998
8
24
West Virginia
1982
2002
7
24
Arizona
2008
2010
7
26
Colorado
2008
2010
6
27
Louisiana
2010
2012
5
27
Mississippi
2008
2008
5
27
Iowa
2006
2008
5
30
Nevada
2008
2010
4
31
Idaho
2008
2010
3
32
New Mexico
2008
2012
1
32
South Dakota
2004
2012
1
32
North Dakota
1980
2012
1
* Montana Democrats failed to pick up GOP-held seats in the state's 2nd CD seat from 1978 through 1990 and then, after reapportionment left the state with one at-large seat, from 1998 onwards. Excludes newly created seats due to reapportionment as well as interparty incumbent-on-incumbent matchups after redistricting. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

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