At least six members of the House Agriculture Committee face tough reelections under new Congressional maps approved by 26 states, while four have plans to leave the House and several more depend on maps that have not yet been approved.
Under the newly drawn districts, two Illinois Republicans — Mary Miller and Rodney Davis — will battle for control of a seat, Virginia Democrat Abigail Spanberger must navigate her way through a largely unfamiliar district and Arizona Democrat Tom O'Halleran will need to win the votes of a Republican-leaning constituency. Iowa Democrat Cindy Axne and Nebraska Republican Don Bacon will continue to sit in highly competitive swing districts.
Four more seats will be open in the November election as Rep. Vicki Hartzler, R-Mo., vacates her House spot to run for her state's open seat in the Senate and Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., Bobby Rush, D-Ill. and Filemon Vela, D-Texas, retire.
Redistricting happens every ten years using data from the most recent census. Some states, like California and Arizona, appoint independent commissions to redraw district lines. Several others, like Texas and Illinois, leave the map-drawing to the state legislature, but require the governor's approval before they are implemented.
Twenty-four more states have yet to finalize their new district maps, clouding the futures of committee members from Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Georgia and New York. These members include Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania, the committee's top Republican; Angie Craig, D-Minn., Jim Hagedorn, R-Minn., Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., Alma Adams, D-N.C., David Rouzer, R-N.C., Antonio Delgado, D-N.Y., Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y. and Chris Jacobs, R-N.Y.
Republicans are counting on redistricting to help them wrest control of the House, which would put Thompson in line to become the committee's chairman. Democrats currently control the House 221-212, with two vacancies.
David Wasserman, a senior editor for the Cook Political Report, noted that while both political parties appear to have relatively equal footing when it comes to control over the districts that have already been approved, Democrats are suffering from 15 more planned retirements than Republicans and President Joe Biden's approval rating has dropped 10% the last 6 months.
"When you add those factors together, the only silver lining for Democrats is that there are still 10 months between now and the election for things to change," Wasserman told Agri-Pulse.
Here's a look at how redistricting is playing out so far for Ag Committee members:
Illinois, which formerly had 18 districts, is down to 17 following the 2020 census. The state's new congressional map creates two more Democratic-leaning districts while losing two Republican-leaning districts and a highly competitive seat, according to FiveThirtyEight, a political analysis web site.
“The Democrats in Illinois control all three branches of the legislative process pretty handily — they've got super majorities in the chambers and they have the governor's office,” Christopher Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “So the Republicans are really on their back feet around here.”
Most of the area comprising what had been Illinois’s two southernmost districts, the 12th and 15th, has been consolidated into a new 12th District, grouping together two Republicans — Mike Bost and current first-term House Ag Committee member Mary Miller.
Instead of running against Bost, Miller has chosen to run in the new 15th District, where another Republican House Ag Committee member, Rodney Davis, resides. Davis currently represents the 13th District, but state lawmakers converted it into a narrow, more Democratic district that runs through Champagne, home of the University of Illinois; Springfield, the state capital; and East St. Louis.
“There are always a handful of these member versus member contests in redistricting years, particularly in the states that lose a seat as Illinois has,” Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told Agri-Pulse. “So some incumbent isn’t going to have somewhere to sit down when the game of musical chairs ends.”
The fact that Miller's Oakland-based farm is located in the 12th District doesn't stop her from running in another district. While the Constitution mandates that House members live in the state they represent, it does not stipulate that they live in the districts where they are elected.
Miller announced she was running for the 15th District seat in a Twitter post on January 1, after receiving endorsement from former President Donald Trump. Later that day, Rodney Davis released a statement calling Miller a “carpetbagger and Chicagoland native.”
As for the two other House Ag Committee members in Illinois, the retiring Bustos currently represents the highly competitive 17th District in the northwestern corner of the state, which looks to remain competitive. Both the Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball rated the new district a toss-up as of Jan. 11. Rush’s seat lies just southwest of Chicago, in the Democrat-leaning 1st District.
Virginia’s new congressional map — which, according to FiveThirtyEight, has five Democratic-leaning districts, five Republican-leaning districts and one highly competitive district just like the old one did — could pose a challenge for Democrat and Blue Dog Coalition member Abigail Spanberger.
Despite being the sole incumbent running in the 7th District, which is labeled as highly competitive by FiveThirtyEight, Spanberger could face Republican competition. She took the previously red-tinged district by just under 2 percentage points in 2020 in a close race with Republican Nick Freitas.
“She only won her one reelection by a point in 2020, so under the current lines she was vulnerable,” Wasserman said. “Now under these new lines her district is a little bit bluer than it was, but it's still competitive.”
Plus, Spanberger will have a lot of new ground to cover. Her district previously stretched through Central Virginia, starting at the suburbs of Richmond and stretching northward through Culpeper County. Now, under the new map drawn by two special masters appointed by the state Supreme Court, the 7th district is primarily centered in Northern Virginia and includes Fredericksburg, Prince William County and Stafford County, as well as the southeastern part of Fairfax County.
Spanberger’s Henrico-county residence will no longer be located within the borders of the new seventh district. Under the new map, she will no longer be able to rely on the voters in Henrico and Chesterfield County where she previously got much of her support.
“More than 200,000 Virginians in the new Seventh District have already been my constituents under the current district lines, and I look forward to continuing my service representing them as well as my future constituents,” Spanberger wrote in a statement posted on her Twitter page. “I will continue to work hard on behalf of their families, their businesses, their farms, and our local economies in the years to come. Much like the current Seventh District, the new Seventh District includes a diverse mix of Virginia’s suburban, rural, and military communities.”
Seven delegates from agriculture-heavy California — Democrats Jim Costa, Salud Carbajal, Ro Khanna, Lou Correa, Josh Harder and Jimmy Panetta, as well as Republican Doug LaMalfa — currently hold positions on the House Ag Committee and most of these representatives have good chances of winning reelection under the new map drawn by California’s independent redistricting commission.
Harder and Costa, who both represent Central Valley districts, will have to take on some new territory, which could present some difficulties for them, though their new districts still favor Democrats.
After California's current Democratic District 9 Representative, Jerry McNerney, announced his intention to retire Tuesday, Harder posted a statement on Twitter announcing that he would run for the open seat. Harder currently represents the highly competitive 10th district, which covers Stanislaus County and the southern part of San Joaquin County, which has since moved northward to a San Francisco suberb where Mark DeSaulnier lives.
The Ninth District is centered around Stockton and includes much of San Joaquin County, including Manteca, where Harder's great-great-grandfather operated a peach farm. FiveThirtyEight rates the district as Democratic-leaning.
Costa must also get to know a new area. He currently represents the 16th district, which includes all of Merced County as well as parts of Fresno and Madera Counties. He plans to run for reelection in the new 21st district, which still includes the city of Fresno, but stretches south to the northwestern corner of Tulare county.
Most of this area is not part of Costa’s current district, but he did note in a press release that he has previously represented many of these communities in the past. Kondik doesn’t expect him to face many difficulties being reelected in the Democratic-leaning district.
“Jim Costa is moving to some new turf, but it’s a pretty democratic district," Kondik said. "He would only be endangered in a real Republican megawave.”
While the other five House members might face some challengers, at this point in time, they appear to have a strong chance of being reelected.
For Rep. Panetta, he will be running in the newly-created 19th district, rather than the 20th, where he had been serving. The new 19th congressional district contains much of his current district on the central coast of California, including the coastal areas of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, and adds the northern part of Santa Cruz County, the southern part of San Jose City, and the northern part of San Luis Obispo County.
“Although the shape of our district has changed, it will not change my dedication and desire to enhance the lives and ensure the livelihoods of my constituents by making the federal government work them,” said Panetta in a release.
"Texas only saw the addition of two Republican-leaning districts in its new map, while gaining five new Democratic-leaning districts and losing five highly competitive seats, according to FiveThirtyEight. However, with 24 total Republican-leaning districts, 13 Democratic-leaning districts and one highly competitive district, Republican districts make up the state’s majority and several of them have only gotten redder.”
“With the way that the previous elections had gone, we thought that they would probably try to draw some of the suburban, urban districts out more into rural areas to pick up rural voters to shore up some Republican districts,” Billy Howe, the associate director of government affairs for the Texas Farm Bureau told Agri-Pulse. “I think we pretty much saw that with the way some of them were reconfigured.”
Two particular districts — District 22, which is located southwest of Houston, and District 13, which is the massive panhandle district in the Northern part of the state — serve as good examples of this trend, cutting across rural, suburban and urban areas and grouping voters from all three areas together. Dave Rausch, a political science professor at West Texas A&M University, said this year’s map drawers likely did this to protect the status of their current Republican representatives.
Only two representatives from Texas currently sit on the House Ag Committee: Democrat Filemon Vela and Republican Michael Cloud. Both come from neighboring districts along the Gulf Coast.
Vela, who currently represents the tall, skinny and competitive 34th district in the southeastern corner of the state, announced last February that he would not be seeking reelection. Another Texas Democrat, Vincente Gonzalez, will instead be running for the new 34th district, which now leans Democratic and has been shortened to about half of its original height.
Michael Cloud, whose district — the 27th — sits just above the 34th, should face no significant problems seeking reelection, despite gaining some of Vela’s old constituents.
“It's changed, but it's still very much an agriculture heavy district when you look at it,” said Laramie Adams, the National Legislative Director at the Texas Farm Bureau. “And the Congressman has done a really good job, I would say, as far as getting out into every county in the current district and I expect he'll be doing that in his new district as well, to learn about agriculture and serve us well on that committee.”
Who’s at-risk (or planning to leave) in other districts?
A few House Ag Committee members (aside from the ones mentioned above) could be in tight races for the 2022 elections, according to several political analysts, while other candidates have announced their intentions to retire or run for higher office. For example:
- Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., won the Republican-leaning seat for the 2nd District of Pennsylvania by just over 3 percentage points in 2020. That district has become even redder in this year’s map, which could spell trouble for the Democrat in the upcoming election. “O’Halleran is in big trouble,” Kondik said. “His district went from being a narrow Biden seat to one that Trump won by eight points. He’s a definite underdog for reelection at this point.”
- Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, is very vulnerable in her state’s 3rd district. The new version of the district isn’t much different from the old one, but she only narrowly won her seat in 2020 with 1.4 percentage points. Her district looks to remain just as competitive this year.
- Don Bacon, R-Nebraska, currently represents Nebraska’s 3rd district. The district, which covers the area directly surrounding Omaha, didn’t change much in this year’s redistricting process. But it is a swing seat, which makes Bacon vulnerable.
- Vicki Hartzler, R-Missouri, will be running to replace retiring Missouri Senator Roy Blunt in 2022.
Editor's note: This story previously stated that Josh Harder was planning to run for reelection in California's 13th district. It was updated after Harder publicly declared his intent to run in the 9th district afterJerry McNerney announced his plans for retirement.
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