Safe seats, frequent flyers
New Hampshire had several visits from out-of-state U.S. Congressmen last month. Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, all stopped by to help local Republicans. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has a vacation home in the Lake Sunapee area and who serves as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee when she's not representing her Florida constituents, is trying to reschedule an appearance at Saint Anselm College that was postponed due to a storm.
No wonder nothing gets done in Washington. They're all in New Hampshire!
We're always happy to host prominent guests from out of town, but there's a reason these congressmen have the time to visit: They represent safe seats back in their home states.
Chaffetz won his last re-election campaign with 76 percent of the vote despite having spent much of the year traveling the country on behalf of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Issa averages about 60 percent of the vote in his reelection campaigns. Ryan's district is theoretically more competitive but he used to win reelection by two-to-one margins before he was the vice presidential nominee. Wasserman Schultz's district is so lopsided that she is either effectively unopposed or literally unopposed in her re-election campaigns.
Members who represent safe seats don't have to work very hard to stay in office. That frees up plenty of time for overtly political travel. If constituents back home resent any lack of attention or the political purposes of the travel, there's not much they can do about it.
Another consequence of safe seats is that members who represent those districts are only accountable to voters in their own party. Keep the base happy, avoid a primary, and coast to re-election. This contributes to the polarization we see in Washington.
One imagines New Hampshire voters would not tolerate political gallivanting were our own representatives to start barnstorming the country to headline Lincoln or Jefferson-Jackson dinners in distant counties.
Both of New Hampshire's congressional districts are competitively drawn. Incumbents have been defeated frequently in recent years, and both districts have been represented by members of both parties. This tends to keep our own representatives working hard and close to home, which is the way we like it.