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OpenCongress Now Tracking Every Congressional Race Nationwide

June 11, 2009 - by Conor Kenny

RaceTracker screenshotThe RaceTracker project on OpenCongress — a non-partisan, fully-referenced, open-source and crowd-sourced wiki project — now lists every candidate running in every U.S. Senate, House and governor’s race!

The folks over at the Swing State Project, the coordinators of this wiki community project, have completed a nationwide survey of the candidates in each race and will be using crowd-sourced participation to keep it current as we move towards 2010. You can now check on the status of each of the seven candidates considering a run for the seat of Illinois’ Sen. Roland Burris (D) or the eight who are eyeing Rep. Betsy Markey (D-Colo.). We’ll even tell you who’s a confirmed candidate versus who’s merely considering or rumored to be a candidate, how much money they’ve raised, the district boundaries and the district-specific electoral trends in the last three presidential elections.

(Developers, you can access the all the data via API and other methods for use in your own Web site or app, so come make an awesome mash-up or visualization!)

RaceTracker is the next-generation version of the SwingStateProject’s 2008 RaceTracker and Congresspedia’s WikiTheVote project. We’re taking a cue from Joe Friday and keeping it a “just the facts” operation so its non-partisan nature is clear, regardless of the partisan motivations a participant might have in watching any particular race. Besides, we’re practicing transparency at home by requiring each piece of information to be referenced to an outside source, so there’s no need to take the word of “some guy on the Internet;” anyone can join the wiki community in checking the facts of each submission.

(Host your own project on the OpenCongress Wiki!)

Here at OpenCongress, we are most interested in how a lawmaker’s election status (Are they running? Do they have a challenger?) affects how they vote and how Congress works.

For example, when Arlen Specter switched to the Democratic Party, which he himself admitted was a reelection decision, it threw the Democratic Caucus seniority and committee assignments into disarray.

It also placed the substantially more conservative Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) in the top spot on the Senate Judiciary Committee, opening the door to an unlikely-but-possible method for Republicans to block judicial nominees using the committee’s requirement that each nominee receive at least one vote from the minority party.

Election pressures also clearly affect individual member’s voting behavior. In the 2008 bank bailout bill, Nate Silver used analysis by RaceTracker’s own Swing State Project to show that:

Among 38 incumbent congressmen in races rated as “toss-up” or “lean” by Swing State Project, just 8 voted for the bailout as opposed to 30 against: a batting average of .211. By comparison, the vote among congressmen who don’t have as much to worry about was essentially even: 197 for, 198 against.

Simply knowing whether a member is retiring can also be the critical piece of information in understanding a vote. On that same bailout vote, retiring representatives not facing a reelection voted overwhelmingly and disproportionally for the bailout, according to the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman:

26 of the 31 members of both parties leaving next year supported it. And 21 House Republicans who aren’t returning next term voted for the bill, making up nearly a third of the 65 GOP votes supporting the legislation.

“The telling statistic on the political side is the votes of those who were retiring versus the votes of those who are in tough races,” Wasserman said. “Retiring members feel strongly that this bill is necessary to stabilize markets, and they know they will not be receiving any political repercussion for voting their conscience."

Primary challenges are also critical to understanding votes, as they often drive the incumbent away from the middle ground. According to Jane Hamsher at FireDogLake:

We learned in 2006 how the very idea of a primary challenge could immediately change behavior. When blue dog Ellen Tauscher started complaining about the “liberal” committee chairmen who were going to be problematic, people on the blogs and in her community started talking about a primary challenge. Tauscher moved immediately to the left, joined the Out of Iraq caucus, and stopped having her picture taken with George Bush. Jane Harman had a similar conversion after a tough primary race against Marcy Winograd.

Go over to RaceTracker and check out the candidates for your own senators and representative. Know something we don’t? Add it yourself.

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