New “RaceTracker” to Track Every Congressional Race Nationwide

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RaceTrackerThis is pretty awesome: a non-partisan, fully-referenced, open-source and crowd-sourced wiki project that lists every candidate running in every U.S. Senate, House and governor’s race.

The project, dubbed RaceTracker, was coordinated by the folks at the  Swing State Project as they completed a nationwide survey of the candidates in each race.  As we move into the 2010 congressional races, the site will use crowd-sourced participation to keep it current.

http://www.opencongress.org/wiki/RaceTracker

Project lead Conor Kenny of the Sunlight Foundation writes

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 as a 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.

In true wikified fashion, one of the most important aspects of RaceTracker is that all the data is freely available via an open API for use in other web apps or visualizations.  I’m looking forward to seeing what others will come up with as the possibilities abound.The impetus for the project is interesting and also important to note.  As hosts for the project, OpenCongress.org is most interested in how a lawmaker’s election status affects how they vote and ultimately 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.

The pressures of an election also undoubtedly have an affect on voting behavior. In the 2008 bank bailout bill, Nate Silver used election analysis to find:

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.

Kenny writes:

Simply knowing whether a member is retiring can also be the critical piece of information in understanding a vote. On that same bailout vote Silver writes about, 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.”

As Conor suggested, I went over RaceTracker and checked out the races I was interested in.  While I found a lot about my former Congressmen in Oregon, FL, and TN, I was most curious about the governor races in New Jersey and Virginia.  Looks like they can use your help! http://www.opencongress.org/wiki/VA-Gov

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