There are numerous people who have been reelected to Congress under circumstances when conventional wisdom dictates they lose reelection, and these situations can come about due to redistricting. As former Speaker of the House Joe Martin wrote in his memoirs, “Redistricting is an officeholder’s nightmare because overnight it can change the makeup of his constituency sufficiently perhaps to cost him the next election” (Martin, 32). Yet, these people defy the political prognosticators through their own unique approach to politics and cater to more than their base. My prime example of a politician who possessed this survivability is Democrat Sam Stratton.
In 1958, the GOP sustained terrible election losses that resulted in them being unable to gain majorities in the House and Senate for a long time to come, losing 48 seats in the House and 12 in the Senate. It would not be until the 1980 election that they would win the Senate and the 1994 election that they would win the House. One of the gains was won by Schenectady Mayor Sam Stratton, who had been elected to New York’s 32nd district, vacated by retiring Republican Bernard W. Kearney. The seat Stratton won had not been won by a Democrat in 42 years, and Republicans were eager to win it back. The GOP also saw Stratton as a potential gubernatorial candidate and were eager to end his career. After the 1960 census, the Republican-controlled New York State legislature redistricted him to an area that was staunchly Republican. The district had 95,000 registered Republicans as opposed to 49,000 registered Democrats (Cermak). However, he won by 9 points in the 1962 election. This was his closest race in that configuration of the district, as he was able to cater to his district’s more conservative voters by advocating increased defense spending, being staunchly anti-communist, and supporting his district’s businesses such as General Electric. However, he appealed to his party by his support for most of the domestic programs of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. In 1964, instead of planning to run in the gubernatorial race, he sought a run for the Senate, but these plans were scotched after Bobby Kennedy announced his run.
In 1970 his district was merged with liberal Republican Daniel Button’s Albany-based district, but Stratton trounced him, winning 66% of the vote. After this election, he faced no further serious challengers for his seat. In 1985, Stratton ran for chair of the House Armed Services Committee, but lost to defense budget cutter Les Aspin (D-Wis.). He chose not to run for reelection in 1988, dying two years later.
Cermak, M. (22 November 2016). Stratton’s ’64 win one of the biggest ever. Times Union.
Martin, J.W. and Donovan, R.J. (1960). My first fifty years in politics. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company.
Note: Stratton’s big win was in 1962, not 1964.