The battle for control of the US House is coming into sharper focus with November’s midterm elections now less than 70 days away.
For Democrats, the path to the majority appears to run in large part through suburban, well-educated districts where disapproval of President Donald Trump’s job performance could be hobbling GOP candidates. The party’s prospects have improved as Democratic candidates continue to overperform in special election contests, with the latest example being last month’s slim defeat in a reliably Republican central Ohio district. The result was further proof the party has a significant enthusiasm edge this cycle.
Despite those headwinds, there remain a few bright spots for the GOP. The party has a handful of incumbents who are running strong races in districts that would be tough in any environment, let alone one where the President’s approval rating is stuck in the high 30s or low to mid-40s. The latest ABC News/Washington Post survey, released Friday, showed the President at 36% approval and 60% disapproval.
Ten weeks might not seem like a long time, but in politics it is a lifetime. The national dynamics can change in an instant, as we saw with the recent legal bombshells involving Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort. Then there was the stunning indictment of a sitting GOP member of Congress for allegedly misusing campaign funds, prompting Democrats to reprise their “culture of corruption” line of attack, which the party successfully deployed against Republicans in 2006.
In all, CNN is moving 14 seats – 11 toward Democrats and three in the direction of Republicans. There are currently 11 seats held or vacated by Republicans that CNN rates as Lean Democratic or better, which would get the party almost halfway to the 23 it needs to gain in order to win control of the House. Of the 30 districts now rated as Toss-Ups, 28 belong to Republicans – and Hillary Clinton won 12 of them in 2016.
To the ratings:
CA-45: This district is one of seven GOP-held seats in districts that Clinton won in the Golden State, carrying it 49% to 44%. In 2012, it went 55% to 43% for Mitt Romney. Based entirely in Orange County, the 45th District is diverse – 22% Asian and 19% Latino – and highly educated – a majority of residents hold at least a four-year college degree. Two-term GOP Rep. Mimi Walters is running against UC Irvine consumer law professor Katie Porter. With Republicans facing long odds in California’s gubernatorial contest and shut out of the Senate race, the party is hoping an effort to repeal the state’s gas tax will boost GOP turnout this fall to the benefit of some congressional candidates locked in tough battles. Porter recently released an ad saying she opposes higher gas taxes, a move to try and neutralize attacks from Walters and outside groups. Republicans are trying to cast Porter as too liberal for the district, highlighting the Democrat’s support of “Medicare-for-all.” Democrats, meanwhile, are likely to seize on Walters’ vote in favor of the GOP tax plan, which included a cap on state and local tax deductions – claimed by 46% of households in the 45th District in 2014, according to the Tax Policy Center. Both candidates should have plenty of resources for the fall campaign. Porter outraised Walters by $1 million to $704,000 in the second quarter, but the GOP incumbent held a $1.5 million to $780,000 lead in cash on hand at the end of June. Race moves from Lean Republican to Toss-Up
CA-50: The indictment of GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter on charges he and his wife misused $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses not only places the five-term incumbent in legal jeopardy, it also adds a degree of difficulty to his political challenge this cycle. The charges detailed in the 47-page indictment include spending campaign money on an Italian vacation, in-cabin flights for the family’s pet bunny and tequila shots at a DC bachelor party. Hunter’s Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, has turned the indictment into a new TV ad that calls Hunter an “embarrassment.” Even with the charges, the district remains an uphill climb for Democrats. Trump won it by 15 points with 54% of the vote in 2016. Romney carried it by an even wider 22-point margin in 2012, 60% to 38%. Campa-Najjar is running a progressive campaign on some of California’s most conservative terrain. That could make it difficult for the Democrat to fully capitalize on any Republican voters in the district who sour on Hunter because of the charges. Hunter has struggled to raise money amid the federal investigation into his campaign spending, which seems unlikely to change following the indictment. Campa-Najjar nearly doubled Hunter in the second quarter, $362,000 to $183,000. Races moves from Solid Republican to Likely Republican
IA-04: Eight-term GOP Rep. Steve King remains a heavy favorite to prevail in November, but he’s got some competition in the form of Democrat J.D. Scholten, a former professional baseball player barnstorming the northwest Iowa district in a red, white and blue Winnebago emblazoned with his name. Part of the challenge for Democrats in the 4th District is the GOP’s commanding registration advantage. Republicans make up 39% of registered voters, while Democrats are just 25%. Another 35% don’t have a party affiliation. Scholten will have to tap into that vote if he’s going to fare better than previous challengers to King. The conservative firebrand’s previous low-water mark came in 2012, when he defeated former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack by 8 points, 53% to 45%. One area that might be of concern for King is money. Scholten outraised King by $342,000 to $140,000 in the second quarter of 2018 – which marks the third consecutive quarter he’s hauled in more funds than the GOP incumbent. At last check Scholten leads $254,000 to $117,000 in cash on hand. Race moves from Solid Republican to Likely Republican
KS-02: Democrat Paul Davis lost his 2014 bid for governor against Sam Brownback by 4 points, but he carried the 2nd District by 6 points. This year the former Kansas House minority leader will face off with Army veteran Steve Watkins, who won a competitive seven-way GOP primary with 26% of the vote. Watkins benefited from roughly $300,000 in television advertising from a PAC founded and funded by his father, support that Democrats might try to turn into a political liability. Still, that kind of outside spending could help Watkins close the fundraising gap with Davis, who had a $942,000 to $125,000 advantage in cash on hand as of mid-July. Watkins is also getting an assist from the Congressional Leadership Fund, the House GOP super PAC, which is targeting Davis with ads saying he’ll “rubber-stamp” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s “liberal tax and spend agenda.” Davis has vowed to vote against Pelosi for Democratic leader if he’s elected. Another figure who could be a factor in the race is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the GOP nominee for governor. Kobach, a vocal proponent of strict voter identification laws and hardline immigration policies, could be a potential drag on House GOP candidates in the Sunflower State. Republicans there were already facing headwinds stirred up by Brownback, the unpopular former governor, who resigned earlier this year to take a job in the Trump administration. Race moves from Lean Republican to Toss-Up
KS-03: Staying in Kansas, the potential Kobach and Brownback drag also applies to the 3rd District, where GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder is facing a challenge from Democrat Sharice Davids, a former mixed martial-arts fighter and White House fellow who emerged from a competitive six-person primary. This mostly suburban district surrounding Kansas City has a large share of college graduates. In 2016, Clinton narrowly won the district, 47% to 46%. Romney carried it by 10 points four years earlier. Yoder received less than 70% of the GOP primary vote, which could be a warning sign for the four-term incumbent. He also was called out by the Kansas City Star editorial board for primary night comments that Davids and one of her Democratic rivals didn’t “know Kansas” and “don’t know our values.” Davids would be the first openly lesbian congresswoman from Kansas and one of the first Native American women elected to Congress along with Deb Haaland, who is running for a solidly blue House seat in New Mexico. Race moves from Lean Republican to Toss-Up
KY-06: Just how far will the Democratic Party’s enthusiasm edge carry it in 2018? Kentucky’s 6th District, home to Lexington, is one race to watch for an answer. Democrat Amy McGrath, a retired Marine Corps fighter pilot, is challenging three-term GOP Rep. Andy Barr in a state Trump carried by 16 points. McGrath’s candidacy – fueled in part by sharply produced television ads highlighting her military background – has turned this into a top Democratic target this cycle. Barr recently sought to compare his political experience to McGrath’s military service, telling The New York Times they “both served our country” – adding he did so “in a position where ideas matter” and McGrath “where execution matters.” His campaign also has attacked her as a “radical progressive” and a “feminist” in an effort to cast her as “too liberal for Kentucky.” McGrath has been a strong fundraiser, pulling in $1.2 million in the second quarter, compared with $913,000 for Barr. Race moves from Lean Republican to Toss-Up
NJ-03: This New Jersey swing district features two-term GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur and Democratic challenger Andy Kim, a former White House national security official. A recent Monmouth University poll of the 3rd District showed a tight race: 41% for MacArthur, 40% for Kim and 15% undecided. Trump’s approval among voters in the 3rd District stands at 46%, while 49% disapprove. In 2016, Trump carried the district 51% to 45% – a swing from four years earlier, when Obama won it 52% to 48%. Kim has proven to be a strong fundraiser, hauling in more than $1 million in the second quarter and leading in cash on hand $1.6 million to $1 million – though MacArthur could help his cause by leaning on his personal wealth. Democrats have made health care a centerpiece of their midterm messaging. That is especially true in the 3rd District, where Kim has seized on MacArthur’s role in the House GOP’s effort to repeal Obamacare last year. MacArthur was also the only New Jersey representative from either party to back the GOP tax cut plan that limited the popular deduction for state and local taxes. Race moves from Lean Republican to Toss-Up
OH-01: GOP Rep. Steve Chabot was swept into office amid the 1994 Republican revolution. He lost his seat in 2008 during a strong year for Democrats, only to gain it back two years later in the GOP wave of 2010. Can the 11-term incumbent withstand the political headwinds facing his party this time around? He’s facing a serious challenge from 35-year-old Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval, who has significantly outraised Chabot the last two quarters. The back-to-back hauls have Pureval closing in on Chabot’s cash on hand, $1.5 million to $1.3 million. The 1st District is a blend of urban and suburban areas with a sizable share of college graduates and where 30% of residents are nonwhite. In particular, the President’s struggles with college-educated women could pose trouble for Chabot. In an election where offering “change” could be an asset and the power of incumbency somewhat diminished, the contrast between Pureval and Chabot has the potential to sway some voters toward the Democratic challenger. Race moves from Lean Republican to Toss-Up
OH-12: For Democrats, the August special election was likely the party’s best opportunity at flipping this long-held GOP seat in central Ohio. Republican Troy Balderson eked out a win, defeating Democrat Danny O’Connor in a district Trump carried by 11 points in 2016 and that had been represented by Republicans for more than three decades. Balderson and O’Connor will face off again in November, but the rematch isn’t expected to draw the same level of national attention and money as their initial encounter. Given the Republican DNA of this district, Balderson starts Round 2 with an advantage. Race moves from Toss-Up to Lean Republican
OH-14: Three-term GOP Rep. Dave Joyce is running a television ad touting his opposition to his party’s efforts to take away health insurance protections for pre-existing conditions while also trumpeting that he “stood up” to Trump on funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The move to stress his independence reflects the balance Joyce must strike in this suburban Northeast Ohio district that Trump carried by double digits but for a long time was held by the late Rep. Steve LaTourette, a moderate Republican who advocated for pragmatism over partisanship. Democrat Betsy Rader has accused Joyce of “running away from his record” – noting his previous support for repealing the Affordable Care Act. Rader’s experience as a senior counsel at the Cleveland Clinic and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services could help her more effectively litigate the health care argument in the race. Before Trump’s 11-point win in the 14th District, Obama narrowly lost it twice – by 3 points in 2012 and by less than a point in 2008. Race moves from Likely Republican to Lean Republican
PA-01: On paper, this suburban Philadelphia district should be locked in the Toss-Up column from now until Nov. 6. But first-term GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick has cultivated a moderate brand, voting against the House GOP’s Obamacare repeal plan while also picking up endorsements from organized labor and Giffords, the gun control advocacy group founded by former Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords. The Democratic nominee is Scott Wallace, a multimillionaire philanthropist and grandson of one of Franklin Roosevelt’s vice presidents. Republicans have sought to cast Wallace as a wealthy outsider and seized on donations made by his charitable foundation, including those to groups protesting Israel. Wallace’s campaign blasted the attacks from “special interests” and charged Fitzpatrick with being “in the pocket of Donald Trump.” A June poll from Monmouth University found 53% of the voters in the district had a favorable impression of Fitzpatrick, compared with just 22% who had an unfavorable view, signaling the challenge Wallace faces in trying to redefine his opponent while also defending himself from political attacks. Wallace holds a slight edge in terms of cash on hand – $1.7 to $1.65 million – and can lean on his personal wealth to fuel his effort. But the GOP cavalry is prepared to boost Fitzpatrick with roughly $7 million in TV ads between now and Election Day, per Kantar Media/CMAG. Race moves from Toss-Up to Lean Republican
PA-10: The redistricting scramble in Pennsylvania earlier this year put the 10th District within reach for Democrats. The redrawn lines, which included adding parts of Harrisburg favorable to Democrats, shifted the district from one Trump carried by 21 points to one he would have won by 9 points. The party also landed a candidate, George Scott, whose background as a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Lutheran pastor could appeal in the district. The incumbent, GOP Rep. Scott Perry, is an Iraq War veteran and assistant adjutant general in the Pennsylvania National Guard. Scott outraised Perry in the second quarter, but the Republican holds a $553,000 to $207,000 advantage in cash on hand. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently added Scott to its “Red to Blue” program, which should help bolster his fundraising for the final stretch of the campaign. Race moves from Likely Republican to Lean Republican
TX-23: GOP Rep. Will Hurd, a former CIA officer, is no stranger to close campaigns. He won his first race in 2014 by 2 points and was re-elected by an even slimmer margin. He’s also established a moderate political brand – and managed to preserve it in the era of the Trump GOP. Hurd voted against the House GOP Obamacare repeal bill – the only Texas Republican to do so – and has criticized the Trump administration’s immigration policies, including building a wall along the border with Mexico – more than 800 miles of which are in the 23rd District. Following the Helsinki summit in July, Hurd faulted the President over his “failure to defend the United States intelligence community’s unanimous conclusions of Russian meddling in the 2016 election” and suggested Trump was being “manipulated” by Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The challenge for Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer, is to convince voters in the district that Hurd’s centrist credentials are disingenuous. Jones is well-funded – raising $1.2 million in the second quarter – but still trails Hurd in cash on hand $2 million to $1.1 million. Between now and November, Hurd and his GOP allies plan to spend about $5.3 million on television, compared with $1.7 million by Jones and Democratic groups, according to Kantar Media/CMAG. And while many prime Democratic targets this year are found in the suburbs, the 23rd District spans two time zones, stretching from San Antonio to El Paso, totaling more than 58,000 square miles. Clinton won it by 4 points; Romney by 3. Jones is a credible challenger who should keep the race close, but heading into the final stretch it appears Hurd has the edge. Race moves from Toss-Up to Lean Republican
WA-03: GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler placed first in the 3rd District’s top-two primary in August, but the four-term incumbent received only 42% of the vote. Democrat Carolyn Long, a professor at Washington State University Vancouver, was second with 35%. The overall primary vote was split 51% to 49% in favor of Republican candidates. Trump carried the district by 7 points – but with just 48% of the vote in 2016. Romney won it 50% to 48% in 2012. Herrera Beutler had more than $1 million in the bank as of mid-July, compared with $111,000 for Long. That’s a significant gap to make up given the late primary in the Evergreen State. Race moves from Solid Republican to Likely Republican