The conditions are ripe for Republicans to win the US House of Representatives. So while Senate control is still up for grabs, the discussion on the House side has shifted to just how large a possible new GOP majority could be.
Republicans only need a net gain of five seats to win the chamber. They can get there just by picking up Democratic-held seats that former President Donald Trump won in 2020, plus others that shifted closer toward the GOP in redistricting.
They can pick up even more seats by winning in suburban areas that deserted the GOP during Trump’s presidency. Many of this year’s toss-up races are playing out in the suburbs, offering a key test of whether well-educated and more affluent voters who left the Republican Party in 2018 will come back now that Trump is out of the White House.
The backdrop to these individual races is a national environment that would appear to be a boon to the GOP. Even after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade injected a heavy dose of uncertainty into the political landscape this summer, the economy and inflation remain the most pressing concerns for voters, a dynamic that plays into Republican attacks on the party in power. Republicans also have history on their side, since a new president’s party often loses seats in the midterms – especially a president with approval ratings like Joe Biden’s.
All of those tailwinds are easier for the GOP to take advantage of in House races. Although these contests take place in 435 individual districts, they tend to be more nationalized affairs since candidates have less defined brands than senators.
In part because of those national conditions, Republicans are also targeting some districts that Biden would have won by double digits under the new lines. But that’s also a reflection of the gains they made in 2020; the GOP needs to reach even deeper into Biden territory to find Democratic-held seats they can go after. Underscoring Democrats’ defensive posture, 9 of the 10 House races seeing the most ad spending in the final week feature vulnerable incumbent Democrats.
Democratic retirements opened new opportunities across the map, including in places such as Rhode Island, giving House Republicans another viable district to try to regain a foothold in New England after being wiped out in 2018. Those open seats are harder for Democrats to defend because they generally require outside groups to spend more than they would have had to with an incumbent in the race raising money.
Nationally, redistricting benefited House Republicans overall, though things turned out better for Democrats than expected – just not everywhere. In fact, Republicans have chances to flip all the races they’d need to win the House in two blue states alone – Oregon and New York – thanks to a combination of new maps and open seats.
To win the House majority, however, Republicans need to hold most of their own seats. That requires defending seats Democrats are targeting, including those that became bluer in redistricting.
Here are some key House races to keep an eye on that could determine whether Republicans win the majority – and, assuming they do, the kinds of races that may signal just how much of a “red wave” is cresting over Washington. Race ratings come from Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. This list is by no means exhaustive and may be updated as we get closer to Election Day.
The freebie districts
These are seats that the GOP should be winning easily because they shifted so much toward Republicans in redistricting that they’re barely competitive. In some of them, the Democratic incumbent either retired or is running in a different district.
Tennessee’s 5th District (Likely Republican)
Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper, a 16-term member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, decided against running for reelection after state Republicans redrew his Nashville-area district into one that clearly favors the GOP. The previous version had voted for Biden by nearly 24 points, but Trump would have won the new version by 11 points.
Florida’s 7th District (Likely Republican)
Democrats are losing another moderate Blue Dog member in Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a member of the January 6 committee who’s not running for reelection. It’s harder for Democrats to defend this seat, north of Orlando, without Murphy, a strong incumbent with a compelling personal story as the first Vietnamese American woman to serve in Congress. And it’s even harder in a district that got more Republican, with the new version shifting about 15 points toward Trump.
Georgia’s 6th District (Likely Republican)
This suburban Atlanta seat was also redrawn by Republicans to be significantly redder – so much so that Rep. Lucy McBath opted to take on a fellow Democratic incumbent – and won the primary – in the neighboring 7th District, leaving this seat open. Trump would have won the new 6th District by 15 points.
Texas’ 38th District (Solid Republican)
The GOP redraw of Texas’ congressional map significantly reduced the number of competitive districts, and Republicans have a prime pickup opportunity in this new Houston-area seat that Trump would have won by 18 points. Republican Wesley Hunt – a favorite GOP recruit who lost a bid for a different seat to Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in 2020 – is heavily favored in the new district. Hunt’s victory could increase the number of Black Republicans in the House.
The nearly surrendered districts
These are the kinds of districts that either shifted away from Democrats in redistricting or that they just don’t have enough money to defend – perhaps because they’re open seats or because outside groups need the money elsewhere. This list isn’t exhaustive, but Republican should be able to pick up some of these seats – and if they’re not, they may not be in for as good as a night as they’d hoped.
Arizona’s 2nd District (Lean Republican)
Republicans feel good about this largely rural district in northeastern Arizona because it got much tougher for three-term Rep. Tom O’Halleran. (Trump would have won it by 8 points, while Biden won O’Halleran’s current seat by about 2 points.) The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made a late investment in the race in October.
Wisconsin’s 3rd District (Lean Republican)
This is an open seat Republicans are favored to pick up. Democratic Rep. Ron Kind won reelection in 2020 while Trump was carrying the district by about 5 points, making Kind one of the relatively few House lawmakers to represent a district won by the presidential nominee of the opposing party. That already made the seat a top GOP target, but then Kind announced last summer that he wasn’t running for reelection. Republican Derrick Van Orden, whom Kind narrowly defeated in 2020, is running again. Van Orden attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021, but has said he never entered the Capitol.
Texas’ 15th District (Lean Republican)
This is one of three Rio Grande Valley districts at play this year that will test whether Republicans can deepen their inroads with Hispanic voters in South Texas. It’s an open seat because Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez is running for a different, more favorable seat after redistricting made the 15th District more competitive for Republicans. And national Democrats have already directed spending to other races, suggesting Republican Monica De La Cruz, whom Gonzalez narrowly defeated in 2020, has the edge against progressive Democrat Michelle Vallejo in a redrawn seat that Trump would have carried by 3 points.
Michigan’s 10th District (Lean Republican)
Michigan lost a seat in reapportionment. Rep. Andy Levin’s decision to unsuccessfully take on a fellow Democratic incumbent in a neighboring seat left Democrats without an incumbent running in the 10th District in suburban Detroit. Trump would have won the new 10th District, which is rooted in Macomb County, by just 1 point. Republican John James – who lost two recent bids for US Senate in the Wolverine State – is a strong fundraiser and well positioned to win this race.
The better-than-last-time battlegrounds
These are battleground districts that voted narrowly for Trump or Biden and are expected to see close races. But these seats may be more favorable to Republicans because of how they were redrawn or because of the specific candidate matchups. Democrats flipped many of these seats in the 2018 blue wave, making the districts natural GOP targets in a more favorable national environment. Again, this list isn’t exhaustive, but these are the kinds of districts Republicans should be winning if they’re having a decently good night.
Iowa’s 3rd District (Tilt Republican)
This Des Moines-area seat shifted ever so slightly toward Trump in redistricting. It typifies a middle-of-the-road district where the tension between Democratic messaging on abortion and Republican messaging on inflation is at a head. Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne is running for a third term against Republican state Sen. Zach Nunn, an Air Force veteran. Nunn is one of the rare Republicans to mention abortion on the airwaves, trying to flip the Democrats’ narrative about whose position is extreme.
Virginia’s 2nd District (Tilt Republican)
This is another suburban seat Democrats flipped in 2018. Two years later, Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria won a rematch against former GOP Rep. Scott Taylor. But this time, she has a new opponent in Jen Kiggans, a fellow Navy veteran who cuts a remarkably similar profile in this military-heavy district anchored in Virginia Beach. The district got slightly better for Republicans in redistricting – Biden carried the previous version by 5 points and would have won by 2 points under the new lines.
New Jersey’s 7th District (Tilt Republican)
Another member of the class of 2018, Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski, is running in more challenging terrain that now includes more of the rural northwestern part of the state, in addition to the well-educated and affluent New York City suburbs that helped him flip the seat in the Trump era. (The district is also home to Trump’s Bedminster golf club.) The new district would have backed Biden by 4 points, a drop from his 10-point victory margin under the previous lines. Malinowski faces a rematch with former state Sen. Tom Kean Jr., whom he barely beat in 2020 and whose father was a popular governor.
Pennsylvania’s 7th District (Toss-up)
Another House rematch got tougher for Democrats when this eastern Pennsylvania district shifted from one that had backed Biden by 5 points to one that would have backed him by half a point. Democratic Rep. Susan Wild, another incumbent first elected in 2018, is up against Republican Lisa Scheller, whom she narrowly defeated in 2020.
The knife’s edge battlegrounds
These are Democratic-held seats – many of them in suburban areas – that could go either way, but if Republicans are winning these kinds of seats, not all of which are listed here, they’ll be having a very good night. (Of course, Republicans have battlegrounds they have to defend too. Skip to the end for more on those.)
Washington’s 8th District (Toss-up)
Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier – the only female physician in the House – is running for a third term against Republican Matt Larkin. The redrawn district, which includes areas just outside Seattle and Tacoma, would have voted for Biden by 7 points. In a sign of Democrats’ defensive posture on crime and policing this year, Schrier has been trying to stress her independence and tout her ties to law enforcement in her paid advertising, while painting her opponent as “dangerous” for his views on abortion. Larkin has argued that the Democrat “can’t be trusted to keep us safe” and that she votes with Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Oregon’s 5th District (Tilt Republican)
This is an open seat because Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader, a moderate Blue Dog member who was Biden’s first congressional endorsee of the cycle, lost his primary earlier this year to progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner. Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer, the former mayor of Happy Valley, is trying to flip the redrawn district in the Portland and Bend suburbs, which Biden would have won by 8 points. Republicans are going after the Democrat for her previous political work in California, while she’s hitting back with an ad featuring the former Bend chief of police refuting attacks that she supports defunding the police. Regardless of how this race goes, it’ll be a chance for women to grow their ranks in the House.