2018 House Midterm Forecast
I thought I’d add a note scoring my predictions, and briefly summarizing the results often described in advance and greater depth below.
How’d I Do?
Democrats won 35 of the 37 races I predicted they would, losing only the two I deemed least likely to flip [Update 11/28: now the first of these is under investigation by the State Elections Board], while Republicans won the same three seats I predicted they would take from the Democrats.
Democrats also won eight additional seats that my conservative forecast put below the 50% mark, but most only just so: three helped round out the tossup category, a fourth was the first race outside it, and a fifth was just a few spots below with the suggestion that it was one of the likeliest races to surprise. And while I joined most other forecasters in giving relatively little attention to the two biggest surprises of election night, those were generally consistent with my suggestion that surprises would probably occur, but be few in number and not necessarily in the races that had received the most attention from others.
[On further review, I see that my 425(-6?)/435 (98%) record appears to have been the (second- or?) third-most accurate House forecast in the country among those who tipped every race one way or the other (as The Cook Political Report proper did not, but its first-place forecaster Dave Wasserman and others did on Election Day via Twitter). I beat the UVA Center for Politics by three races, and assuming you deem each of 538’s three models to be a single forecast, I narrowly beat their more accurate Classic and Deluxe versions by at least a race or two as well. To be sure, I relied heavily on all of these fairly-consilient forecasts (while missing those on Twitter) in coming up with my own, but might have done better still had I hewed more closely to my own instincts (and may yet pull into second place, depending on NC-9).]
What are the Takeaways?
As predicted, Democrats won virtually all of the Clinton districts, most of them urban-to-denser-suburban, majority-minority, and/or relatively high-income/education (typically reflecting a ‘daytime’-urban population that may tend “fiscally-conservative but socially liberal”), and lost the vast majority of the generally more exurban-to-rural, less diverse, and/or more mixed-income/education Trump ones (which tend more socially-conservative but sometimes fiscally-liberal), while picking up a few handfuls of more moderate districts that typically gave Trump weak (often sub-50% plurality) victories. Those results are consistent with the Trump-catalyzed national political realignment that became conspicuous in 2016, but likely began before he ran.
I’m inclined to attribute Democratic pickups in the weak-Trump districts in the first instance to candidate factors — the strength of Democratic challengers like Conor Lamb, Mikie Sherrill, Abby Finkenauer, and Lauren Underwood, and weakness of Republicans like Seth Grossman, Jason Lewis, Bruce Poliquin, and Claudia Tenney (weak candidate matchups may also have lost Democrats at least a race or two). But the geography of these wins makes clear the significance of longstanding regional social/political culture that transcends their diverse community types: two-thirds of them (and the vast majority of Democrats’ more exurban-to-rural pickups) were in the generally-blue Northeastern quadrant of the country, in territory that the author Colin Woodard deems variously “Yankeedom,” “New Netherland,” and “the Midlands.” Even Democrats’ pickup in deep-red Utah might be attributable to such phenomena: the Mormons who settled it were of “Yankee” origin.
While candidate quality helped make the difference in Northeastern and Great Lakes-Midwestern districts where the fundamentals are purple to blue, it wasn’t enough for Democrats in redder/whiter, more rural, and generally lower-education/income Appalachia, where not-your-average-Democrats like Amy McGrath and Richard Ojeda lost despite big-to-huge gains (Ojeda pulled off the country’s single largest Democratic margin swing from the 2016 Presidential vote, nearly 37 points). The same phenomenon helps explain relatively-Trump-friendly-incumbent Joe Manchin’s bare win in the West Virginia Senate race, Phil Bredesen’s loss despite double-digit gains in Tennessee, and perhaps Beto O’Rourke’s loss despite bigger gains in cultural crossroads Texas, through the Northern middle of which Woodard extends his Greater Appalachian cultural region (to the Austin suburbs where M.J. Hegar lost by a similar margin), among others (Woodard also extends the region into Joe Donnelly-lost Indiana and much of Claire McCaskill-lost Missouri).
More productive for Democrats was the (less gerrymandered portion of the) South Atlantic Coast(al Plain), where (in addition to pickups in Clinton-voting South Florida) good candidate matchups helped flip three Trump districts around Richmond, Virginia Beach, and Charleston/Hilton Head that, as currently constituted, had not voted for a Democrat for President or Congress in recent memory. The first two reflect in part the Southerly spread into Virginia’s Tidewater area of the more Northern culture of the country’s most heavily urban megaregion. The third, however, centered upon the ancestral core of the Deep South, reflects a much bigger, national trend...
When the new Congress is sworn in, fewer then ten of the 75 most populous metropolitan areas in the country — Charleston is #74 — and just one of the Top 50 (gerrymandered/~Appalachian Cincinnati) will lack a Democratic district at their core. This big urban blue shift helps explain the Democratic win/near-miss in two previously-solidly-Republican Atlanta districts. Those results reflect two correlatives of urbanity — high education levels (GA-6, the pickup, is one of the very-best-educated in the country) and greater diversity (suburban Atlanta is a big destination for reverse migration of African-Americans to the South, and is increasingly Asian too) — that are also on display in suburban Texas, where Democrats might have done better if not for gerrymandering. In older and less-educated/diverse parts of the suburban South (Central Florida), however, Democrats had more disappointing results.
The urban-rural shift also helps explain the surprise result in increasingly-diverse Oklahoma City, which wasn’t much of one to young forecaster Noah Rudnick, who predicted it ages ago. It was less of one too to those of us who knew about challenger Kendra Horn, who I’d thought of as perhaps the best little-known candidate in the field, vying with probable future Senate candidate Talley Sergent in WV-2 (who, despite losing, came closer than Ojeda next door, albeit with the aid of a third-party candidate). To some extent, though, both Horn and SC-1 surprise Joe Cunningham got lucky — her rival Steve Russell, who spent virtually nothing, got caught sleeping when Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun group went on the air at the last minute, while Cunningham’s rival lost time to a car accident, opening more space for his impending-fatherhood and offshore-drilling ads to break through. [Similar bad luck may have felled the Democratic challenger in high-education AZ-6, but disappointing losses by two Indian-American candidates in relatively-(old and )white Phoenix districts (like those outside St. Louis and other Midland cities) seem to reflect that some metro suburbs are more diverse than others.]
Democrats had better results in more Hispanic-dominated districts, including in the fairly rural region that tracks the Southwest border (much of it deemed El Norte by both Woodard and fellow New Englander Robert David Sullivan, both in preference to Joel Garreau’s “Mexamerica”), which gave Democrats a narrow win in Trump-won NM-2, paired with a narrow loss in Clinton-won TX-23. A split decision, but the latter was much closer than many expected, consistent with my intuition that Democratic strength in Spanish-speaking areas was being under-reflected in otherwise-fairly-good polling this year, as I’ve thought it has been for years now. Leading up to Election Day, there was much handwringing about Hispanic turnout, and while it was relatively low as usual, the results were a little to a lot better than predicted, not just here but also in the broader Latin diaspora, including two Clinton-won districts that appear to have unseated their Hispanic Republican incumbents: Central Valley CA-21, which on election night was called for the GOP, but in which the challenger now [11/28] appears to have won, and Cuban-American-dominated FL-26 (which Sullivan but not Woodard includes in the cultural region), though vote decline and defections in the latter (and FL-27/25 next door) helped contribute to Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum’s statewide losses.
One note of hope in closing. Even as there was some evidence of the lingering power of Trump’s brand of racial politics, not just in Florida, but also in interior Southern California, where indictee Duncan Hunter, Jr. rode racist appeals to victory, and Northwestern Iowa, which reelected Steve King, among other places — it was overcome by several non-white (or male) candidates (Underwood, Andy Kim, and Antonio Delgado) in 80–90%-white Trump districts in exurban to rural territory outside New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Some parts of America, at least, look better than before.
I’ll leave aside for now what all of this means for 2020 and beyond, but may return to the subject in future posts.
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Original Post (subsequently edited for style and some descriptive but not predictive substance)
Below is an in-(rough-)order list of more than 150 House Republican seats that could flip to the Democrats, with a short list of districts-only up front, followed by a much longer version containing individual narrative explanations for the 70–75 individual districts I consider real possibilities to flip and collective ones for categorized sub-sets of the remainder, with a bibliography of links to relevant background material at the end.
The Bottom Line — Democrats will probably net about 35 seats, give or take a dozen or so. That’s good news given that Democrats need 23, and especially given that they may well substantially exceed that mark, but not comforting given the distinct possibility that they won’t reach that number, a problem of very serious magnitude for the country (I say by way of making clear that, while I don’t hide my Democratic partisanship and policy preferences, I also strive to be objective or at least transparent in my horserace analysis).
THE SHORT LIST
Races are listed in (very) rough descending order of the estimated probability that they will flip from red to blue (sometimes adjusted slightly for reasons of geographic/narrative flow), based on both quantitative and qualitative measures that I describe in between the short and longer lists. I assign the races to categories of probability, but rather than borrowing the usual Tossup/(Tilt/)Lean/Likely/Safe categories, I’ve chosen instead to use semi-cognate cohorts that I think better describe the relative degree of uncertainty.
WILL DEFINITELY FLIP
WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY FLIP
PA-17 (~open: Incumbents Lamb v. Rothfus)
VERY LIKELY TO FLIP
LIKELY TO FLIP
DEMOCRATS SLIGHTLY FAVORED
TOO CLOSE/UNCERTAIN TO CALL
~~~~~~Approximate Line of Control (assumes 3 Dem losses)~~~~~~
~~~~~~~~Approximate 50/50 Win-Loss Line~~~~~~~~
REPUBLICANS SLIGHTLY FAVORED
IL-13 (R. Davis)
WA-3 (Herrera Beutler)
LIKELY TO STAY REPUBLICAN
WA-5 (McMorris Rodgers)
VERY LIKELY TO STAY REPUBLICAN
ALMOST CERTAIN TO STAY REPUBLICAN (Partial list; see more below)
TX-31 (J. Carter)
THE LONG LIST….
First, a key. For each district, I include the following information…
- A measure of the District’s Partisan Orientation in the form “R+3.” This number is an average of two measures of mostly-Presidential vote in the past two elections: (1) the district’s “Partisan Lean” as measured by data journalist and Economist contributor G. Elliott Morris per the method described by FiveThirtyEight (I believe their old version that did not incorporate state legislative voting), which does not itself publish a complete list of such values, and (2) twice the district’s “Partisan Voting Index” (PVI) as measured by The Cook Political Report (doubling to reflect the fact that PVI measures the relative vote for the winning candidate only, not the relative margin between winning and losing candidates). This measure tells you (a) which way the district leans relative to the nation (and most, though not all, of these districts lean Republican), and (b) how much it leans in that direction. If you want a quick and very dirty baseline prediction of the outcome in any given race (ignoring candidate or other local factors), add Democrats’ average generic ballot lead over the past year (~8 pts) to the Partisan Orientation, subtracting at least a point or two in incumbent-held seats (and adding one or two in open seats?).
- The district’s recent Presidential (and, as relevant, Congressional) Voting History. A district listed as “OOT(, HS)” would have voted for Obama twice before voting for Trump (and is a “House Swing”-district that has voted for a Democrat for Congress in the past 3–5 contests), while one listed as “MRC” would have voted for McCain, then Romney, then Clinton. Most districts below previously voted twice for George W. Bush, and so I add 2000 and 2004 results only in the case of actual or potential exceptions (for which I lack complete reliable data), appending Gs and Ks for Gore and Kerry in the form “GB?OOT” (Gore, questionably-Bush, etc.). This history will give you a sense of a district’s character (and perhaps its trend): Romney-Clinton districts tend to be more urban and higher-income/education, Obama-Trump districts tend the reverse, and Obama-Romney-Trump districts tend to be Midwestern ones that chose Obama based on regional affinity that he lost (sometimes to Romney’s stronger affinity in semi-home-state Michigan) after four years in the White House.
- The final Predictions of Top Political Forecasters, in the form “C/S Tossup, IE Tilt Rep”: this reflects the predictions of highly-respected (and connected) political analysts the Cook Political Report (“C”) (Dave Wasserman, House Editor), UVA Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball (“S”) (Kyle Kondik, Managing Editor), and Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzalez (Stuart Rothenberg, Senior Editor) (“IE”).
Next, a Guide to my Analysis…
Though the above information played an important role in my analysis, the order in which I’ve ranked the races is based first on a separate quantitative meta-measure. This one again averages two measures, this time both monte-carlo-simulation-based measures of percentage Democratic win probability with a demonstrated record of reliability and/or broad alignment with my own perspective: (1) FiveThirtyEight’s ‘Deluxe’ Forecast (which incorporates C/S/IE projections into a model based on polling, district ‘fundamentals’, and the status of comparable districts), which they have acknowledged will likely be the most accurate of their three, and (2) my own adjustment of Morris’ polling-based forecast at The Crosstab, modified per information supplied by Morris on Sabato’s blog to similarly incorporate the forecaster projections).
The quantitative measure, however, is just my first step. In many cases, I’ve at least marginally (and sometimes substantially) adjusted the rankings to reflect both their noisiness over time and my own qualitative measure of Democratic win probability, which I describe in the narrative descriptions that seek to encapsulate what I see as the keys to each race. [Note that my analysis becomes increasingly less stringent on the Republican-favored side of the 50–50 line, and that I’ve replaced the especially haphazard re-ranking of races below the ‘Likely’ mark on the Short List with a purely qualitative analysis on the Long version, reflecting the rough parity on that end of the bell curve.]
My qualitative analysis typically reflects most or all of the following categories of inputs: (1) my rough estimation of race-specific factors like candidate quality and district character, (2) my personal read of the available polling (to which I may have given too much weight in the closing days of the race, but I think justifiably as counter to over-reliance on ‘fundamentals’ in a time of political realignment, or upon trends in other districts where different factors may apply), and, importantly, (3) my attention to the district’s actual past voting behavior at the Congressional level, including in this year’s primaries. In both the second and third categories, I try to give more attention to absolute levels of support for candidates than I do to the margins between them. In the first category, I’ve given particular attention to the identity markers (ethnicity especially) that I believe are as if not more significant than issues, consciously or otherwise, in many voters’ decision-making.
With that, the list…
WILL DEFINITELY FLIP
(Take this one to the bank)
PA-5 (open) — D+26; OOCr; C/S Safe D, IE Likely D
Democrats’ best pickup opportunities this year were handed to them by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. When it threw out Republicans’ gerrymander of the state’s Congressional districts, Democrats lost one seat (goodbye PA-14, most likely), but got a chance to pick up another handful or more, starting here in inner-ring-suburban Philadelphia (most of Delaware County, including Upper Darby, Media, and Swarthmore). This formerly-Republican district is now a Democratic lock by acclamation.
ALMOST CERTAIN TO FLIP
(A loss in any of these would be a big surprise)
NJ-2 (open) — R+4; GBOOT; S Safe D, C/IE Likely D
The other gift Democrats got this year was the retirement, resignation, or run for higher office of more than three dozen Republican incumbents, many seeking to avoid tough primaries let alone general election contests in swing districts. New Jersey — America’s most suburban state, spanning two major metropolitan areas — quickly became prime territory for Democratic pickups in places like this Philly-metro South Jersey district where longtime incumbent Frank LoBiondo didn’t have the stomach for another contest. While it voted for Trump in 2016, it did so by just five points after a Democratic streak dating to 2000 broken only by George W. Bush’s one-point victory in the wake of 9/11. While the open seat leg-up might not be enough for complete confidence here, even with well-known and popular State Senator Jeff Van Drew as the Democratic nominee, the race is probably put away by the weakness of the disavowed Republican candidate, white-supremacist-touting Seth Grossman. I don’t quite join some of the forecasters in declaring this race safe, however, because I’m a bit more cynical in this era about the kinds of candidates Republicans are willing to vote for.
PA-6 (open) — D+5; OOCr; S Safe D, C/IE Likely D
A similar story to PA-5 in this mostly-Chester County district next door, which runs through the Philadelphia Main Line suburbs to working-class Reading. While not quite as densely urban or Democratic, this district is blue enough to be nearly out of contention in a year like this, and any hopes Republicans might have to hold on are probably put to bed by the strength of Democrats’ candidate, Air Force vet Chrissy Houlahan, one of a half-dozen prominent female military veterans who can hit Democrats’ sweet spot in this huge-gender-gap year: driving energized female turnout without scaring off men.
PA-17 (~open: Lamb v. Rothfus) — R+6; MRTr; C/S Likely D, IE Lean D
Yet another sub/exurban Pennsylvania district, this time around Pittsburgh rather than Philadelphia (from the city limits Northwest through Allegheny and Beaver counties), and another veteran with a (D) next to their name, which you probably know by now: Conor Lamb. His narrow victory in the March special election in the more southerly current 18th district (which voted for Trump by 20 points) was an early warning of the coming blue wave, and made him a minor star. Whether it’s that quality or the much more moderate nature of the redrawn 17th district (which leans Republican, but more narrowly so), he now solidly leads third-term incumbent Rep. Keith Rothfus of the current 12th in this incumbent vs. incumbent quasi-open seat race. It’s nearly a lock, but not impossible that Trump’s deplorable attempt to use the Squirrel Hill massacre to aid Rothfus’ chances might have bumped up last-minute support from enough of his like-minded constituents.
CA-49 (open) — R+0; OrRC; C/S Likely D, IE Lean D
The blue wave proper really starts to form here, on the shores of the Pacific North of San Diego. This high-education/income district (which runs from La Jolla up the coast to Dana Point) that chose sometime-resident Mitt Romney in between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is just the sort of densely-suburban place that’s now prepared to turn on the Republican Party in the age of Trump. Aided by the retirement of super-wealthy, grandstanding “Benghazi”-investigator Darrell Issa (who has faced ethics allegations of his own), Democratic attorney Mike Levin looks set to run away with this race, one of potentially a handful of Southern Californian seats that may flip in a dramatic turn away from their Reagan-and-Nixon Republican roots.
VERY LIKELY TO FLIP
(You can probably count on these two. Probably.)
AZ-2 (open) — R+3; MrRC, HS; S Likely D, C/IE Lean D
This Tucson-based seat combines several trends already mentioned: incumbent-abdication (Rep. Martha McSally is running for Jeff Flake’s Senate seat), a name challenger (former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, of next-door AZ-1), and her return from a 2-year retirement that operates as a quasi-redistricting. While not a universally-beloved figure, Kirkpatrick probably doesn’t need to be: this Clinton district, previously held by Gabby Giffords, has generally been marginally Republican at best in open contests (after losing in 2012, McSally won in 2014 by fewer than 125 votes), and the most hardcore Trump supporters seem unlikely to be energized by the Republican candidate — Lea Marquez Peterson, President of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
PA-7 (open) — D+1; OOCr; C/S/IE Lean D
Product of another red-to-blue redistricting, this Lehigh Valley district (Allentown, Bethlehem, etc.) is an even-purpler shade of blue than the 5th and 6th, but that’s unlikely to matter too much this year. Democrat Susan Wild was a surprise primary victor, but the grassroots support that boosted her to the nomination over both a better-known party-backed candidate and a Sanders-style progressive puts her in a strong position heading into Election Day, especially after her opponent, former Olympian Marty Nothstein, was hit with sexual misconduct allegations.
LIKELY TO FLIP
(Again, you can probably count on these, but this is where you start to have a little doubt in the back of your mind)
FL-27 (open) — D+12; OrOC; C/S/IE Lean D
Prior to the Pennsylvania redistricting, this Miami district, unusually urban for a Republican-held one(in fact their second-most densely-populated district nationally) was considered Democrats’ best pickup opportunity in the country, a product of the retirement of #NeverTrump Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. A Cuban-American of partial-Jewish heritage and mother of a transgender LGBT activist, Ros-Lehtinen was virtually tailor-made for the city’s demographics, and her absence opened a big opportunity for Democrats in a district that has voted for Democrats at the Presidential level in the past three elections. To try to hold on, Republicans sought to replace her with another well-known Cuban-American, Emmy-Award-winning Spanish-language television presenter Maria Salazar. Instead of trying to play ethnic politics, Democrats went with a big name — former Clinton HHS Secretary (and former President of the University of Miami among other big-time academic posts) Donna Shalala, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush. A Maronite Catholic of Lebanese heritage, Shalala is neither quite bubbe nor abuela, and after the primaries came worrisome whispers that internal polls showed a much closer race than Democrats expected. Those were sufficient for me to consider dropping this one down several places (if not to the next category), but Shalala is a figure of unusual stature in a first-time Congressional race, and the latest polling suggests that the fundamentals are likely to prevail. This is a Democratic district now, and while the electoral power of its Cuban community shouldn’t be ignored, that community isn’t as Republican as it used to be either.
VA-10 (Comstock) — D+3; ORC; C/S Lean D, IE Tilt D
The blue wave first washes inland here, on the shores of the Potomac West of D.C., in another high-education/income suburban Romney-Clinton district (the 12th-best-educated in the country, and one of just two in the top 15 held by Republicans) home to many Federal government employees and contractors, as well knowledge workers in Fairfax County’s booming tech corridor. Incumbent Barbara Comstock is the kind of purportedly-‘moderate’ Republican who business-friendly suburban voters two years ago thought would provide a counterweight to expected winner Hillary Clinton, but is likely to lose her seat in a year when those same voters are instead seeking a counterweight to Donald Trump, especially after his tax plan effectively raised theirs. Polls confirm that State Sen. Jennifer Wexton is headed for victory.
CO-6 (Coffman) — D+5; OOC; C/S Lean D, IE Tilt D
A similar story, if a bit less so, here in the Denver suburbs (centered around Aurora, looping South through Centennial and North around DIA). While fifth-termer Mike Coffman is probably a bit more popular than Comstock, this high-education district too looks set to knock off its incumbent, choosing instead a much younger fellow veteran, Army Ranger and Iraq/Afghanistan vet Jason Crow, to whom the GOP appears to have effectively conceded the race by cutting off Coffman’s funding. These twin victories would help establish the increasingly blue trend in two well-educated states that stayed firmly in the Democratic column in 2016, even as they lost many lower-education Midwestern states that held up the once-solid “blue wall.”
MN-2 (Lewis) — R+4; MOT; C/S Lean D, IE Tilt D
This exurban district stretching South along the Mississippi from the Twin Cities (including collegiate Northfield and regional entertainment destination Shakopee) is a bit different in character from those above. More rural, lower-education, and mixed-income in orientation, it rejected Barack Obama in 2008, but chose him narrowly over Richie-Rich Romney in 2012. While it isn’t very Democratic, it isn’t too Republican either: it chose Trump in 2016, but gave him less than 50% of the vote, and appears to have soured further on him since. First-term incumbent Jason Lewis, a former talk radio host, also won just a plurality against health care executive Angie Craig, and hasn’t helped his standing since with a series of inflammatory remarks belittling sexual harassment victims, women in general, and minorities of all stripes. While this district’s independence makes it tough to call with a great deal of certainty, Craig looks headed for a pretty comfortable rematch victory in a year in which I expect women to perform much better than in 2016.
MN-3 (Paulsen) — D+3; OOC; C/S Lean D, IE Tilt D
This neighboring exurban-Minneapolis district (including Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Edina, and Wayzata) is much purpler (and not only because it includes the purifying waters of Lake Minnetonka), more akin to the Virginia and Colorado districts above, and therefore much riper territory for a Democratic pickup (and I’m not sure it isn’t a likelier pickup than the 2nd), but also home to a more-entrenched incumbent — fifth-termer Erik Paulsen. Another purported ‘moderate’ of the sort that has hung on for the past decade even in consistently-blue Presidential districts, he’s similarly likely to end his run this time around, up against GQ-ready local businessman (former Talenti gelato chair) and distilling heir Dean Phillips, whose socially-liberal/fiscally-moderate orientation seems like a better match for the district than Paulsen’s Minnesota-nice brand of conservative cant.
IA-1 (Blum) — D+0; GK?OOT, HS; C/IE Lean D, S Tossup
In addition to the suburban shift, another big story this year has been the proliferation of gone-viral candidate ads that focus on the personal characteristics of candidates who challenge not just Republican (or Democratic) incumbents, but also Democratic (if not bipartisan) stereotypes and/or orthodoxies. Such ads have given Democrats hope of picking up seats even in more rural districts like this “Field of Dreams” one in Northeastern Iowa (Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Dubuque, etc). While much of the attention was trained on ads from first-time candidates like Lamb, M.J. Hegar, Randy Bryce, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the one that best captured my attention was this ad by young State Rep. Abby Finkenauer, which deftly sought to weave her character together with that of a state that has lost some of its ‘nice’ over the past decade. When I saw it, I pretty much knew things were over for white-bread second-term incumbent Rod Blum in a district that was pretty solidly Democratic before him (or Trump), a sense only solidified by the impact of Trump’s tariffs in the Farm Belt. To be sure, Iowa took a big red turn in 2016 (easier to do in a small state), and Trump has made a solid last-ditch effort to keep it in his fold by lifting restrictions on ethanol use in gasoline (I suspect the product of advice from former White House Counsel Boyden Gray, one of my former Professors). That introduced a note of uncertainty sufficient for me to downgrade the race slightly, but the Upper Mississippi region (see also MN-2) is one of the swingiest parts of the country, and this nearly-very-likely-to-flip district looks like it’s ready to go the distance.
KS-3 (Yoder) — R+6; ORC; C/S/IE Lean D
Here’s a race where local factors may be as important as national ones. “Tea Party”-themed 2010 saw the election of dozens of young and ideologically-conservative House freshmen like then-thirtysomething Rep. Kevin Yoder, who immediately distinguished himself by skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee on a ‘codel’ to Israel. The more notable 2010 political event in Kansas, however, was the election of former Senator and theocratic ideologue Sam Brownback as Governor. His experiment in adherence to conservative tax-cutting principle has driven the state’s economy and education systems into the ground, and driven a good many more moderate Kansas Republicans into something of an intraparty war. Its biggest battle yet is this year’s election to succeed Brownback’s replacement, pitting Secretary of State (and chair of Trump’s fake-“voter fraud” panel) Kris Kobach, an anti-democratic racist-I-mean-“white-nationalist,” against a Democrat who has received the endorsement of several former Republican Governors and Senators. That rejection of the right by even committed Republicans also looks set to help turn out Yoder, one of several if not multiple members of the class of 2010 who may get pulled down by a Democratic tide/wave. If and when he does — the polls look good here — it will bring to Washington a more colorful figure from the Democratic side: young Cornell-trained lawyer (and sometime mixed-martial-arts fighter) Sharice Davids, an LGBT-identifying member of the Ho-Chunk Nation who would join NM-1’s Deb Haaland as the first Native American women elected to Congress. This election could be the beginning of the end of both the What’s the Matter with Kansas? era and the Tea Party one.
NJ-11 (open) — R+5; MRT; C/S/IE Lean D
This exurban New York City district, home to some of the nation’s earliest commuter suburbs (much of Morris County, including Madison and part of Montclair), is one of the wealthiest in the country. That has long kept it Republican, but moderately and now barely so — it gave Trump a one-point victory with less than 50% of the vote, and is not happy about the impact of his tax plan — partly due to the long-term accretive effect of the establishment of a more direct NJ Transit commuter line here two decades ago. Now with the retirement of longterm incumbent Rodney Frelinghuysen, descendent of a major New Jersey (and American) political dynasty dating to the colonial era, it finally looks ready to buck its Republican orientation, with any uncertainty about the Democratic Party resolved by first-time candidate Mikie Sherrill, a former Federal prosecutor, Navy helicopter pilot (one of the first women to fly in combat), and Russia policy expert with a Master’s from the London School of Economics, who was one of the first candidates of the cycle to achieve wide recognition outside her district. She faces a State Assemblyman and party leader, but polls show her with a solid lead unlikely to be overcome.
(Democrats have the edge in these races, but they start to dip into more uncertain, 2016-surprise territory)
NJ-7 (Lance) — R+5; ORC; S Lean D, C/IE Tossup
Another relatively high-education/income sub-/exurban district outside New York City with a Republican who got into office (with the assistance of The New York Times’ endorsement) by billing himself as a moderate but doing little in the Tea Party and Trump eras to buck his party. Now facing an unprecedented suburban backlash led by energized progressive women, gentlemanly fifth-termer Leonard Lance, who apparently failed to join colleagues LoBiondo and Frelinghuysen in seeing the writing on the wall, looks headed for involuntary retirement. Can he still hang on? Yes — this district lacks the urban density of some of those above, and Lance retains more goodwill than a shorter-term incumbent like Lewis. Still, that progressive energy put up big numbers in the primary here, and nominee Tom Malinowski, a Princeton-raised Rhodes Scholar and former Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights/NSC official, not only presents a credible alternative, he overmatches Lance in energy and other respects. This may not be terribly far outside tossup territory, but Democrats have a solid edge.
CA-10 (Denham) — D+0; OOrC; S Lean D, C/IE Tossup
This Central Valley California district (mostly Modesto and other parts East of the South Bay), less than 50% Non-Hispanic-White and Presidentially-Democratic in the past three contests, is a prime pickup opportunity. Fourth-term incumbent Rep. Jeff Denham won the district by slightly more than Hillary did, however, and caters to his district by billing himself as an almond farmer (he recently survived a legal challenge to that description on the ballot, alleging that he leases his land to another operator) and playing the role of tortured-but-serious campaigner for immigration reform legislation that the Republican caucus has shown itself unwilling to pass despite probably having the votes. This year, that positioning probably won’t be enough to hold on in this now-fairly-Democratic district, but voters remain evenly divided on Denham, and I’ve long worried whether his challenger, 32-year-old venture capitalist Josh Harder, will be able to make the sale in this agricultural area, even though he grew up on a farm here. I’m still not totally convinced, but primary results and recent polls look like things are headed that way.
WA-8 (open) — D+0; OOC; C/S Lean D, IE Tossup
I’m biased, but to paraphrase Barack Obama, this is one of the best-looking Congressional Districts in the country (and no, not because it’s shaped like a dog). Full of Native American place names, the geographically-diverse district extends from bedroom communities of Greater Seattle’s tech-centric suburban Eastside (lakeside Sammamish and Issaquah, home of the miniature “Alps” where Seattleites go for after-work hikes) South through more ag-industrial areas (parts of Kent, home to aerospace manufacturing and warehouse distribution for retailers like Amazon and REI, plus farm fields that grow some of the country’s best raspberries) before turning East across the Cascades (South of Snoqualmie Pass and through Mount Rainier National Park) to the Columbia River, taking in fairly rural ag/resource- and tourism-based communities including Bavarian-themed Leavenworth and Roslyn, where “Northern Exposure” was filmed, as well as the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This district and its more Democratic (Kerry/Gore-voting) predecessor have been represented for seven terms by former King County prosecutor Dave Reichert, a ‘socially-liberal’ moderate who bowed out of running for a Trump-era eighth. Seeking to replace him is commercial real estate businessman Dino Rossi, whose three statewide losses (in which he tended to win this district) haven’t bestowed upon him a winning image, but have given him much better name recognition than his opponent, first-time candidate Kim Schrier, an Eastside pediatrician pushed into politics by Trump’s election. Without a voting record to pin him down, Rossi has tried to avoid identification with either the suburban ‘establishment’ or more rural populist wings of his party, instead painting his opponent as a Seattle liberal to the left of both. Polling has suggested some potential success, but could also or instead reflect the name recognition factor. I’ve definitely been a little nervous about this district — it’s the kind of place where a Trump-voter surge might be able to put Republicans over the top — but I think that the left-of-center fundamentals will prevail in a place where the relatively narrow gender gap probably favors the Democrats. Late-game polls seem to confirm.
NY-19 (Faso) — R+5; OrOT, ~HS; S Lean D, IE Tilt D, C Tossup
This very rural-to-exurban New York district stretches from the upper Hudson River Valley (where Fall Foliage is currently peaking) West across the Catskill Mountains, and like many other rural-to-exurban places, it voted for Trump in 2016. New York rural is not necessarily the same as other states’ rural, however, as the district begins at the end of New York City’s commuter rail diaspora, runs just East of the Cuomos’ Albany, and stretches towards Bernie Sanders’ Vermont, as well as across the post-Woodstock hippie (and former borscht belt) enclaves of the Catskills. It also includes a collegiate presence in the form of not just tiny liberal arts Bard College (Vassar is in the neighboring 18th district), but also larger state university campuses like SUNY New Paltz and Oneonta, as well as an increasingly large community of artists and ‘hipsters’ priced out of NYC. Still, like most (Northeastern) rural communities, it’s a relatively old and white place, demographics to which Faso has sought to appeal (like Rossi, in lieu of defining himself in relation to Trump) by hitting contested-primary winner Antonio Delgado out of the gate with an ad targeting his past as a rap artist, while making no mention of the fact that, like Barack Obama, he’s also a Harvard Law grad, and like Bill Clinton (and Larry Sabato), a former Rhodes Scholar. The ads reflect the truly competitive nature of the district, but also seem to have had at least a temporary impact in the polls. Still, this too is a place where the fundamentals augur slightly in Democrats’ favor, and the latest polls also appear to show movement towards victory, though not solidly enough to give me a great deal of comfort.
MI-11 (open) — R+8; OrRT, HS (pre-re); S Lean D, IE Tilt D, C Tossup
Despite its central role in the collapse of the Democrats’ Great Lakes-centric “blue wall,” Michigan was the closest state in 2016 (thanks for all that progressive help, Jill Stein), and gave Hillary Clinton a larger percentage of the vote than two states she won (Minnesota and New Hampshire). It’s also the state that I think is likeliest to flip back to blue in 2020, and polling over the past two years indicates that things are headed that way. This sub-to-exurban Detroit district, which includes areas both upper-income professional (incredibly wealthy Bloomfield Hills) and middle-class industrial (Livonia), and which gave Trump a plurality victory after switching from Obama to semi-Michigander Romney, may be a good bellwether for which way the state is heading. That sense is further augmented by the absence of solid evidence that voters have paid close attention to the candidates here. Rather, the limited available evidence suggests that this may be fairly close to a generic-party-identification race, with promising signs of a double-digit shift towards the Democrats. Nevertheless, there’s also some evidence that the race may have tightened substantially as more voters have tuned in. In an open seat, the contest is between two young women: Haley Stevens, former Chief of Staff of the Obama Treasury Department’s auto bailout task force, and Lena Epstein, who helps run her family’s big-time local auto lube business, but is best known as chair of the Trump campaign in Michigan. Trump recently sought to repay that debt by inviting her along on his trip to Pittsburgh to cynically gain political leverage from the murder of Jews that his rhetoric seems to have helped inspire (she in turn apparently invited the formerly-“Jews for Jesus”-tied Fake Rabbi, of a piece with her ties to other fringe-right figures like anti-semitic faded rock musician Ted Nugent). While I’m a bit unsettled by the lack of solid information here, I infer that that absence reflects the apparent solid generic-Democratic lead, and tend to believe that the candidate matchup will favor the Democrats too. So I’ll cautiously follow the forecasters and numbers that have this one nearing Likely-Democratic territory, but I’m docking it to the bottom of this category to reflect the uncertainty involved.
DEMOCRATS SLIGHTLY FAVORED
(Democrats have a slightly smaller edge)
MI-8 (Bishop) — R+8; OrRT; S Lean D, C/IE Tossup
By contrast to MI-11, this fairly-similar neighboring Southern Michigan district (another demographic potpourri, from slightly less wealthy Rochester Hills, where Madonna grew up and Eminem more recently lived, through more exurban/rural areas to parts of collegiate East Lansing) appears more clued-in to the challenge to incumbent Mike Bishop, the former Majority Leader of the State Senate. While in theory he should enjoy a reasonably healthy incumbent advantage, his fresher-faced challenger — former Obama administration figure (and “Ball Park Frank” heiress) Elissa Slotkin, who designed counter-ISIS and Syria strategy for the State Department — is a big deal in her own right, and Bishop is underwater in popularity after being hit hard with ads focusing on his support for repealing the Affordable Care Act. One could infer from the fact that he was recently cut off by a GOP campaign group that private polling shows this district looking strong for Democrats, but it may merely reflect that he can’t keep up with Slotkin’s massive, self-funded dollar advantage. This district is also a bit less urban and more working-class than the 11th, voting by larger margins for both Obama and Trump (and narrower ones for Romney), which may make generic margins narrower here. Either way, however, I’ve been fairly optimistic about Slotkin’s chances since the beginning, and after a period of substantial uncertainty, I now see her as the fairly solid favorite in what I think of as another good bellwether for the future of the Democrats’ “blue wall.”
IA-3 (Young) — R+3; OOT, HS; S Lean D, C/IE Tossup
This Southwestern Iowa district, which includes both Des Moines and more rural territory extending towards Omaha, is the most ‘urban’ in the fairly rural state, but, partly for cultural-settlement regions, not necessarily the most Democratic. Still, it’s an economically-liberal place that twice voted for Barack Obama and has some recent Democratic Congressional history (in an earlier configuration) too. Second-term incumbent David Young isn’t exactly the most exciting figure, but he has yet to win here by less than double digits. While challenger Cindy Axne isn’t Abby Finkenauer-level compelling either, I’ve liked the chances of the ingenuous-seeming small business owner and activist since nearly the start of the race, anticipating her getting a leg up from not just the national turnout differential but also an endorsement by the Des Moines Register (which subsequently came her way, albeit as part of a straight-Democratic-ticket endorsement that focused on getting rid of Steve King). Nevertheless, while Axne leads as predicted, this race remains very close and even more undecided, with some late-game uncertainty introduced by Trump’s ethanol ploy. My instincts still say that Iowa turns a bluer shade of purple, and I feel pretty good about this race, but it’s definitely not in the bag.
IL-6 (Roskam) — R+2; ORC; C/S Lean D, IE Tilt D
Another well-off/educated sub-/exurban district, this one is the innermost of several concentric suburban-Chicagoland rings, home to small commuter city-suburbs like high-education/income Naperville, slightly more middle-class manufacturing-oriented Elgin, and corporate business park-heavy villages like Downers Grove and Hoffman Estates, home of Sears. Sixth-term incumbent and leadership member Peter Roskam comes off as a reasonably good match for the district’s centrist orientation, but votes with his party in much more conservative fashion than a district that gave Trump just 43% of the vote, and may be unusually harmed by his role in writing the unpopular Republican tax bill. It’s not entirely clear that voters here have tied Roskam to Trump, but they do seem to have tired of the current brand of Republicanism, and while this is a pretty close race that I think will remain so on election day, my instincts say challenger Sean Casten, a clean-energy entrepreneur with a hard-science background, has the high wattage to win.
TOO CLOSE/UNCERTAIN TO CALL
[I don’t call this the “tossup” category, because one or the other party has the edge in most of these races, while the national environment may give Democrats the edge overall (blunted perhaps significantly by Republicans’ redistricting(/incumbency) advantage(s)). Whichever way they lean/tilt, though, these races are just too close or unpredictable for me to declare a favorite with any confidence.]
IL-14 (Hultgren) — R+9; ORT, HS; S Lean D, C Tossup, IE Tilt R
This more-exurban Chicagoland district (it encircles IL-6) is more deeply Republican territory, but still joined much of the state in voting for adopted son Obama in 2012, and it includes part of Naperville, from which young challenger Lauren Underwood hails. A nurse and former HHS Advisor who has a heart condition herself, she’s unusually well-suited to run on Democrats’ core message of the midterms: reducing health care expenses, a topic on which she seems to have successfully boiled down her policy expertise into an effective retail-campaign message aided by a cheery, authentic demeanor (whatever “likability” is, she’s got it). That policy focus may be to her benefit in a district in which fellow African-Americans make up just 3% of the population, and may account substantially for the district’s swift rise to tossup status in the closing days of the race. Less attention has been given to the comparatively colorless incumbent, fourth-termer Randy Hultgren, who in Tea Party 2010 beat a Democrat elected in the wake of the surprise retirement of Speaker Dennis Hastert. Hastert, of course, was later convicted of banking law violations and false statements in connection with hush money payments to cover up allegations of child sexual abuse. Perhaps because of that history, among other factors (one of Hultgren’s own aides was fired earlier this year after suspicion of questionable conduct with a minor), Hultgren’s first ad of the cycle focused on his work fighting human trafficking, an important issue, to be sure, but seemingly a bit of an odd non-sequitur. Late polling here suggests that Underwood’s message discipline in combination with reduced Republican interest in the race — Democrats had a small lead in the primary — may be likely to produce an upset here, but I’m hesitant about overreacting to a single low-respondent poll, and so have downgraded this one slightly.
CA-45 (Walters) — R+4; MRC; S Lean D, C/IE Tossup
Orange County, CA did the nearly-unimaginable in 2016: it voted for a Democrat for President (albeit with less than 50% of the vote) for the first time in eight decades. That reflects the increasing urbanity of the region, which falls somewhere between an extension of the Los Angeles metropolitan area and a semi-urban cluster in its own right. It also reflects its increasing diversity: this district is more than 40% non-white, and based in 45%-Asian-American (mostly Korean) Irvine. Still, I’ll admit that I had my doubts that Democratic challenger Katie Porter, like her losing predecessor a Professor at UCI’s new and fast-rising law school, could win in such historically-“fiscally-conservative” country. Porter’s consumer protection-oriented academic work (she’s been described as an Elizabeth Warren protégée), however, has gained less attention than the fact that she is a survivor of domestic abuse. That has drawn her a good deal of sympathy, and second-term incumbent Mimi Walters, a former investment banker who won big in 2016 (perhaps as an intended Clinton counterweight), has correspondingly declined dramatically in popularity by attacking Porter while tying herself to Trump. Post-primary, I saw this district as sitting on the fence, and my doubts haven’t been completely assuaged, but the polls now show Porter in good position to pull out a solid, if small, victory, though one dependent upon turnout levels.
~~Approximate Line of Control (assumes 3 losses in PA-14 and MN-8/1)~~
CA-48 (Rohrabacher) — R+6; MRC; S Lean D, IE Tilt D, C Tossup
Surfing, guitar-playing, and “CBD”-using Reaganite Republican Dana Rohrabacher is approaching his 30th year representing this well-educated coastal OC district that best approximates the version seen on television (stretching from Huntington Beach, home of the US Open of Surfing, through parts of Costa Mesa to Laguna). He won the district again handily in 2016 even as it followed its neighbors in voting narrowly for Clinton, but since then, the frequently outlandish Russia-friendly Congressman’s stock has fallen dramatically after the revelation of suspicions on the part of even the leadership of his own party that he’s “paid by Putin,” followed by allegations from the FBI that he’s seen as a Kremlin asset and the Special Counsel’s office that he has ties to Russian agents who hacked American elections systems. Sensing weakness, Democrats recruited a seemingly-strong, district-friendly challenger: local businessman Harley Rouda, a lapsed Republican. I’ve felt good about Rouda’s chances since day one, but have also worried that with relatively weak primary numbers (he narrowly beat a progressive-branded scientist) and somewhat weak name recognition despite strong bio ads, he might run out of time to do better than a narrow miss against an incumbent in a strong position to surf the blue wave. But while polls have been close and not always in his favor, late movement in what may (along with its neighbors) be a tough poll environment suggests that Rouda’s wave is ready to go off.
CA-39 (open) — D+2; MRC; C/IE Tossup, S Lean R
This open-seat, Clinton-voting, and very diverse Southern California district (stretching from Northern Orange County towards the Pomona Valley, through Nixon’s home of Yorba Linda) has been seen as a tossup or better for Democrats since the start of the race, but I’ve seen it since the primary as one where ethnic politics seriously threaten to thwart Democrats’ chances. The race was precipitated by the retirement of eighth-term incumbent Ed Royce, and a handpicked successor — his aide Young Kim — is running to replace him against lottery-winning, ex-Republican Navy Vet Gil Cisneros. In a race between two lukewarm-at-best candidates in a district that’s one-third Hispanic, one-third Non-Hispanic White, and nearly 30% Asian, I’ve worried from the beginning that Korean-American Kim would take more than 50% on demographics alone, winning an unhealthy majority of the white vote and a sufficiently large percentage of the Asian vote (despite the strong move to the Democratic Party of once-Republican Orange County Asian-Americans) to overcome the portion Cisneros would of the Hispanic vote. More recent polls, however, show Cisneros with a narrow lead, perhaps the product of a goodwill bump following the retraction of sexual misconduct allegations against him, but more likely reflecting my overestimation of the Korean-American share of the Asian vote here, as well as, perhaps, the possibility that the gender gap favors Cisneros. I feel better about Democrats’ chances today than I did earlier this year, but the race is still pretty much where it was at the start — very uncertain and very close, with turnout again a concern.
CA-25 (Knight) — D+1; ORC; C/IE Tossup, S Lean R
The only contested district in Los Angeles County (barely), this somewhat geographically-diverse one stretches from a small part of the far-Northeastern San Fernando Valley (subdivision-heavy Porter Ranch, more Roy Rogers/Gene Autry than “Valley Girl”) through Simi Valley (natural home of the Reagan Library, though less so than it used to be) to high-desert exurban/rural Palmdale and Lancaster (home of “The Right Stuff”-famous Edwards Air Force Base, not to mention Frank Zappa). Ethnically-diverse and now majority-minority owing primarily to a growing Hispanic population, the district has tended to swing and split its tickets, favoring relatively moderate candidates of both parties. While it has long had a preference for Western Republicans, it has become a bit more liberal in recent years, giving Clinton a solid majority after handing narrow pluralities to Obama and then Romney. Palmdale-raised Steve Knight, a former cop and son of a famous test pilot/ex-pol, is cut from the district’s more rural cloth (and inherited his father’s anti-gay positioning, estranging them from his activist brother), but has thus far stayed pugnaciously if somewhat uncomfortably aloft a tightrope between his party’s anti-immigrant nativism and the District’s pro-immigration majority (as typified by this well-publicized exchange a few years back in which he threatened an anti-immigration protestor before explaining his middle-of-the-Republican-road position, authentic-seeming but pat enough that one wonders whether it might have been staged). Whether he can continue to do so in a midterm year has been a bit too tough a nut for me to crack given competing turnout decline variables. For their part, Democrats have nominated their own fancy footwork artist in centrist millennial Katie Hill, a straight-married-but-LGBT-identifying former nurse, homeless nonprofit director, big-wall rock climber (as per my very favorite ad of the cycle), and VICE documentary subject from the small valley connecting the two sides of the district. Even facing a tough pitch, I’ve long been confident that she has what it takes to ring the bell at the top, and primary results suggested that this is the second- or third-most likely CA district to flip. Still, scrappy Knight has shown resilience in recent polling, under 50% but close enough and ahead, which has me seriously worrying at the end of the race that, even with Hollywood surrogates ringing doorbells on her behalf, Hill may have failed to either break through or overcome the only-slightly-anti-Trump district’s approval of a Republican more in its image. I remain cautiously optimistic here — undecideds will probably break towards the Democrats, and this district may just be a tough one to poll — but not full of hope, especially after Sabato downgraded the race at the last minute, and I’m not sure this district shouldn’t be closer to if not below the 50% line.
ME-2 (Poliquin) — R+6; GKOOT, HS; S Lean D, C/IE Tossup
The most heavily rural district on the list (in fact the second-most rural (or white) Congressional District in the nation), this one encompasses virtually the entire state from Bangor and Lewiston North/East to Canada, including the coastal Downeast region where the sun first hits American shores. Long-Democratic at the Presidential and Congressional levels, it chose incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin with less than 50% of the vote in a three-way race in 2014, and Maine’s big right turn towards Trump helped keep him there in 2016. Both candidates’ popularity has declined since, but early polls showed very high undecided levels here that made it hard to get a grasp on the state of the race. I theorized that this reflected in part that voters in this relatively rural area weren’t paying much attention, which represented a potential problem for challenger Jared Golden, a young Marine vet who served in Iraq and Afghanistan (and as an aide to Republican Senator Susan Collins), but also one that could turn into an opportunity for him when they finally tuned in. More recent polls have seemed to bear that theory out to some degree, with Golden pulling about even in the race and the numbers drifting North of tossup territory. Having started out on the pessimistic side, I’ve become reasonably optimistic here, but uncertain about turnout and worried that voters in the oldest state in the nation may be torn between favoring Democrats on the health-care issue and seeing Poliquin as the less attractive, but better-prepared candidate, aligned with a President on whom they remain split. All of that is such that I’ve downgraded this one somewhat substantially to tossup status, with the sense that it may deserve to go lower still.
UT-4 (Love) — R+21; MrRT, HS; S Lean D, C/IE Tossup
Utah?! Yes, Utah, the state that gave Donald Trump a smaller percentage of the vote than states he lost like neighboring Nevada and New Hampshire. Covering part of the relatively-cosmopolitan and increasingly tech-centric heart of the Mormon Corridor (it stretches South and West of Salt Lake City, but remains the most densely-populated district in the state, even though based in suburban West Valley City rather than SLC’s fairly-unpopulated urban core), this district has a substantial history of (moderately) defying the state’s heavy Republican preference — a slightly different configuration was represented for many years (pre-redistricting) by blue-dog Democrat Jim Matheson, and much of it has been governed for the past several by popular Democratic Mayor Ben McAdams. A young native, McAdams spent a few years as a corporate lawyer in New York before returning to represent part of the district in the state legislature before running for the County-wide Mayoral office. While incumbent Mia Love narrowly won retiring-Matheson’s seat in off-year 2014 (after losing to him even more narrowly two years earlier), this year she’ll face McAdams with a midterm electorate whose shoe may be on the other foot. That’s especially so in a state that, however politically conservative, seems sufficiently more authentic in its religious/personal conservativism than ‘evangelical’ Christian areas that it disapproves of Trump’s language and behavior (if not policies), not to mention one with relatively high education levels (it’s #1 in college grads among red states), significant in an era in which voters are sorting heavily on that measure. To be sure, Utah is still a very Republican place that didn’t much like Hillary Clinton either (the district gave Trump a 39–32 plurality), so this can’t be seen as anything better than a tossup, but with campaign finance scandals in the background and a fairly narrow incumbent advantage (legacy, perhaps, of the church’s historic discrimination against African-Americans), it’s not hard to imagine the incumbent-level challenger winning here. This has looked like a prime upset opportunity for a while now, and, at the risk of overreacting to polls, increasingly so as the race goes to the wire.
TX-32 (Sessions) — R+8; MRC; S Lean D, C/IE Tossup
This suburban Northern-by-Eastern Dallas district (North Dallas to Garland and a small part of Collin County) has, like many semi-urban districts in the state, been gerrymandered by Republicans in the state house to reduce Democrats’ power in Congress, shoehorning them into more minority-centric districts like Marc Veasey’s near-neighboring 33rd. Long-Republican, even home to SMU’s George W. Bush Presidential Center (and Gerald R. Ford Stadium), not to mention W himself, who moved in nearby post-Presidency (apparently leaving the brush-clearing to weekends and holidays), this district nevertheless 1) is nearing a non-white majority, 2) joined Texas’ other big cities in voting for Hillary in 2016 (Dallas, Harris, Travis, and Bexar Counties have all voted blue in the past three Presidential elections), and 3) gave more than 50% of its primary vote to the Democrats this year. The last may be a reflection of voters’ tiring of 11th-term incumbent Pete Sessions, but likely also reflects enthusiasm for challenger Colin Allred, the 35-year-old Dallas native and former Baylor and Tennessee Titans linebacker who left the NFL for Boalt Hall (Berkeley Law) and politics-ready jobs with both Julian Castro’s Department of Housing and Urban Development and a corporate law firm with Democratic Party ties. Burned by Wendy Davis’ big Gubernatorial loss a few years back, I’ve been very hesitant about the idea that Texas will go Democratic in the near term, and I remain skeptical that even a trans-partisan phenomenon like Beto O’Rourke can so quickly turn around such a big ship of state, but with him up the ballot and some strong late polling, I’ve given in to optimism that Allred, at least, can be a giant-slayer.
FL-26 (Curbelo) — D+12; OOC; C/S/IE Tossup
There are a handful of Clinton-district seats that forecasters called early on as probable holds based on the perceived strength of the incumbent, even as polls showed potential close contests. Most have subsequently moved towards the incumbent as predicted (and against my own expectations), but this one is an exception, and I think for the same reasons that gave me confidence months back. Why has second-termer Carlos Curbelo won twice in such a strongly-Democratic district at the Presidential level? Partly it’s his moderate talk on important local (and international) issues like climate change (which might threaten to make him my favorite Republican in the House, though such talk is significantly cheapened by the unwillingness of the Republican caucus to do anything about it, and the realpolitik perception that a carbon “tax” proposal may be an effective poison pill at a time when political pragmatists prefer a “carbon dividend” approach and many policy technicians favor a cap and trade system if not outright command regulation). But I think it’s also partly the fact that Curbelo has faced only one (scandal-weakened) Democratic opponent here, yielding a fairly narrow initial victory in Republican-leaning 2014 before a wider one in their rematch two years later. To be sure, Curbelo is aided to a substantial degree by his Cuban-American heritage — the 26th (the Southernmost in Florida, home to Homestead, the Everglades, and the Keys) is 70% Latin-American. But it’s hardly just Cuban, which may help little-known Ecuadorean-American challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a sometime environmental activist and former Dean at Florida International University (among the leading collegiate sources of the early vote per top Florida politics-watcher Steve Schale). Though the race has wavered at times, and definitely remains too close/unpredictable to call, my sense from the beginning has been that Curbelo is done, and the up-ballot presence of Andrew Gillum’s star-making Gubernatorial run helps me hold onto that belief, however uneasily, at the end of the race.
NJ-3 (MacArthur) — R+5; GBOOT; S Lean D, IE Tilt D, C Tossup
The last realistic New Jersey takeover, this one just misses joining the others in leaning-Democratic territory. That’s partly because its Burlington County component falls within the more middle-American exurban ambit of Philadelphia (including Mount Laurel) rather than New York, though they share some custody of its far more Republican Ocean County component (which includes a military installation and working-class towns like Toms River and Brick in addition to MTV-famous portions of the Jersey Shore). But it may have more to do with the fact that challenger Andy Kim, another Rhodes scholar, former civilian advisor in Afghanistan, and Iraq director of the National Security Council, is one of the 85% white and not very urban district’s few Asian-Americans. Kim made a strong showing in the primary, and polls had him threatening to run away with an unusually issue-focused race against second-term incumbent Tom MacArthur, a chief architect of the Republican plan to kill the Affordable Care Act and the only member of the New Jersey delegation to vote for the President’s upper-income tax increase (though that may reflect Trump’s continuing marginal popularity here in a more mixed-income district). Then MacArthur and his allies launched a relentless negative ad campaign against Kim, seeking to play on racist tropes and fears of terrorism in a district that flipped from Gore to Bush after 9/11, and from Obama to Trump last year. That reflects Republicans’ desperation here as well as their character, but whether or not it determines the result in a district I more hope than believe will vote on the issues, it’s enough to keep this race too close to call, probably decided by just a point or two either way.
NY-22 (Tenney) — R+13; tie-MrRT; S Lean D, IE Tilt D, C Tossup
This Central New York State district definitely isn’t New York City. Where not wholly rural (including some of NY’s apple country), it’s defined more by small ‘Rust Belt’ towns like Rome and Utica (home of the F.X. Matt Brewing Company, which produces Saranac, (some) Brooklyn, and other brands of beer) that give it an economic-populist orientation that produced virtual ties in the 2008 and 2012 Presidential races, but a big Trump win in 2016. Democrats hope that in a lower-attention race, the district will revert to its swing status, and get pushed over the edge by strong turnout from its colleges and universities (including Colgate, Hamilton, and SUNY Binghamton and Cortland), home to many more urban New Yorkers. They’re also aided by a decent candidate matchup — first-termer Claudia Tenney won in 2016 by far less than Trump did, reaping just 47% of the vote in a three-way race with an independent candidate running on an “Upstate Jobs” ticket, and made a notable gaffe early in the race (though not necessarily one that would be consequential to voters here or even regarded as one by Trump supporters), while State Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi presents a challenge sufficiently strong to have led in some of the early polls. More recent polling has reverted to the mean, however, and while the forecasts nevertheless point to a Democratic victory, at the last minute I’ve started to worry that even if Tenney isn’t the strongest incumbent, she may just hold on to this still-fairly-Trumpy district. I’ve bumped it down substantially as a result, holding it above the 50–50 mark based more on the numbers than my instincts.
VA-7 (Brat) — R+11; MrRrT; S Lean D, C/IE Tossup
The former Eric Cantor (and before that George Allen) seat now held by the very appropriately-named Dave Brat has long more-than-leaned Republican (making exceptions only for Mark Warner’s Senatorial bid in 2008 (but not 2014) and Ralph Northam’s Lieutenant Gubernatorial bid in 2013 (but not his Gubernatorial run last year)), and has arguably become more conservative if not racist on its Republican side in recent years (I attributed Cantor’s loss at the time in part to anti-semitism). However, the district, which extends from the Richmond suburbs towards the Charlottesville area, is home to some of the fastest-growing areas of the state outside Northern Virginia, arguably turning it into a Southern extension of the cosmopolitan ‘Bos-Wash’ I-95 corridor. This one still leans Republican overall, but enough energy from motivated new urbanites and college students, and lack thereof on the other side, could well tip it over into the Democratic column in an anti-Trump year, especially with a challenger as strong and well-funded as Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA Operations officer in a district an hour from Quantico. My instinct and the polls say that this is a pretty close race, and while I’d thought since the primaries that Brat would probably hold on narrowly, Spanberger’s relatively stronger debate performance and late endorsement from former Republican Senator John Warner had me wondering if she might not pull this out after all, depending on turnout levels. Though I revert back towards the more conservative belief that Brat may hang onto a gender-gap edge here, I’ll choose heart over head in putting this one just slightly over the line.
NC-9 (open) — R+15; MRT; S Lean D, C/IE Tossup
This New(-ish) Southern district, extending from the Charlotte suburbs (and a bit of the core) through rural areas (including NASCAR-historic Rockingham) to Fort Bragg-adjacent Fayetteville is diverse — like many parts of the rural South, it’s substantially African-American and a little Native American — but like so many Southern districts, it also has a solidly-Republican recent history. Still, as Charlotte has become a bigger, denser, and more national if not international banking city, it has turned increasingly Democratic even as the rural portions of the district turned sharply Republican in 2016. Now the district faces a test of the limits of its lean to the right in the form of nutty misogynistic fundamentalist/Christian supremacist preacher Mark Harris, who mounted a successful primary challenge and now faces a reasonably strong Democratic challenger in young Dan McCready, an ex-Marine and solar energy entrepreneur whose mild demeanor suits the state. While the primary results and early polls looked good here, McCready doesn’t seem to have made a strong effort to make his opponent unacceptable, which may account for Harris’ more recent narrow lead in an area where Hurricane Florence may add an extra layer of unpredictability. I’ve long been optimistic about this race, and the numbers still say McCready has a slightly better than even shot, but I no longer feel great about it, and don’t put it past the party that gave us Jesse Helms, Steve King, and Donald Trump to give us another of that ilk. Only the numbers are keeping this one above 50–50.
PA-1 (Fitzpatrick) — R+1; OOCr; C/IE Tossup, S Lean R
The only true swing seat — this year, at least — produced by the Pennsylvania redistricting, this mostly-Bucks County district, home to quaint colonial-era towns and more contemporary office parks (with an increasing biotech focus), comes along with a young, first-term, but fairly popular and ‘moderate’ quasi-incumbent, Brian Fitzpatrick (of the current 8th district), who replaced his four-term brother Mike. It remains to be seen whether that goodwill and Fitzpatrick’s endorsement by Gabby Giffords’ gun-control group will be enough to hold on to this otherwise-solidly, if marginally, Democratic district. I thought forecasters overreacted to an early poll showing Fitzpatrick with a narrow lead, and the race did shift back towards the Democrats in recent weeks, but at the close Fitzpatrick again looks like he’s set to hold on here. If he does, it may be due to his negative attacks on (and campaign errors by?) challenger Scott Wallace, the self-funded multimillionaire philanthropist (and descendent of FDR’s Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace) who Fitzpatrick has sought to portray as both a “carpetbagger” (despite being raised in the district and having served as counsel to Pennsylvania’s actually-sort-of-‘moderate’ Republican (and sometimes Democratic) Senator Arlen Specter) and an opponent of Israel. I think this one ends up very close, and I retain some optimism, but little to no confidence in a Democratic win.
~~~Roughly my 50–50 line (above Democrats win, below they lose)~~~
KS-2 (open) — R+20; MrRT, HS; S Lean D, C/IE Tossup
Another Kansas district subject to some of the same forces as the Third, but this time with a much bigger Republican undertow, a product of its predominantly but only marginally rural orientation (it covers a slice of the Eastern part of the state beyond metro KC, including Topeka and Lawrence). So why is it a tossup if not leaning Democratic? That’s at least partly a product of the the very large number of undecideds and leaning-third-party voters in an open-seat race in a district that gave more than 5% of the vote to an Independent in 2016. I’ve long erred on the side of believing that, as with ME-2, the low numbers on both sides reflect a dearth of attention to the race in rural territory and that voters here will break in the end for the Republican, however narrowly. But the race is still substantially undecided on the eve of Election Day, and the Democrat, Paul Davis, is in the lead. That may merely reflect his name recognition as former minority leader of the State House of Representatives and unsuccessful 2014 Gubernatorial candidate, but it could also reflect continuing inattention, goodwill on the part of anti-Brownback voters of all stripes, and the education factor that as in Utah may help explain a larger trend here: second among red states by college graduation rates, and first in advanced degrees, Kansas is arguably the best-educated red state in the nation, and a substantial number of the district’s 40,000+ college students go to KU, claimed by alums as the “Harvard of the Midwest.” I’ve tended to think that the district would stay Republican despite all these factors, even though it flipped in the last Democratic wave election in 2006, but there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary, and last minute allegations of infidelity and sexual harassment against unpopular Republican challenger Steve Watkins, who’s running on a Christian conservative biography, look like they may help tip it over the edge. The big uncertainty is which way those Republican-leaning undecideds go — if they choose the third-party or stay home, Davis wins (as per the numbers and perhaps my uncertain instincts), but if they come home, as may be more likely (I’ve conservatively downgraded this one accordingly), this one stays Republican.
NM-2 (open) — R+12; MRT, HS; S Lean D, C Tossup, IE Tilt R
This wide-open, ranching-heavy, and military-influenced Southern New Mexico district is one of the biggest in the country — fifth by area, and the largest that does not take up an entire state. As with other rural districts (though perhaps less so in the West, which tends to clusters in cities — this one includes a portion of the Albuquerque exurbs, plus Las Cruces), news, and candidate names, may travel slower here. That in turn should favor the district’s at-least-slightly-Republican fundamentals, and even if this is an open seat likelier to upend them, my first impression of first-time Democratic challenger Xochitl Torres Small, an attorney in her early-mid 30s, was that she might come off as a little green and unpolished against her two-decade-older opponent, State Rep. Yvette Herrell. On second look, however, I decided that I’d underestimated her based on insufficient evidence (that, or she got better as a candidate), and Torres Small has performed reasonably well in the polls. The latter may be a reflection of the district’s heavy Mexican-American population, but its slight Hispanic majority is neither necessarily a majority of the electorate nor left-of-center in its politics, as reflected in the district’s continuing support for Trump, and Torres Small’s touting of her gun ownership. With more polling uncertainty than usual in such a heavily-Spanish-speaking district, I’ve remained skeptical of Democratic chances, but wouldn’t be shocked at all if low attention to the race (and a divided local Republican Party) produces a victory for energized Democrats, as per their higher primary turnout. While I was pretty bearish (or, to be more New Mexican about it, red chile) on this race for much of the primary season, and haven’t quite made it to green yet — the numbers have it just below the 50–50 mark — I feel pretty ‘Christmas’ about it as the race closes.
TX-7 (Culberson) — R+10; MRC; C Tossup, IE Tilt R, S Lean R
Houston, like many major metros of the South and Southwest, is an unusually suburban-sprawling, automobile-oriented big city, lower in density and otherwise less traditionally urban in form due to a lack of zoning laws. And the 7th District, like the 32nd and a good many others in the state, is unusual too: heavily gerrymandered, it snakes from the Uptown business district and its surrounding residential areas (including the mansions of River Oaks and the ritzy Houston Galleria) West around the Energy corridor in a loop up to North Houston. That is, it’s essentially an attempt to draw a relatively wealthy business-Republican district in the image of the former President who once held the seat: George H.W. Bush. That effort was successful at least until 2016, when the district voted narrowly for Hillary Clinton. That was partly Republican rejection of Trump — Poppy voted for her too — but also reflected the changing face of a city now among the most diverse in America: the district is more than 60% non-white and includes Gulfton, the city’s only neighborhood with residential density approximating that of big cities like New York (it’s filled with auto-based apartment complexes built in the ’60s oil boom, which, after a period of decline, are now filling again with immigrants from South Asia and Africa in addition to a large Central American population). That alone might not be enough for the district to turn out ninth-term incumbent John Culberson, who won by 12 points in 2016, but then came Hurricane Harvey, which offered young attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher an all-politics-is-local issue to run on. The hurricane’s floodplain roughly tracked the design of the district, damaging many homes and producing a fair amount of residential upheaval here, and if Culberson loses it will be because Democratic energy was supplemented by discontent with the response to the storm. This is another race that I think will be very close, and while my instinct has long said that Culberson barely hangs on, I think the race could very easily go the other way in an urban district that may be tough to poll.
VA-2 (Taylor) — R+6; MrRrT, HS; S Lean D, C Tossup, IE Tilt R
The multi-centered Hampton Roads area is the biggest urban agglomeration in Virginia outside D.C’s NoVA suburbs. It’s more diverse than much of the rest of the state as well, the product of not just its relatively Southern geography, but also its heavy military presence (Navy especially). As in Texas, however, Virginia Republicans have gerrymandered the state, dividing the metro to minimize the African-American vote that gave Barack Obama a narrow victory in 2008 and maximize its military one. As a result, it narrowly missed voting for Obama again in 2012, but also failed to give Trump more than 50% of the vote in similarly-narrow 2016. This year’s contest is between two Navy vets, incumbent Rep. Scott Taylor, a former SEAL, and challenger Elaine Luria, who outranks him as a Commander. More skeptical than some of the forecasters, I’ve long assumed that this district would remain red— if Obama couldn’t win here, Luria probably won’t either — but it’s perpetually too close for Republican comfort, and Taylor has not helped his cause by becoming embroiled in an election fraud scandal involving fake ballot signatures. I’ve been skeptical that that would move the needle either, but recognizant of the possibility that not following the rules could be more meaningful to military voters, and late polling (some public, some whispered) along with Virginian Sabato’s last-minite shift of the race towards the Democratic side is enough for me to elevate it to tossup status, despite a fair amount of skepticism. Who wins here probably depends on turnout levels.
KY-6 (Barr) — R+18; MrRT; C/IE Tossup, S Lean R
You’ve heard of Amy McGrath? The former Marine fighter pilot who flew bombing missions in Afghanistan before becoming a Congressional fellow and Corps advisor to the State Department and USAID has became one of the celebrities of the political season, product in part of a strong ad campaign highlighting her biography and standing firm (but positive) in the face of attacks by comparatively bland third-term civilian Andy Barr. The strength of her challenge has had this improbable race rated a tossup for months, and I’d get excited too about the fact that McGrath got more primary votes than Barr if that didn’t simply reflect the old-time Democratic-registration advantage common in Kentucky and other parts of the South (the partly-rural Bluegrass region district is based in more urban Lexington and Frankfort). Still, that reflection of the district’s “ancestral Democratic” nature, to use one of the catchphrases of the cycle, suggests that there’s a real possibility that the right kind of Democrat can still win here even in the Trump era (one could even argue that Trump’s faux-economic populism appeals to that Democratic strain), as blue dog Ben Chandler did for a decade before Barr. The fundamentals remain daunting, however, and as more voters have tuned in, the numbers have dropped just below tossup status. I’ve kept it in based on the surmise that they overestimate partisanship, but McGrath’s likely solid showing does not necessarily mean that she’ll pull off a win.
REPUBLICANS SLIGHTLY FAVORED
(These are competitive races that Democrats certainly could win, but should expect to lose)
GA-6 (Handel) — R+13; MRT; C Tossup, IE Lean R, S Likely R
This is the very-highly-educated (top 15) and fairly diverse (40% non-white) suburban North Atlanta (Sandy Springs to Alpharetta) district that after barely voting for Trump in 2016 (despite historically-Republican, Newt Gingrich-generating Cobb County, which the district overlaps, near-shockingly voting for Hillary Clinton), disappointingly elected Karen Handel over Jon Ossoff by a wider margin in a very-high-turnout special election earlier this year. After Ossoff lost by several points, the district was widely expected to stay Republican on Election Day, but that was before Georgia Democrats nominated Stacey Abrams to become the nation’s first female African-American Governor, and before this district’s Democrats nominated Lucy McBath, African-American mother of a teenager shot and killed for refusing to turn his music down, to take on Handel. McBath starts with fairly good fundamentals— the district gave Trump less than 50% of the vote and a margin of just a point and a half — but Democrats may have to hope for Republican turnout to decline as well as theirs to increase here. They might get their wish given the much larger number of races competing for Trump’s attention now, and recent polling too gives them reason to be optimistic that McBath/Abrams can do better than Ossoff (tempered perhaps by apparent Republican efforts to obstruct voting rights). That improved performance may well have something to do with a shift in white women’s votes, but there may be no district in America where black votes matter more than this one.
FL-15 (open) — R+12; MrRrT; C Tossup, IE Tilt R, S Lean R
This district was something of a surprise late-contest addition to the battleground map, but as an open seat in a suburban swing state, maybe it shouldn’t have been. Covering mostly-exurban parts of Tampa (Brandon and Lakeland, as well as 30,000-student USF), it is fairly solidly Republican territory, but was only about a five-point race with Barack Obama on the ballot. I don’t expect Andrew Gillum’s coattails to top that even in a lower-turnout race — this district has only an average-sized African-American population, though Gillum has appeal well beyond that community too — but that’s probably among the factors that have kept this neck and neck in the polling. What other factors could be in play here? Even if this is a landlocked district, the most obvious one might be Red Tide, the environmental menace that has had a disproportionate impact along the coast South of Tampa Bay, and captured a fair amount of the state conversation in recent weeks. Another possibility could be the response to Hurricane Maria — Central Florida is the center of the state’s Puerto Rican diaspora, and while the change in the Puerto Rican percentage of the state’s electorate since the storm has been pretty small, it appears to have been concentrated in this district. A less obvious possibility could reflect the power of newspapers. The Tampa Bay Times is probably the most-lauded paper in the country outside a major metropolitan area (though Tampa Bay increasingly approximates one), and is known for its strong local as well as national focus, which may be why Republican candidate Ross Spano has in the past refused to meet with its editorial board. Spano, a state Representative, suffered a “mild cardiac event” after a weightlifting session earlier this year, another factor that could be keeping undecideds high here. I suspect that they’ll break at least marginally Republican, but there appears to be a very good chance that with energized statewide turnout, Democratic candidate Kristen Carlson, an attorney formerly with state government agencies, could pull this off.
NC-13 (Budd) — R+12; MRT; C Tossup, IE Tilt R, S Lean R
This fairly new district — all NC districts are just one election old, but this one is particularly novel in configuration — stretches between the exurbs of Greensboro and Charlotte, taking in middle/working-class and rural areas in between, some of the latter with a substantial African-American population. That last factor has been the only one keeping its solid Republican lean somewhat close in recent elections, with the district-in-waiting giving Barack Obama about 47% of the vote in 2008–12. It was more conservative without an African-American candidate on the ballot in 2016, but still held Trump to a single-digit victory while tipping into double digits to elect gun store-owning first-time candidate Ted Budd to Congress. While I think there’s a good chance that that margin will be narrowed slightly this year, color me skeptical that Democrats will pick up this seat, whose ranking I’ve downgraded based on my perception that the numbers overvalue challenger Kathy Manning’s strong fundraising. Still, Manning, a lawyer with ties to Greensboro’s business and nonprofit communities, not to mention national Jewish organizations, is a far more credible candidate than “Freedom” Caucus member Budd, and hard to portray as a left-wing radical, so don’t count her out.
VA-5 (open) — R+12; MRT, HS; C/S/IE Lean R
You’ve heard about the candidate who’s obsessed with Bigfoot? Yes, this is that race, and the weird interests of the Republican candidate, aptly-named Air Force vet, defense contractor, and distillery operator Denver Riggleman, aren’t its only unusual aspect. You’ve probably heard less about Democratic challenger Leslie Cockburn, but you may know her daughter, the actress Olivia Wilde, and perhaps her late brother-in-law Alexander Cockburn, of longtime ‘muckraking’-(or ‘conspiracist’-)left blog CounterPunch. Matriarch of that activist journalism/filmmaking family with ties to the Washington ‘establishment,’ Hollywood, and even the British peerage (something that could play well in this horsey part of the First Colony), Leslie is an Emmy/Polk/duPont-award winning documentarian who has worked for mainstream outlets like 60 Minutes and PBS’ Frontline, as well as for conservation organizations in this Piedmont district where she’s lived for the past two decades (it follows the Blue Ridge mountains from the DC-exurban “hunt country” at the foothills of Shenandoah National Park down to African-American-heavy but “Christian” Right-dominated Southside Virginia, taking in heavily-Democratic Charlottesville along the way). How did this matchup happen, you might wonder? Unusually, both candidates were the product of nominating conventions — the Republicans’ in the wake of their scandal-tarred incumbent’s late decision not to seek reelection — and that lack of a primary has probably reduced attention to the race and increased uncertainty here. Then there’s the fact that a year ago right-wing racists paraded through the campus of the University of Virginia and killed a woman on the streets of Charlottesville, subsequently nominating one of their own as the Republican candidate for Senate (he’s going to lose big to Tim Kaine) and campaigning alongside Riggleman himself. That may help explain why, despite the solidly-if-moderately-Republican fundamentals, Cockburn had a small lead in the second of just two polls taken here. It may be confirmation bias, but that result feels consistent with the optimism I’ve had about this race since the beginning, boosted slightly by the Warner endorsement, and has led me to bump it up several places to near-tossup status. I’m no “Thirteen,” let alone Dr. House, so I won’t try to diagnose the race based on incomplete information (though I do know it’s not lupus that Riggleman has). But while I know the fundamentals favor the Republican when I have my Agent Sabato hat on (he downgraded the race today), after staying up all night building a model of something that looks very much like Monticello, and being visited by a large hairy presence that sang various Stanley Brothers and Seldom Scene classics, like Agent Mulder, I think a Democratic win is out there. With Bigfoot.
(These are pretty much long-shot races for Democrats, but not without enough uncertainty that they couldn’t win)
OH-12 (Balderson) — R+14; OrRT; C/IE Tossup, S Lean R
Home of one of this year’s biggest special elections, this exurban-Columbus to small-town Ohio (Mansfield, etc.) district, once represented in different form by #NeverTrump Republican Gov. John Kasich, is pretty solidly Republican, and has become moreso in recent years, but neither hard-right — it voted for Obama in 2012 — nor particularly fond of Donald Trump, though he remains more popular in its more rural territory. After Trump was forced to make a last-minute campaign appearance here, frumpy Republican Troy Balderson, a career politician, pulled off a narrow special election win over more-polished Democrat Danny O’Connor, a young attorney, by a margin smaller than the share of the vote that went to the oddball Green Party candidate (sound familiar?). Now they get a rematch. The conventional wisdom is that if O’Connor couldn’t pull off a special election win, he’s unlikely to do so in a higher-turnout general election, and the numbers agree, giving him only about a 1-in-4 chance. I’m not so sure, however. With less national focus on this particular race, and without a return Trump visit to energize his base, I think there’s a chance O’Connor could reverse the narrow margin in what actual results have shown to be nearly a coin-flip.
PA-10 (~open/Perry) — R+11; MRTr; C Tossup, S/IE Lean R
This redrawn Central PA district (radiating North and South of Harrisburg, including the rural parts of York county) is fairly solidly Republican territory that hasn’t crossed the aisle in at least the past three contests, though it was close in 2008. That’s unlikely to change this year, with current 4th-district incumbent Scott Perry running for effective reelection (though I’m not sure how effectively — this is a guy that accepted an award from Sasha Baron Cohen’s Israeli military character), and little solid evidence that Democrats are seriously threatening an upset. Still, undecided numbers are high enough here that it could happen, likely reflecting both some unfamiliarity with the candidates and the solidity (and similar name?) of Democratic challenger George Scott (no, not that one, though he does bear a very slight resemblance to a more contemporary Hollywood George, with a touch of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy), an Army veteran and pastor who gained some attention during the primary for an ad in which he breaks down and burns a semi-automatic rifle. I expect undecideds here to come home to the Republicans, but this is the kind of rural district where low turnout, lack of partisanship, an unexpected Democrat, and health care theoretically could produce a surprise.
NY-11 (Donovan) — R+7; GBMOT, HS; C/S/IE Lean R
The only Republican district in the city that knows better than the rest of America just what a fraud Donald Trump is, largely-Staten Island NY-11 is the most densely populated district in the nation still held by the GOP. In an era in which urban and rural are sorting into political camps, there’s a serious question how long a Republican holdout can last in the biggest and densest city in America. Unlike the rest of NYC, however, the borough is more than 50% Non-Hispanic White, and that majority, which continues to narrowly approve of Trump, has elected a series of mostly-Republicans in its primarily-(Irish-and-)Italian-American image. The current incumbent is former (Eric Garner-era) DA Dan Donovan, who earlier this year survived a hotly-contested primary challenge from his disgraced predecessor, convicted felon Michael Grimm (with whom I once got into an argument over a delivery from his restaurant), boosted by a Trump endorsement even as Grimm credibly claimed to be the Trumpier candidate in the race. The general election presents a somewhat novel test of the roughly 10%-Jewish district’s ethnic politics in the form of energetic challenger Max Rose, a 31-year-old Purple Heart and Bronze Star-winning Army veteran of combat in Afghanistan and health care nonprofit manager who grew up on the more-Democratic side of the district (the “New York Times side,” if you will) in its small slice of Brooklyn before moving to Staten Island a few years back, and whose ads show off what some district residents might deem natural game. While I’m not sure the district’s Jewish voters can put Rose over the top alone, this is a recently-Democratic place, and I’ll give in to some homerism in saying that I think it’s one of the likelier races to surprise and bumping it up substantially.
WI-1 (open) — R+11; ORT; S Tossup, C/IE Lean R
One of the early demi-celebrities of the campaign season, Randy Bryce, the union-backed ironworker better known as “@IronStache,” appeared to present a stiff challenge to Paul Ryan here in his Kenosha/Racine-based hometown district. Stiff enough, perhaps, that Ryan decided to retire, though that decision may have been motivated by any number of things: disinterest in a fight to hold onto the Speakership to which he was purportedly-reluctantly elevated, demotion to Minority Leader status, a desire to cash out in media or lobbying work, the family history of heart disease that took his father early in life, and perhaps even concerns about potential liability in connection with the Mueller investigation. One could be forgiven for believing that Ryan’s retirement effectively conceded the race to Bryce, especially after Democrats had a narrow edge in the primary here. Immediately post-primary, however, the race appeared to reset quickly to the Republican fundamentals of a district that was gerrymandered several years back to better protect Ryan from such challenges. Right out of the gate, Bryce was hit with attack ads focusing on his (decades-old) record of multiple drunk driving arrests, including one ad in which Bryce’s own brother urged the district to vote against him. By contrast, Republican nominee Bryan Steil appeared to offer a clean-cut alternative who better represented a more white-collar suburban than working-class district, and polls suggested that this one was slipping away. Late reverse movement, however, suggests that this section of “Yankee”-influenced Wisconsin (as per, e.g., Colin Woodard’s semi-pop social history “American Nations”) may be just the kind of moderately-Republican place where voters are sufficiently discontented with Trump Republicanism to take a chance on a Democrat a bit more economically progressive than they’d prefer, perhaps because Bryce has stronger appeal to non-college male voters than the usual Democrat. Republicans will probably hold on, but don’t count the “IronStache” out.
IL-13 (R. Davis) — R+6; ORT; C/S/IE Lean R
This small-town South-Central Illinois district arguably functions as a pretty good bellwether for middle America: it voted for Obama in 2008, split 49–49 four years later (Romney by a hair), and chose Trump in 2016, but with just 50% of the vote. One take is that it’s a right-leaning region that briefly adopted quasi-local Obama (the district contains part of Springfield). Another is that it’s divided between conservative rural areas and more liberal college towns: the district, which includes the main campuses of the University of Illinois and Illinois State, plus a satellite campus of Southern Illinois University, is home to nearly 100,000 students. Which side will win this year? Democrats had the edge in primary voting, but third-term incumbent Rodney Davis leads slightly in the polls. Challenger Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, a Springfield entrepreneur with seemingly-broad appeal, will have to fight low name recognition to overtake him, but while I wouldn’t get my hopes up, I wouldn’t count her out either in what I think is a decent wild-card possibility.
IL-12 (Bost) — R+12; GKOrOT, HS; S Tossup, IE Tilt R, C Lean R
Another Illinois district, but Southern Illinois is a different animal. Stretching South from St. Louis’ Metro East area through collegiate Carbondale to the “Little Egypt” part of the state, where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet, this Mark Twain-esque country is near-Dixie, part of the diaspora that helped birth Rush Limbaugh (who, along with authentic middle-Americans Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro, joined Trump at a rally here last night), but has had a Clintonian-Democratic record at the Presidential and Congressional levels for much of the past three decades. That and a solid candidate this year — State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly — had Democrats pretty hopeful about retaking a seat they lost in 2014, but second-term incumbent Mike Bost has proved fairly popular in this newly-Trumpy district, and looks increasingly likely to hold on. Why? I’ll defer to Cook analyst Dave Wasserman, who points to the local economic impact of steel tariffs in the industrial St. Louis suburbs, though I hold out the possibility that the health care issue could trump it.
NE-2 (Bacon) — R+7; ORT, HS; C/S/IE Lean R
The other district on this list with its own electoral vote, this urban-suburban Omaha district gave it narrowly to Barack Obama in 2008 and also broke in a different direction from much of the county in anti-Obama midterm 2014, choosing a (former Republican) Democrat over a nine-term incumbent. So this is a true swing district, and while it voted narrowly against both Hillary Clinton and incumbent Brad Ashford in 2016 (giving less than 50% of the vote to either side in either race), we’ve subsequently learned that, like Clinton, Ashford’s email had been hacked by Russians seeking to interfere with the election. So Democrats were justified in thinking that this is an eminently winnable seat, and Ashford ran again, seeking a rematch with Don Bacon. Their hopes may have been dashed, however, when Ashford lost the primary race to political newcomer Kara Eastman, a social work-trained nonprofit executive and self-identified progressive affiliated neither with national Democrats nor with the Sanders-tied insurgent progressives who control the state Democratic Party, but rather with an Elizabeth Warren-tied group emphasizing a Medicare-for-All health care plan. Eastman’s victory caused many of the forecasters to downgrade Democrats’ chances here, and subsequent polls have shown Bacon with a lead large enough that it may be insurmountable. Focusing on the fundamentals, I’ve generally been more optimistic about Democrats’ chances, speculating that the urban district may be tough to poll. But while this district may be moderate in its right-leaning politics, it isn’t a “progressive” place, and Democrats shouldn’t get their hopes up. I’ve downgraded this one somewhat substantially.
TX-23 (Hurd) — R+1; ORC, HS; C/S/IE Lean R
One would think that this Clinton-voting, Hispanic-supermajority West Texas district (running from the outskirts of Beto O’Rourke’s El Paso along much of the border to the San Antonio suburbs) would be natural territory for Hispanic Democrats. However, GOP Rep. Will Hurd, an African-American fortysomething former CIA Af-Pak operations officer and one of the more erudite members of the Republican caucus, has now twice defeated former Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego, albeit never with more than 50% of the vote, due in part to the siphoning of a libertarian candidate. The several-thousand-vote margins by which Hurd won each time in a fairly low-turnout district had me convinced early on that Democrats had a very good shot to retake this seat despite Hurd’s relative popularity here. Some of the forecasters, however, liked Hurd’s chances better than I did, and his increasingly-solid poll performance suggests that they were right. Why would Hurd be safer now than in past contests? In addition to the increasing incumbency advantage of a guy who is a potential future Senatorial or even (Vice-)Presidential candidate, one explanation could be the continuing power, especially in off-years, of his Army and Air Force-dominated San Antonio-area base (home to 1/3 of the district’s population) relative to the more Democratic border region (home of movies like No Country for Old Men and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, but perhaps best typified by John Sayles’ Lone Star), not to mention the ex-spy’s at-least-by-proxy appeal to the region’s historic vaquero culture. Another could be Hurd’s rhetorical efforts to separate himself from the President, whom he never endorsed, whose fake “wall” he opposes, and whose pitiful obeisance to Putin at their “treason summit” Hurd called out in a New York Times op-ed (never mind that he has voted repeatedly in the House Intelligence Committee to obstruct Democrats’ investigation of the Russian election conspiracy, including apparent cover-up efforts by his colleagues). A third could very well be relative discomfort here with Democratic challenger Gina Ortiz Jones, a Filipino-American USAF Iraq War Vet and former DIA and White House advisor who, depending on results elsewhere, could become the first out or Asian member of Congress from Texas. While matching Hurd in policy chops and impressive in her message discipline, she may have lesser appeal to some members of a traditionalist if not culturally-conservative community (home to many proudly (or pridefully) independent (and, contra Jim Hightower, middle of the road) types, who tend to eschew reliance on government assistance or adherence to either party), as seems implied by her unusual negative approval rating in a recent poll. Vying for the darkest option might be the possibility that racist rhetoric from Trump and others on the right has contributed to suppression of the Hispanic vote (or lower response rates). Still, despite the polls, I find it hard to ignore the hard numbers in past contests here, and hold out hope that Democratic strength is being seriously underestimated in this potentially hard-to-poll region.
AK-AL (Young) — R+18; MRT; C/S Lean R, IE Likely R
There’s zero chance that Alaska will elect a Democrat to Congress this year. But it just might elect an Independent, like its sitting Governor. His recent withdrawal from a hotly-contested reelection race and endorsement of the Democratic challenger raises questions about whether that’s a distinction with a difference any longer in this definitely right-leaning but fiercely, well, independent state, one of whose sitting Senators was elected over candidates of both parties as a write-in, and the unusually substantial third-party vote in which held Donald Trump to just 51% of the vote in 2016. It’s certainly hard to imagine anyone beating Don Young, the longest-serving current member of Congress (and one of the 20 longest-serving Congressmen ever), but current Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz came close in the last Democratic wave in 2006, and at 85, the increasingly-erratic incumbent (who reportedly threatened John Boehner with a knife a few years back and recently attempted to intimidate/injure his challenger with a too-firm debate handshake) may be ready to get put out to pasture. Galvin’s outsider profile — like many in her state, she’s done a little bit of everything, working as a substitute teacher, small business owner, and hotel manager, among other roles — should get her at least halfway, and if she manages to finally unseat Young, it may just be with the aid of the state’s Native community, many members of which have been energized by the #metoo movement given the proliferation of sexual assault in their remote communities. Color me fairly skeptical, however, of the late-race polls showing her in contention or ahead.
WA-3 (Herrera Beutler) — R+8; OrRT; C/S/IE Lean R
One of the last places I think Democrats actually do have a shot is Southwestern Washington’s Third District. Running from Portland’s Northern suburbs East along the windsurfer-dotted Columbia River Gorge and West to the coastal fishing and logging communities that produce Willapa Bay oysters, it was the only district on the (contiguous) West Coast to vote for Donald Trump in 2016, a reflection of its relatively rural orientation and something of a parallel to the Upper Midwestern regions where voters did not have much feeling for (were misled about) well-educated urbanite Hillary Clinton. There’s good reason to think that such territory remains at least marginally Trump-identified today, but like much of the Northern Midwest, this one’s cultural pattern was set by early Yankee settlement (by sea rather than land) and its aging population may be driven more by health care than other issues. The district’s nonpartisan primary results, in which 2010-elected Jamie Herrera Beutler (who turns 40 next week) got just 42% of the vote and Democrats nearly reached the 50% mark, may have been early evidence that a blue tsunami will overcome the turbulent waters of Cape Disappointment and wash up the Columbia River. Challenger Carolyn Long, a WSU-Vancouver Professor who touts her working-class roots, will have to fight a strong current to get there, but this is one of Democrats’ better surprise pickup opportunities.
OH-1 (Chabot) — R+10; OrRT, HS; IE Tilt R, C/S Lean R
This Cincinnati-area district, which includes most of the core city but enough territory outside its limits to be relatively exurban overall, has elected and largely reelected 11th-term Rep. Steve Chabot ever since he came to Congress in the 1994 Gingrich Revolution, the sole exception being 2008, when he was briefly swept out by Barack Obama’s coattails. For a few weeks earlier this year, it appeared that he might be threatened again by another young and energetic challenger, well-funded(/coiffed) thirtysomething County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval, a Tibetan/Indian-American downtown resident with a business background and a seat on the Symphony’s Board. Then came state campaign finance charges alleging that his office improperly paid small-dollar campaign-photo expenses, and Pureval’s poll standing and approval ratings declined dramatically. On the eve of the election, the elections commission has dismissed most of the charges and imposed a minor fine, which could, but seems unlikely to rescue his chances. Even when Pureval was up in the polls, I tended to think that Chabot would win comfortably, but it’s certainly possible that this sort-of-big city-based district could turn Democratic again.
MI-7 (Walberg) — R+15; ORT; C/S/IE Likely R
This “mid-Michigan”-centric district (parts of Lansing and Jackson extending East to Monroe County between Detroit and Toledo, while carefully avoiding the University of Michigan and MSU) is typical of the blue-collar territory that took a chance on Barack Obama in 2008 but then went heavily for Trump in 2016 (choosing quasi-Michigander Mitt Romney by a small margin in 2012), while giving incumbent Rep. Tim Walberg a similar margin over challenger Gretchen Driskell, a State Representative and former Mayor. Driskell should probably be considered a long-shot in their rematch, but Democrats neared the 50% mark in this year’s primary vote, further suggesting that Michigan, which barely voted for Trump, may have soured on him to a significant degree. The absence of much polling in this race introduces a substantial degree of uncertainty, and so I’ve downgraded this race on the theory that no news is bad news in a right-leaning district, but this is the kind of rural area where diminished turnout could allow Democrats to make it across the line, and Driskell may be aided in her challenge by the Gubernatorial race, in which similarly-named Democrat Gretchen Whitmer holds a solid lead.
MI-6 (Upton) — R+9; OrRT; C/S Lean R, IE Likely R
Another Michigan seat that could tip back across the line in a swing-voting, anti-incumbent backlash, the mostly small-town/exurban Southwestern 6th District (stretching from the edge of the Grand Rapids metro towards South Bend, its most ‘urban’ precincts lie in college-town Kalamazoo) is more Democrat-friendly than the 7th, but also has a more entrenched incumbent, Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (you may have heard of his niece Kate), who if reelected will become the Dean of the Michigan delegation. A ‘moderate’ of sorts, Upton isn’t necessarily beloved by the Trump wing of the party, which has him sitting on the Republican fence on many issues including health care — Upton flip-flopped on whether the ACA should be repealed, but was heavily involved in efforts to replace it. That has been good fodder for attacks by challenger Matt Longjohn (a very Michigander name), seemingly well-positioned to raise the issue given his training as a doctor, but facing questions of his regarding whether campaigning as one runs afoul of state law given his lack of a Michigan license. Upton is the favorite, but looks increasingly uncertain here, and I’ve bumped this one up based on the trend and some sotto voce suggestion that he’s in real trouble.
LIKELY TO STAY REPUBLICAN
(These are races in which Democratic wins would be a bit of a surprise (except maybe for the legally-challenged asterisks))
NC-2 (Holding) — R+14; MRrT, ~HS; C/S/IE Lean R
Arguably an even-further-Southern extension of the I-95 corridor than VA-7, this redrawn Research Triangle district (mostly Northern Wake County) studiously avoids the core of Raleigh, but does dip a bit into “Concentrated Area of Relocated Yankees” Cary, and arguably has more Democratic history at the Congressional level than the Virginia seat (though redistricting muddies the data). Incumbent George Holding is a Raleigh native with much higher name recognition than African-American challenger Linda Coleman, a state agency HR director, but he’s served just one term in the district after two representing a partially-overlapping one to the North and West, and may suffer from a conservative enthusiasm deficit in a relatively moderate district in which Democrats won the primary vote this year, there has been talk of close internal polling, and a concentrated population of well-educated women may be ready to effect a political sea change. The GOP is still definitely the favorite here, but this is another seat with the potential to surprise tonight.
GA-7 (Woodall) — R+15; MRT; C/S/IE Lean R
Another segment of suburban Atlanta, this Northeastern metro district (much of newly-blue Gwinnett County, and a bit of more conservative Forsyth) is lower-density and lower-education than GA-6, but slightly more diverse, about 20% African-American and less than 50% Non-Hispanic White, which didn’t stop the district from giving Donald Trump (slightly) more than 50% of the vote. Democrats face a more entrenched incumbent here, fourth-termer Rob Woodall, and have fielded a less galvanizing candidate in Georgia State Professor Carolyn Bourdeaux, a public finance specialist who previously worked as an aide to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, but that could also help drive down Republican turnout in Democrats’ favor. Primary turnout here didn’t bode terribly well for Democrats’ chances, so I don’t expect much, but with Stacey Abrams on the ballot, Obama and Oprah in the field, and Mike Bloomberg’s anti-gun group on the air, all bets may be off.
FL-6 (open) — R+15; OrRrT; C/S/IE Lean R
Like FL-15, this is another perhaps-shouldn’t-be-surprising late-game Florida contest for an open seat, and like the 27th, it features another name candidate from the Clinton administration, former UN Ambassador Nancy Soderberg. Her ads make note of her experience helping the Irish peace accords get to yes, but she’s running primarily on a health care message, as both policy expert and patient. This Daytona-area district (not far from the territory portrayed in another John Sayles film) seems like somewhat-unlikely Democratic territory, but like much of the rest of the Florida, it’s more suburban than rural, and the tight polling here may reflect the independent appeal of Soderberg’s diplomatic demeanor, which seems unlikely to motivate too many Republicans to vote against her while drawing a positive contrast to former Green Beret, Dick Cheney aide, and Fox News contributor Michael Waltz, who’s running to replace Trump-tied race-baiting Rep. Ron DeSantis. That this district elected DeSantis three times suggests that voters here will probably turn out to vote for him for Governor, but while the district doesn’t have an unusually-large African-American population, its several HBCUs might have made a difference in Obama’s rare win here in 2008, and with Andrew Gillum on the ballot, it’s not impossible that they could help Soderberg to victory too. A relative lack of recent polling here makes this one tough to call — it could be anything from a pretty solidly Republican seat to a tossup. I’m not at all sure it isn’t the latter, but I’ll err on the side of caution in inferring from the absence that it’s the former, downgrading the race a bit.
WA-5 (McMorris Rodgers) — R+15; MRT; C/S Lean R, IE Likely R
As Chair of the House Republican Conference, Cathy McMorris Rodgers is the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, and while I may not find her party’s leadership particularly impressive, her position does give her an extra leg up in bringing the bacon home to her solidly-Republican Eastern Washington district. Accordingly, like most incumbent-friendly parts of the relatively rural Northern tier of the country, it’s been relatively happy to reelect her with little difficulty to seven terms. More likely than not, it will give her an eighth too, but if there’s reason for doubt, it starts with the less than 50% of the vote she received in this year’s nonpartisan primary, perhaps reflective of lower rural-voter turnout in a district that also contains a fair amount of suburban and collegiate territory around Spokane and big schools like WSU, EWU, and Gonzaga (and smaller ones like Whitman College). To be sure, Democrats’ chances are still fairly limited here — they got even less of the primary vote, and no polls have shown State Sen. Lisa Brown mounting a serious challenge — but they aren’t nonexistent, and Donald Trump and the healthcare issue could conspire to help McMorris Rodgers’ first female opponent capture a sufficient percentage of the women’s vote that has long kept her in office.
MT-AL (Gianforte) — R+22; MRT; C/S Lean R, IE Likely R
Here’s where I start to get really skeptical of Democrats’ chances. My skepticism is partly a product of Montana’s strong Republican bias at the Congressional level (even while electing Democrats to the State House and Senate, and nearly voting for Barack Obama in 2008), and also partly a product of having had my hopes dashed in last year’s special election in which the state elected convicted journalist-assaulter Greg Gianforte to the seat vacated by now-scandal-plagued urban cowboy Ryan Zinke. If Democrats have a chance this time, it could be because their candidate, State Rep. Kathleen Williams, has more appeal to female voters than Gianforte’s slightly-flakier-seeming previous opponent, former bluegrass, etc. musician Rob Quist (whose band opened for Jerry Garcia and Jimmy Buffett in the ‘70s), or because of her better message discipline (health care, of course). The most significant factor, however, may be coattails from the up-ballot race, in which I expect Montana’s favorite Democrat, Sen. Jon Tester, to ride the small Northern state’s typical goodwill towards incumbents to reelection.
NY-24 (Katko) — D+5; OOC; C/S/IE Lean R
This Syracuse-area district is one of the swingier in the country, recently voting a straight Democratic ticket in on-years but Republican in off-years before splitting its ticket in 2016. Second-term soft-NeverTrumper John Katko cruised to reelection that year against a former Kirsten Gillibrand aide who campaigned primarily on her personal hardship experience, and for the most part has looked fairly well-positioned to do so again against progressive academic challenger Dana Balter, who upset the party-backed candidate in the primary. I was quite optimistic about this race early on, based on the Democratic-Presidential fundamentals, an early poll showing Balter ahead, and a sense that the forecasters were overrating her weak fundraising (which has closed strong) and underrating her very-well-spoken progressive-populist message, competitive ad content (his seemed surprisingly weak at first, but hit harder as time went on), and scholastic support base as a Prof. at ‘Cuse (the Visiting version, Katko incessantly reminds voters, in conspicuous enough fashion that it should raise questions post-Squirrel Hill). More recent polling, however, has largely confirmed their view that this is a fairly safe-looking GOP seat, and while I’d held out hope that Balter might get the endorsement of the Syracuse Post-Standard, one of the highest-market-penetration newspapers in the country, the paper again picked Katko on Saturday.
NY-27 (Collins) — R+23; MRT; S/IE Lean R, C Likely R
I’m not sure whether this belongs in the Likely Republican category or a Likely to Go to Jail Republican one. Rep. Chris Collins, the first Member of Congress endorse Donald Trump, was indicted earlier this year on securities/wire fraud and false statement charges alleging that he misused his office in connection with insider trading of a pharmaceutical company stock. State Republicans immediately turned to the question of who might run in his stead, but vagaries of New York election law have kept him on the ballot. Voters in this rural Republican district (covering much of Western New York between the Buffalo and Rochester suburbs), the most conservative in New York State, at least initially seemed to remain of a mind to keep Collins in office and kick the can to his potential conviction rather than elect a Democrat like town supervisor Nate McMurray. It remains to be seen, however, how willing Republicans really are to vote for alleged criminals. I certainly don’t put it past them, but unlike Greg Gianforte, say, Collins won’t benefit from anyone suggesting that his crime is a sign of his toughness and cultural connection.
PA-16 (Kelly) — R+17; ORT, HS; C/S Lean R, IE Likely R
This mixed-rural/small-city sliver of Northwestern Pennsylvania, stretching from Erie South towards the Youngstown area, is typical of the less urban or more industrial parts of the state’s slow transition away from the Democratic Party. While the district voted for Obama in 2008, it quickly turned against him, choosing former auto dealer Mike Kelly in Tea Party 2010 before voting for Romney and Trump in the past two contests. Now it faces a test along with much of the rest of the region whether it has figured out the real difference between the parties (or whether its predilection for mashing the change button might work in Democrats’ favor this time). For much of the campaign season, the district has floated near the far edge of Democrats’ win possibilities, but has seen a bit of an uptick in recent days. Some of that may have to do with voters’ waking up via debates, etc. to the fairly good candidate matchup: against Kelly, Democrats have fielded Harvard-trained former Erie County solicitor, Muhammad Ali attorney, and Vietnam-era Marine Ron DiNicola. But I suspect that a good deal of the shift may have something to do with the mass shooting in the major metro area to the district’s South. Helped along by Democratic strength in the Gubernatorial race, that may be enough to drive women especially back over the line in this swing district.
NY-23 (Reed) — R+13; ORT, HS; C/S Likely R
Next door to PA-16, this district runs from Lake Erie along the Southern Tier of Western New York to part of the Finger Lakes area, and like that district it has similarly transitioned from blue to red in recent years, led by the 2010 special election of former Corning Mayor Tom Reed, an early harbinger of that year’s “Tea Party” wave. While it went even bigger for Trump in 2016, it’s a bit more Democratic in its bones, owing primarily to its more than 40,000 very-well-educated college students (at schools like Cornell, Ithaca, and Hobart and William Smith Colleges), a fair number of them from the New York City metro area. In a lower-turnout race, they could make the difference for challenger Tracy Mitrano, a Cornell (Law-trained) IT official and cybersecurity consultant, but she knows they won’t be enough alone, and so is running on kitchen-table issues like health care while touting her gun-owning rural roots. I think Mitrano has a (long) shot to pull this off, but if she fails as is more likely, let me shout into the wilderness that next time Democrats should make an effort to recruit nominally-Republican but Cuomo-friendly Watkins Glen International Raceway President Michael Printup.
FL-25 (Diaz-Balart) — R+7; MrRrT; C Lean R, S Likely R
One of the last Republican-held districts in which relatively urban territory predominates, this South Florida district stretches across Alligator Alley to Naples, but its population is concentrated in the Hialeah and Doral sections of Miami-Dade County. The most heavily-Cuban-American district in the nation, it’s represented by eighth-term political-dynastic-scion Mario Diaz-Balart, whose older brother represented an earlier version of the district for nearly two decades (and whose father was a major political figure in Cuba itself). Traditionally Republican but never particularly Trump-friendly (it gave him slightly less than 50% of the vote, and his popularity has declined since), it might not take kindly to Mario’s palling around with members of the white-nationalist street gang recently hit with assault and rioting charges in New York City (Devin Nunes has also been pictured with same), though negative attacks (which have gone both ways) in the race have focused more on Diaz-Balart’s NRA ties in the wake of the Parkland shooting. Ethnic politics probably work against challenger Mary Barzee Flores, a prominent attorney whose husband is of Mexican descent and who got into the race after being denied for a judgeship on political grounds by Marco Rubio, but no big-city district can be counted truly safe for Republicans this year.
CA-50 (Hunter) — R+21; MRT; C/S/IE Lean R
Another indicted Republican — Duncan Hunter, Jr., who along with his wife used constituents’ tax dollars to spend lavishly on personal expenses — and another Republican favorite, probably even moreso than Chris Collins. In this case, it may have something to do with the name he shares with his father, who served this or nearby areas for nearly three decades (including as chair of the Armed Services Committee), or the Marine’s personal and family ties to San Diego’s large military community (the relatively densely-populated district stretches from the Northern and Eastern suburbs to more outlying areas including vast Anza-Borrego Desert State Park). It may have more, however, to do with Hunter’s opponent, upset progressive primary winner Ammar Campa-Najjar, the 29-year-old Mexican/Palestinian-American ex-Labor Department PR officer against whom Republicans are currently running ads full of racist lies and terrorism fears. While the party-favored candidate wouldn’t have been subject to the same sorts of attacks, “rock star” Campa-Najjar’s millennial appeal may excite younger voters more than an ‘establishment’ nominee would have, and he shouldn’t be counted out.
CA-21 (Valadao) — D+11; GKOOrC; S Lean R, C/IE Likely R
Nearing the limits of Democratic win probability — the numbers here approach the proverbial crapshoot — this heavily-Hispanic Central Valley California district is the second- or third-most-Democratic seat in the country still held by Republicans. And unlike most other Republicans in Clinton districts, incumbent Rep. David Valadao hasn’t made much effort to demonstrate his independence from Donald Trump. So why is this district at the bottom of the list? Because too many of Valadao’s constituents seem not to know much about his voting record on national issues — this is the single least-educated Congressional District in the nation — swayed instead by ads that focus on his advocacy for local concerns like water rights in this farming-dominated region. That constituent-service profile has given Valadao double-digit majorities in three elections running, as well as nearly 2/3 of the vote in this year’s primary, in which Democrats selected young agricultural engineer T.J. Cox, who lacks much of a local profile. Increasingly, however, midterm elections are challenging the all-politics-is-local maxim, and it’s not impossible that this district, like some others with Hispanic majorities, may just be a case of relatively late tune-in. Still, while no Clinton district can be counted out next week, this one’s about as safely Republican as they come.
OH-14 (Joyce) — R+11; MRT; S Lean R, IE Likely R
Starting to tip over the line into unrealistic territory, this over-90%-white Northeastern Ohio district (middle-income exurban Cleveland to Ashtabula) hasn’t voted for a Democrat at the Presidential or Congressional level since 2000 (though along with most of the rest of the state it has voted for populist progressive Sherrod Brown for Senate), and has given more votes to Republicans in their weakest performance than Democrats in their best. So why do the forecasters think there’s a chance? Partly it’s the moderate nature of its Republican lean (consistent, perhaps, with its Yankee origins dating to the colonial-era Western Reserve) — it came very close to voting for Barack Obama in 2008 (and not far in 2012), and elected Mr. ‘Moderate’ Republican, Steve LaTourette, to five terms before he retired after the onset of the Tea Party era. And partly it’s the meeting here of Democrats’ health-care message with an especially experienced messenger — Betsy Rader, who helped shape the ACA at Medicare and Medicaid after serving as General Counsel of the Cleveland Clinic, who touts her experience as a patient in this ad, and whose proletarian-rooted common touch reminds me a bit of another effective bureaucratic communicator from the Obama administration, EPA chief Gina McCarthy. If all of that’s enough to get Rader to the line, her constituent-avoiding opponent Dave Joyce might have helped her over with an ad meant to tout his toughness in taking on Trump on protections for Lake Erie but that I suspect probably made him look weak to core Trump supporters. Their low turnout could make the difference both here and in many of the wild card races that follow, but if this race isn’t roughly the tipping point of an even larger tsunami, it probably sits near the high water mark of a merely big wave.
VERY LIKELY TO ALMOST CERTAIN TO STAY REPUBLICAN
[Absent a tsunami-level wave that has yet to clearly form, you can probably forget about most of these races (and a good many above). Still, Democrats definitely have a shot at picking up a few either way, but because there will be so few winners and it’s so hard to pick them out of such a large field (at this low-probability level, the numbers feel increasingly less meaningful in relative terms), I’ve dispensed with the in-order description of each race and instead organized them by geographic/thematic categories.]
The Only Living Republicans in New York
NY-2 (King) — R+7; G?B?OOT; C/S Likely R
NY-1 (Zeldin) — R+11; Gtie-BOOT, HS; S Lean R, C Likely R
NJ-4 (Smith) — R+16, MRT
With apologies to retiring Queens native Paul Simon (who would like you to vote against fellow borough product Donald Trump even if he isn’t explicit about it), this category reflects my suspicion (or hope) that in the Trump era, even the outskirts of my hometown may finally be ready to rid themselves of what the Republican Party has become. I’m putting a finger on the scale here, but if one more seat flips, I think there’s a very good chance it happens outside NYC. The two most prominent races are both on Long Island, and both, like NY-11, feature young(ish) Jewish challengers. The biggest catch for many Democratic New Yorkers would be 25-year-incumbent Peter King, of the South Shore’s 2nd District (a collection of commuter towns that essentially gave birth to modern suburbia, extending East from famous planned community Levittown (birthplace of Billy Joel (and members of the Velvet Underground) and ridiculed former Fox News talking head Bill O’Reilly) through Eastern Nassau County’s Oyster Bay to Western Suffolk’s Babylon and Islip). While thirtysomething challenger (and child-care-precedent-setter) Liuba Gretchen Shirley is a longshot, she could be aided by turnout from young, female, and Hispanic voters (in an increasingly diverse district now less than 60% Non-Hispanic White), especially against an anti-abortion politician in the year that the vote to overturn Roe v. Wade was named to the Supreme Court. The same issue could also theoretically help fell King’s even-longer-serving colleague Chris Smith of Monmouth County-based NJ-4, though strong challenger Joshua Welle faces much longer odds in that more exurban (and Middle-American) district. But the race I’ve long had my eye on here is in Central and Eastern Suffolk County’s NY-1, which includes the North and South Forks at the end of Long Island. This more exurban to rural territory includes wealthy communities like the famous Hamptons, but overall is more middle to working-class in character. Second-termer Lee Zeldin, hearing footsteps from challenger Perry Gershon, a marathon-running investment adviser, has lamely tried to borrow a page from his President in going negative in the race with alliterative attacks tying Gershon to the city where he grew up. The polls suggest that they may be working, but this district has more Democratic DNA than most, and Gershon, even though the oldest of these candidates, seems to share with Max Rose a certain ‘energy’ — I like to think of it in less-Trumpian terms as ‘vigor’, with a pronounced Boston accent — that I think is particularly appealing to voters in this part of the country (here, I should probably disclose that while I don’t know Perry, our parents are friends and colleagues). The numbers say he has less of a shot, but, cribbing slightly from local race-watcher Larry Levy, which of the LI districts is likelier to flip is really a question of whether more anti-Trump voters show up in the 2nd or fewer pro-Trump voters turn out in the 1st. The national environment points to the 2nd, but Zeldin has far less of an incumbency advantage than King.
FL-18 (Mast) — R+10; OrRT; C/S Lean R, IE Likely R
FL-16 (Buchanan) — R+13; MrRrT; C Lean R, S/IE Likely R
FL-3 (Yoho) — R+18, MrRrT
FL-19 (Rooney) — R+25, MRT
FL-8 (Posey) — R+22, MRT
FL-17 (open) — R+27, MRT
FL-12 (Bilirakis) — R+17, MRT
Florida, America’s leader in crazy news stories (and horrific ones like the Parkland shooting and the “Magabomber”), also has the potential to lead Election Day 2018 in surprises, and not just due to the state’s relatively suburban population, its recently-redrawn Congressional map, or its marquee Gubernatorial and Senatorial races, the former of which will drive up African-American turnout, albeit mostly in Democratic-leaning districts. Some might be a product of particularly local factors like Red Tide, which, along with rising sea levels, has some voters here taking the environment more seriously than most Americans. Some might reflect the local strength of national issues — health care and immigration are serious concerns in a state with many foreign-born residents and elderly retirees. And some, of course, are only-in-Florida factors. Ground zero for both Red Tide and only-in-Florida is Sarasota/Bradenton-based FL-16, where ethics-investigated and already-locally-weakened seventh-term incumbent Vern Buchanan is getting a strong challenge from TV trial attorney David Shapiro, whose opponent-focused ads are hitting Buchanan hard for using his Trump tax break to buy a yacht. Red Tide may also be an issue in other Gulf Coast districts like the 12th North of Tampa Bay, and moreso the 17th and 19th South to Fort Myers and East to Lake Okeechobee), not to mention the Space/Treasure Coast 8th, but these are all fairly improbable pickups — at least two have strong incumbents, and Democratic chances in the open-seat 17th may have slipped away with the shocking death at 54 of candidate April Freeman, who has since been replaced by African-American economic policy activist Allen Ellison. Democratic chances may be near-zero in very red Big Bend Coast FL-2 and Jacksonville-based FL-4, but Hurricane Michael and a mass shooting near the Jaguars stadium, respectively, could be X-factors in them, potentially combining in Gainesville/Ocala-based FL-3, where young and black voters have a stronger chance at unseating Tea Party Ted Yoho. The real race to watch in Florida, however, is probably in Palm Beach/Treasure Coast FL-18, where first-term incumbent Brian Mast, who has been speculatively tied to one of the Mueller indictments (though the unnamed Florida Representative therein could be just about anyone in the delegation — some have pointed to friend of Roger Stone, former DUI arrestee, and “Bros’ Caucus” member Matt Gaetz of Panhandle FL-1’s “Redneck Riviera”), also faces a Jewish opponent (attorney and former Obama State Dept/UN official Lauren Baer) in a district dominated by a county in which nearly one in five residents is a member of the tribe, and which has been described as the “Sixth Borough” of New York City, but is also home to Mar-a-Lago. To borrow from the Seminole State’s John Anderson (no, not the 1980 guy, and definitely not a Democrat, but something of an environmentalist), Florida could get wild … and blue?
TX-22 (Olson) — R+17; MRT; C Lean R, S Likely R
TX-24 (Marchant) — R+15; MRT; C Likely R
TX-21 (open) — R+18; MRT; C/S/IE Likely R
TX-10 (open) — R+16; MRT; C Likely R
TX-6 (~open/Wright) — R+17; MRT; C/S Likely R
TX-2 (open) — R+19; MRT; C Likely R
TX-31 (J. Carter) — R+19; MRT; C/S/IE Likely R
TX-25 (Williams) — R+21, MRT
TX-3 (open) — R+23, MRT
TX-14 (Weber) — R+23, MRT
TX-17 (Flores) — R+23, MRT
TX-27 (Cloud) — R+26, MRT
Another (more densely-)suburban state where the up-ballot races will drive turnout on both sides: Democrats by not just opposition to Trump but also support for rock-star-status phenomenon Beto O’Rourke, and Republicans to a lesser degree by not just anti-Beto mobilization (he’ll get a fair amount of crossover votes, though I’d be surprised if enough for a win) but also support for hard-right Gov. Greg Abbott. My favorite race here may be in open-seat, Harvey-damaged TX-2, one of the most egregiously gerrymandered districts in both the state and country, which dragon-loops from Houston’s artsy/academic-professional Montrose and Rice U./Medical Center neighborhoods (probably Houston’s best approximation, outside Downtown/Midtown, of the sort of walkable neighborhoods you’d find in a more traditional city) North and East through suburban and rural areas to Humble. The partisan fundamentals favor Republican ex-Navy Seal Dan Crenshaw (perhaps moreso after he was mocked for losing an eye in Afghanistan the other night on Saturday Night Live, echoing in spirit candidate Trump’s statement that he “like[s] people who weren’t captured”), but while Democratic candidate Todd Litton, an education nonprofit director with a Rice MBA and other strong local ties isn’t going to out-macho Crenshaw — he owns that with a recent ad showing off his “Dad jokes” — he definitely out-professional-classes him, and that could make the difference in the district’s more urban precincts. The real race to watch in Houston, however, is probably in more exurban TX-22 (Sugar Land to Fort Bend and much of the Greater Katy area), where just-40 ex-foreign service officer Sri Preston Kulkarni, the charismatic son of an Indian-American immigrant father and mother of Scotch-Irish heritage dating to the colonial era, has worked hard to engage new voters in a suburban district with diversity not usually found outside the coasts (it’s nearly-20%-Asian-American). Austin too offers at least one and perhaps several competitive races, though there too Republicans have sought to rob its more liberal precincts of political power, as in TX-25 (which contains the University of Texas at Austin but stretches North nearly to Fort Worth), where Julie Oliver, who transcended teenaged poverty, pregnancy, and homelessness to become an attorney, faces an uphill climb against former Congressional ethics investigation subject Roger Williams (who has what TX politics blog Off the Kuff has described as “Rick Perry-class hair”), but one aided by a bio ad with more than 750,000 Twitter views and an appearance before tens of thousands at the Austin City Limits Festival hosted by politically-active band The National. The biggest viral candidate here, of course, is Air Force combat vet, businesswoman and teacher M.J. Hegar, whose “Doors”-kicking ad has seen nearly 3 million YouTube views, but she faces what may be a harder slog in North Austin TX-31 (Round Rock to Temple/Killeen), which studiously avoids the Northern end of the “Silicon Hills” tech corridor (laughably shoehorned into comparatively rural TX-17, in which Texas A&M and Baylor do little to change the heavy Republican lean unlikely to be overcome by Pflugerville software engineer/consultant Rick Kennedy). The numbers point to slightly better chances in TX-10 (stretching East into Harris County) for low-profile challenger Mike Siegel, an Austin City Attorney, as may be confirmed by strenuous efforts to obstruct voting at HBCU Prairie View A&M (including the arrest of Siegel’s campaign manager). But the real race watch to here may be South of Austin in more diverse TX-21, which tracks West of the Pickle Parkway towards San Antonio. This open-seat race pits Ted Cruz(/Rick Perry/John Cornyn) aide Chip Roy, a cancer survivor who puts a soft touch on his hard-right ideology, against Army vet and tech entrepreneur Joseph Kopser, a political novice who, though a relative moderate with ties to Austin’s business community, has a touch of Bernie Sanders-esque outsider style. While the district probably leans a bit too far to the right to put Kopser over 50%, the presence of a libertarian candidate in the race (whose Hispanic ancestry could draw from both sides) just might help him pull off a plurality win. Pickings are slimmer in the Dallas metroplex, but potential sleepers among its relatively dense districts include Carrollton-based TX-24, where 7th-termer Kenny Marchant faces accountant Jan Schneider, and Arlington-based TX-6, a quasi-open seat occasioned by the scandal that felled longtime incumbent Joe Barton, whose replacement, aide and former Councilman Ron Wright, is running a low-profile race seemingly to avoid much comparison with challenger Jana Lynne Sanchez, a former journalist, businesswoman, and aspiring country singer from Waxahachie. While the Harvey effect probably isn’t significant enough to knock off Randy Weber in Galveston-based TX-14, and I don’t quite see Corpus Christi-based TX-27 voting for former New York bartender, talent agent, and political PR professional Eric Holguin (even if an earlier, less-conservative version of the district voted for Al Gore over home-state W.), if you’re looking for another surprise here, it just might be another open-seat LGBT candidate, attorney Lorie Burch in diverse and very-well-educated Plano-based TX-3.
MO-2 (Wagner) — R+15; MRT; C Lean R, S Likely R
AZ-8 (Lesko) — R+25; MrRT; C/S/IE Likely R
OK-5 (Russell) — R+19; MRT; C/S Likely R
OH-10 (Turner) — R+8; tie-ORT; C/S Likely R
AZ-6 (Schweikert) — R+17; MRT; C/S Likely R
CA-42 (Calvert) — R+17, MRT
PA-11 (Smucker) — R+28, MRT
PA-14 (open) — R+28, MRT
UT-2 (Stewart) — R+27, MRT
OH-2 (Wenstrup) — R+18, MRT
AZ-5 (Biggs) — R+28, MRT
KS-4 (Estes) — R+30, MRT
The widest-ranging wild card category, this one stretches nearly from coast to coast through cultural borderland territory, roughly tracking the historic National Road and Route 66 from the Philadelphia (and Baltimore?) exurbs to Southern California’s Inland Empire, but concentrated in between, in the Midwest (outside medium-big cities like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and St. Louis), the Great Plains (where the districts incorporate the entirety of more sprawling suburban cities like Wichita and Oklahoma City), and the interior West (where Congressional districts mostly divide up bigger and denser but still sprawling cities like Phoenix and Salt Lake City). I agree with the numbers that Democrats’ best suburban chances are probably in St. Louis County MO-2 (Chesterfield and around), where young attorney Cort van Ostran strikes me as one of the better sleeper challengers in the country against a relatively weak incumbent. They’ve also aligned with my view in Maricopa County, where Scottsdale/Paradise Valley-based AZ-6 (whose incumbent David Schweikert faces an ongoing ethics scandal) may be more Democratic territory than Peoria/Surprise-based AZ-8, but Democrats might have an even-to-better shot in the latter near-open seat, where ER physician and cancer research advocate Hiral Tiperneni is well-suited to run on the health care issue in her rematch against several-point special election winner Debbie Lesko (East Valley AZ-5 is at the farthest reaches of possibility), though polling can be difficult in this urban territory. Cook has also joined Sabato and me in liking the long shot chances of business-community-tied attorney and women’s-empowerment-nonprofit founder Kendra Horn in OKC, where as in Kansas there may be some backlash against the state’s arch-conservative governance, as expressed in its large teacher’s strike, the first on the heels of the one in West Virginia, and which in turn inspired strikes elsewhere (including a 20,000-teacher walkout in Arizona). If there’s a “poster girl” for that national trend, it just might end up being CA-42 (Riverside County) challenger and actual teacher Julia Peacock, who I take a bit more seriously than the forecasters do along with very low-probability candidates in the PA(/MD?) and KS districts, among others. I agree too with Cook and Sabato that community-tied social entrepreneur Theresa Gasper has more of a chance in Dayton-based OH-10 than Jill Schiller and Jess King outside Cincy and Philly, respectively (to say nothing of Bibiana Boerio near Pittsburgh), but that’s more reflective of fundamentals (and incumbent Mike Turner’s bizarre attempt to depose his former best man, retiring Rep. Darrell Issa, in the wake of his divorce) than candidate skills. Finally, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say there’s a shot in at least one Salt Lake City district beyond the 4th, almost certainly Temple Square and Park City-containing UT-2, where little-known ex-Peace Corps volunteer and UofU Ph.D. candidate/communications official Shireen Ghorbani is no Ben McAdams but also faces a low-profile incumbent in Chris Stewart. Mostly, though, I’m just name-dropping the race to plug my own campaign ad encouraging Utahans to send another Republican out into the hundred-year storm.
Decency Matters (Race Too)
IA-4 (King) — R+24; MRT; C/S Lean R, IE Likely R
CA-22 (Nunes) — R+15; MRT; C/S Likely R
CO-5 (Lamborn) — R+27, MRT
OH-4 (Jordan) — R+17, MRT
TN-4 (Desjarlais) — R+40, MRT
NC-11 (Meadows) — R+29, MRT
This potentially-multitude-containing remedial section reserves special dishonorable mention for Iowa racist Steve King, on whom not just his home state/district’s leading newspapers but members of his own party (seeking in part to preserve their own images) have turned in recent days after reports that he used a Holocaust-education trip to Europe to meet with white nationalists. All of this may have lead to his recent temper tantrum in response to the suggestion that his rhetoric is indistinguishable from that of the Squirrel Hill murderer. Even as he faces unprecedented scrutiny and a serious challenger in the form of vet J.D. Scholten, however, King’s district remains more likely than not to continue to embarrass the nation by reelecting him. Others particularly deserving of dismissal, but even less likely to be unseated, include Congressional Ethics investigation subject Mark Meadows (who faces a district-friendly alternative in “working man” Phillip Price), his Ohio State wrestling scandal-tied (Get-Out-of-Jail-?)“Freedom Caucus” co-chair Jim Jordan, and fellow Special Counsel-investigation obstructionist(/subject?) Devin Nunes, who claims to be a Fresno-area farmer, but whose family agricultural operation has moved to King’s Iowa district, a new report reveals, where it appears to rely primarily on illegal migrant labor. Then there are the several Members who bought or sold stock in the same company that resulted in fraud charges against Rep. Chris Collins. Most electorally prominent among them is CO-5’s Doug Lamborn, but neither he nor any of the others above is going to be charged with anything before Tuesday, and while I might believe that a fluently religious Christian Democrat has a shot at winning his Colorado Springs district, I don’t think that’s true of Chicago-raised, Ben & Jerry-backed pastor Stephany Rose Spaulding, who has faced ethics claims from her own campaign staff. If there’s one surprise candidate here, I think it just might be TN-4’s Scott Desjarlais, an “evangelical” Christian reelected easily three times by his exurban Nashville-based district (Murfreesboro East towards Chattanooga) despite having divorced the ex-wife he urged to abort more than one pregnancy and had inappropriate relations with medical patients and drug company representatives. Why would he lose now? Two words: Taylor Swift. After the country-cum-pop star broke her long silence on political matters by urging her young fans to register and join her in voting for (safely business-friendly-moderate) Democrats like former Governor and Senate candidate Phil Bredesen and Nashville Rep. Jim Cooper — with apologies to the universe, I’ve taken to calling the campaign Swift Vote Bredesens for Coop — and Shaking Off reactionaries like Bredesen’s opponent Marsha Blackburn, voter registration by young people spiked nationwide but nowhere more than Tennessee, which also became the #1 state in America in early voting increase by 18–29 year olds (almost 750%!). That’s unlikely to make the difference in the Senate race (which could go either way, but is less promising than months ago), but if there’s one race it does affect, it just might be this district outside booming Music City that’s also home to the annual Bonnaroo Music Festival.
WV-3 (open) — R+47; GBMRT, HS; C/S/IE Lean R
AR-2 (Hill) — R+14; MrRT, HS; S Lean R, C/IE Likely R
WV-2 (Mooney) — R+35; MRT; C Likely R
VA-6 (open) — R+26, MRT
VA-9 (Griffith) — R+39, MRT
Essentially an Appalachian(/Ozarkian) category at the messy borders of Southern influence (see also Acadiana, not to mention KY-6), this particularly low-income/education group (West Virginia is 50th in college/advanced degree attainment, Arkansas 48th/49th) covers territory that has become particularly unfriendly to Democrats in recent years, but has enough ‘ancestral’ ‘little-guy’ DNA that it isn’t tied to even-Trump’s Republican party either. This is typified by WV, where Joe Manchin looks headed for reelection, and where the Trump-friendly Governor switched parties several months after winning as a Democrat. While voters here are swayed by cultural appeals, they’ll vote for anyone they think will cater specially to their particularly dire economic and social interests, which increasingly involve the opioid crisis whose ground zero has long been in Southern WV-3. That’s the open seat that tattooed, Trump-voting, teacher’s-strike-cheerleading state Rep. Richard Ojeda (pronounced with a hard ‘j’, natch) is seeking in one of the year’s most quixotic and potentially surprising races. At one point, it looked like a tossup or better for the very unconventional Democrat, but more recent polling has suggested that he’s less likely to overcome the partisan gap, in part because in this low-information state he just isn’t that well-known. I still don’t hate his chances, though, and my sense that something unexpected could happen in the Mountain State extends to its far-less-observed 2nd District, where buttoned-up, Maryland-raised Tea Party type Alex Mooney faces a second-term challenger simultaneously more authentic and more media-savvy in WV political operative Talley Sergent. Running against the opioid addiction that affects her sister, Sergent is one of my favorite potential sleeper candidates, but she faces an obstacle in negative ads tying her to Hillary Clinton rather than former boss Jay Rockefeller. Democrats face even longer odds next door in Blue Ridge VA-6 and 9, where they probably have to hope for low turnout races (NC-11 also fits in here), but while Arkansas hasn’t elected a statewide Democrat since 2008 and probably won’t do so again soon, its more urban and genteel Little Rock-based 2nd District has particularly strong Democratic DNA, and the combination of low turnout and a third party candidate just might put state Rep. Clarke Tucker over the top.
SC-1 (open) — R+18; MRT; C/S Lean R
NC-8 (Hudson) — R+16; MRT; C/S Likely R
NC-7 (Rouzer) — R+19; MRT, HS
NC-6 (Walker) — R+17, MRT
VA-1 (Wittman) — R+16, MRT
I’ve already expressed my skepticism about even the likeliest North Carolina districts, but I’m not going to deny that this is a fairly purple state (even if Barack Obama’s 2008 victory here was really handed to him by Bob Barr) that gave Donald Trump less than 50% of the vote, and it may have been thrown into even greater uncertainty by the impact and aftermath of Hurricane Florence. While the numbers say the next-likeliest seat to tip in the state is Piedmont NC-8 (Fort Bragg to again-NASCAR-historic Concord: it sits right on top of NC-9), the storm’s impact there was relatively minor. The biggest flood impact was in coastal NC-7 (based in Wilmington but stretching North towards Raleigh), where Dr. Kyle Horton is trying diligently to make it a race, but the biggest political impact may be to the South in Charleston-based SC-1, an already-strange open-seat race in which slightly-off-kilter insurgent conservative Katie Harrington’s surprise primary win was immediately followed by a serious car accident that hampered her campaign activity, potentially to attorney and ocean engineer Joe Cunningham’s benefit. The Northern edge of the storm may also have upended things in Tidewater VA-1, where government contracting manager and realtor Vangie Williams could energize the African-American vote. The more interior 6th and 10th districts of NC (around Greensboro and the Western Charlotte suburbs to Asheville, respectively) were less affected by the storm, but it could help fairly safe Republican incumbents there take on more water than in past elections.
Great Lakes Wave
WI-6 (Grothman) — R+17; ORT; C/S Likely R
MI-3 (Amash) — R+12; OrRT; C/S Likely R
NY-21 (Stefanik) — R+10; OOT; C/S Likely R
MI-2 (Huizenga) — R+19; MRT; S Likely R
MI-1 (Bergman) — R+19; ORT, HS; C/S Likely R
WI-7 (Duffy) — R+17, G?K?ORT
WI-8 (Gallagher) — R+15, ORT
MN-6 (Emmer) — R+25, MRT
This large, near-Canadian geographic cohort, extending from at least Far Northwestern Wisconsin to Far Northeastern New York (also including OH-14 and several others on the list above) is also arguably a demographic and cultural one. These relatively rural-to-exurban-white parts of “Blue Wall” states that mostly flipped red in 2016 share at least to some degree a Yankee early cultural influence that today leaves them a bit better-educated, more economically progressive (i.e. pro-union), and fonder of government benefits like health insurance (particularly salient, perhaps, in their graying Northern reaches) than many other rural parts of the middle of the country. While most have leaned conservative at both the Presidential and Congressional levels — all voted for Trump and most for Romney before him — they’re not necessarily partisans, voting for Midwesterner Barack Obama in 2008 and sometimes Democratic House and Senate candidates. I don’t expect much in this region this year, and the fact that Democrats look set to lose at least one of their own seats here — Iron-Range MN-8 — only further dampens my optimism, though moreso for the working-class areas than the more suburban ones. The top prospect here is on the latter side, in North Milwaukee-meets-America’s-Dairyland WI-6 (which sits near the furthest reaches of the Reagan-Democratic swing region that Chris Matthews refers to as “Scranton to Oshkosh”), where second-term former State Senate Assistant Majority Leader Glenn Grothman (subject of a “People Who Somehow Got Elected” profile on John Oliver’s show) faces a somewhat big-time challenger in Dan Kohl, who may benefit from the famous name of his department-store family business and father, ex-Senator (and Milwaukee Bucks owner) Herb, who won every county in the state in his last election. The other districts in this category are bigger reaches, but there may be something in a name in Northwestern WI-7 as well, where “Lake Wobegon”-esque Navy vet and union electrician Margaret Engebretson might be able to flip the votes of some fellow Norwegian-Americans (who make up nearly 10% of the state’s population) in her bid against Trump’s predecessor in the ‘reality’-television route to politics, fourth-termer Sean Duffy (formerly of MTV’s The Real World and Road Rules; yes, really). Dems probably have less of a shot in Green Bay/Appleton-based WI-8, where Assistant DA Beau Liegeois faces off against first-term fellow vet Mike Gallagher, while nearer-Lake Wobegon (St. Cloud-based) MN-6 is at the very furthest reaches of Democratic win possibility. Very rural Northern-Michigan MI-1 (all of the UP and a fair amount of the Mitten) also seems like the kind of place where voters are still willing to give Trump’s party “a chance” based on misperceived cultural affinity, but its aging population might be likelier than more working-class areas to turn against him on health care, and the enthusiasm that wrote in Democratic nominee Matt Morgan, a two-decade Marine Corps vet (as is much older first-termer Jack Bergman) could give him a shot in a low-turnout area. The health care issue will probably play stronger in Grand Rapids-area MI-2 and 3, in the first of which Rob Davidson is running a Doctor-is-in campaign that could be a real sleeper. Finally, don’t forget ‘Vermont-York’ NY-21, a fairly Trumpy district in/near Sanders country, where quasi-‘moderate’ incumbent Elise Stefanik is fairly popular, but also hasn’t been in office very long.
CO-3 (Tipton) — R+13; MRT, HS (pre-re); S Lean R, C Likely R
CA-1 (LaMalfa) — R+22; MRT; C Likely R
CA-4 (McClintock) — R+19; MRT; C/S/IE Likely R
NV-2 (Amodei) — R+14, ORT
CO-4 (Buck) — R+25, MRT
WA-4 (Newhouse) — R+26, MRT
ID-1 (open) — R+41, BBMRT
This category is mostly geographic: the interior West is still essentially frontier country, and arguably becoming moreso due to the combined slowdown in the rate of growth (a lesser form of the population decline in the Great Lakes) and an influx of (mostly West-)coastal transplants, lured by growing technology communities and the great outdoors. But it’s also a little issue-thematic: like the Northern Great Lakes, the somewhat Yankee(/populist-left-Ozarkian)-culture-influenced population here is aging, making health care an increasingly paramount issue especially in nearer-coastal areas with less-self-reliant attitudes. Democrats’ best chances here may be closest to their core urban precincts, in one or more of several districts extending from the Sacramento suburbs (at the outer edge of the somewhat-aspirational Northern California megaregion) towards the Reno-Tahoe area. The one that has received the most attention is Gold Country CA-4, which turns South along the Sierra towards Fresno, and the main reason is Iraq-serving former USAID/State Dept/DoD official Jessica Morse, a youthful Princeton-educated outdoor enthusiast and deep-rooted native with a good deal of pep and Christian Scientist polish. I liked her chances early on, but have come to doubt how well-matched she is as a matter of age and experience against incumbent Tom McClintock, and late in the race the numbers have started to look better for farm-raised, ex-Cal State Chico ag science lecturer and education consultant Audrey Denney in North State CA-1, who had to take time off from the campaign against Doug LaMalfa after a cancer diagnosis. I’ve also suspected potential for a real “Washoe zephyr” race in Reno/Carson City-based NV-1 (home to the Black Rock Desert of “Burning Man” fame), where fourth-termer Mark Amodei works hard at being all things to all people, but if Nevada political watcher Jon Ralston doesn’t think he has a race, I’ll have to give up on that one. The best chance of all may be in Western Slope CO-3, a fairly rural conservative district spanning the Rocky Mountains and gorges/canyons that separate two small cities — multicultural, working-class, manufacturing-based Pueblo on the Front Range and the country music-loving, farming and ranching-based Grand Junction at the gateway to canyon country — but also one with more liberal interstices in the old “Hispaño” territory of the San Luis Valley, Mesa Verde-surrounding Indian country, and college and ski towns (Aspen, Crested Butte, Telluride, etc.) that could produce a majority in a sufficiently low-turnout election. While recent polls have dampened early hopes raised by solid primary results, Democrats might be aided here by public lands issues like the Trump administration’s carve-up of the new Bears Ears National Monument, important to Natives including incumbent Scott Tipton’s former pottery-business partners in the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe (whose tribal park visitor center I once helped build), as well as the agricultural-industry ties of challenger Diane Mitsch Bush, a former state legislator and county commissioner from Steamboat Springs. Another ag/ranching-friendly Democrat, Karen McCormick, faces even longer odds East of the Front Range in CO-4 (to say nothing of Democrats’ chances in increasingly-techy Boise-suburban open-seat ID-1), notwithstanding rapid growth in and around Greeley, but as someone particularly oriented towards the Other Washington, I’m most interested in what happens in increasingly-Hispanic Yakima/Tri-Cities-based WA-4, where the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has been joined by data centers that serve Seattle, and where incumbent Dan Newhouse hasn’t had to face much opposition from the left in a district where it’s not uncommon for Republicans to compete in the general.
B1g MAC Conference
IN-2 (Walorski) — R+23; ORT; C/S/IE Likely R
IN-9 (Hollingsworth) — R+26; MRT; S Likely R
OH-7 (Gibbs) — R+26; MRT; S Likely R
OH-15 (Stivers) — R+15; tieMRT; S Likely R
MI-4 (Moolenaar) — R+22, ORT
IL-16 (Kinzinger) — R+17, ORT
IN-5 (S. Brooks) — R+22, MRT
IN-8 (Bucshon) — R+31, MRT
Somewhere between and overlapping the Great Lakes and Suburban categories, these mostly-landlocked Buckeye/Hoosier-heavy Midwestern districts probably aren’t sufficiently urban to get them over the line, but many have a Yankee-influenced bonus often hiding in their rural reaches — large universities that may provide the necessary assist. I’ve named them after the athletic conferences that predominate here — a mix of the Big Ten and the Middle-American Conference (MAC). The latter is reflective of their middle-American nature, in which middle of the road cultural affinity (including youthful energy) may be more likely to be decisive than opposition to the President or the health care issue. That sort of character almost certainly protects young incumbents like third-termer Adam Kinzinger in IL-16 and Trey Hollingsworth in IN-9, though the latter faces a substantially larger student population (more than 50,000 between two campuses of Indiana University). It also leaves little question about Republicans’ ability to hold onto open-seat OH-16, where they’ve nominated former Ohio State and NFL star Anthony Gonzalez. Of greater concern for the GOP might be seats held by less rah-rah incumbents like Jackie Walorski in South Bend-based IN-2 (the seat formerly held by up-for-reelection Sen. Joe Donnelly, whose former constituents could turn out to vote for (and against) him) and even NRCC Chair Steve Stivers in Southern Columbus-to-Athens OH-15, though both face relatively low-profile opponents as well — Ohio U. students may not be too enthused by Miami of Ohio grad Rick Neal. If there’s one race to watch here, it might be in Canton-based OH-7, where Oxford-trained Yale Law grad, Afghanistan vet, and nonprofit founder Ken Harbaugh (no relation to Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh) is running on much earthier Ojeda-esque ground as per his over-the-top “Not Your Father’s Democrat” ad. And while the socially conservative hinterlands into which Indy’s Northern exurbs bleed seem like fairly unlikely territory for an African-American Democrat, I like entrepreneur and hoopster-Mom Dee Thornton’s improbable matchup against Susan Brooks. Finally, don’t count out extreme longshot William Tanoos in once-famously-“bloody” (i.e. anti-incumbent) Evansville-based IN-8, home to one of the bellwethers to end all bellwethers, Terre Haute-based Vigo County.
Black Votes Matter
AL-2 (Roby) — R+33, MRT
NC-5 (Foxx) — R+20, MRT
GA-1 (B. Carter) — R+18, MRT
SC-5 (Norman) — R+19, MRT
SC-7 (Rice) — R+19, MRT
GA-12 (Allen) — R+18, MRT
SC-2 (Wilson) — R+22, MRT
AL-3 (Rogers) — R+33, MRT
Following in the footsteps of GA-6 and 7, these often-rural, African-American-heavy Deep Southern districts are pretty big reaches, but if their black turnout increases and white turnout declines, it’s not impossible that one or more could flip. The numbers say Democrats’ best shot is in Montgomery-based AL-2, where young white faith-driven candidate Tabitha Isner takes on once-primary-threatened but now seemingly-recovered Martha Roby. I think chances are stronger in Georgia, if not in Savannah-based GA-1, where Democrats face second-termer Buddy Carter, then perhaps with Statesboro attorney/pastor Francys Johnson in Augusta-based, highly-gerrymandered GA-12. The Carolinas also offer several opportunities. While numbers are strongest in NC-5, seventh-term Education Chair Virginia Foxx has more of an incumbency advantage than SC-2’s Joe “You Lie” Wilson, and her challenger probably isn’t as strong as state Rep. Robert Willliams in SC-7.
Standing Rock the Vote
SD-AL (open) — R+29, MRT
ND-AL (open) — R+34, MRT
Last but not least, I don’t completely rule out the possibility of a big surprise in the Dakotas, where tribal communities like the cross-border, pipeline-protesting Standing Rock Sioux have been energized in the tariff-hit North by efforts to restrict the Native vote that helped put Heidi Heitkamp over the top six years ago, and along with many others in the South by the surprisingly strong Gubernatorial campaign of paralyzed ex-rodeo star Billie Sutton.
As background, a few resources that have helped shape my understanding of the races…
FiveThirtyEight’s House Forecast: https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2018-midterm-election-forecast/house/#deluxe
G. Elliott Morris’ Midterms Forecast: https://www.thecrosstab.com/project/2018-midterms-forecast/
Cook Political Report House Ratings: https://www.cookpolitical.com/ratings/house-race-ratings
Sabato’s Crystal Ball House page: http://crystalball.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/2018-house/
The UVA Center for Politics/Ipsos 2018 Political Atlas: https://www.political-atlas.com
Inside Elections’ House Ratings: https://insideelections.com/ratings/house
The NYT Upshot’s Final Summary and Polls: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/05/upshot/two-vastly-different-election-outcomes-that-hinge-on-a-few-dozen-close-contests.html
CNN’s Election Prediction page: https://www.cnn.com/election/2018/forecast
Politico’s Race Rankings: https://www.politico.com/election-results/2018/house-senate-race-ratings-and-predictions/
Christopher Newport University Wason Center Final Forecast: http://wasoncenter.cnu.edu/the-battle-of-the-bases-negative-partisanship-will-decide-election-2018/
Ballotpedia’s Battleground District Page: https://ballotpedia.org/U.S._House_battlegrounds,_2018
DailyKos’ collection of Presidential-vote figures for each (currently-constituted) district over the past three elections: https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2012/11/19/1163009/-Daily-Kos-Elections-presidential-results-by-congressional-district-for-the-2012-2008-elections
The Atlantic CityLab list of Congressional Districts by Population-Density-based Community Type: https://github.com/theatlantic/citylab-data/blob/master/citylab-congress/citylab_cdi.csv
The American Communities Project map of County Types: https://www.americancommunities.org
Robert David Sullivan’s Ten Regions of American Politics: https://robertdavidsullivan.typepad.com/robert_david_sullivan/2007/09/americas-10-political-regions-redefined.html
Colin Woodard’s similar eleven American Nations of regional culture: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2013/11/08/which-of-the-11-american-nations-do-you-live-in/?utm_term=.e698a4ca1e4c