With a growing number of Republican retirements and a surge of hopefuls flooding top battleground districts, Democrats are increasingly optimistic about winning control of the House 14 months from now.
The party appears highly likely to gain seats, particularly with a polarizing Republican president anchored by a historically low approval rating. But with the playing field still forming and the political climate in flux, it’s too early to say whether Democrats can pick up the necessary 24 seats.
This is Hotline’s first ranking this cycle of the 15 seats most likely to flip parties. It’s an early snapshot of the districts as the matchups currently stand, based on an assessment of demographics, fundraising, declared and likely candidates, and interviews with party strategists.
If wave conditions take hold and more GOP members head for the exits, some of the four Democratic seats could get bumped by increasingly competitive races in Republican districts. Other factors with the potential to affect future lists include the ongoing redistricting case in Texas, which could move a Republican incumbent like Rep. Blake Farenthold into far less friendly territory, and Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema’s likely Senate bid in Arizona, which would leave open a swingy Phoenix-based seat.
1. Florida-27: Open (R)
An unexpected retirement announcement from the popular Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a South Florida district that backed Hillary Clinton by 20 points offers Democrats their best pickup opportunity. The party’s top recruit is Jose Javier Rodriguez, a moderate state legislator who weathered races against two well-known Republican brothers to secure spots in Florida’s House and Senate. In contrast, the GOP is struggling to land a big name.
2. Minnesota-01: Open (D)
Donald Trump carried this Southern Minnesota district by 15 points, boosting an underfunded challenger to within 3,000 votes of ousting Rep. Tim Walz. Republican Jim Hagedorn is back, but Walz is running for governor, which will likely require his party to expend more resources. Democrats, who are also defending two other districts in the state that handed Trump double-digit victories, appear to favor Army veteran Dan Feehan, who boasts an impressive profile but hasn’t lived in the district for decades.
3. Washington-08: Open (R)
This tantalizingly competitive district has been out of reach for Democrats thanks to Rep. Dave Reichert’s personal popularity. But the seven-term incumbent’s retirement announcement last week sent this seat, which Clinton carried by 3 points, flying toward the top of these rankings. Republican state Sen. Dino Rossi could be formidable given his past statewide bids, while Democrats can take another stab at recruiting with a handful of lesser-known candidates already in the race.
4. California-49: Rep. Darrell Issa (R)
After winning by the smallest margin in the country last year, Issa now faces weekly protests outside one of his field offices and the potential for significant midterm headwinds in a coastal district Trump lost by 7 points. Doug Applegate, a retired Marine Corps colonel, is back after falling 1,600 votes short of winning, but he’ll be joined in the top-two primary by at least a couple of fellow Democrats, including attorney Mike Levin and real estate investor Paul Kerr.
5. Nevada-03: Open (D)
Freshman Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen’s Senate bid leaves open one of the most competitive seats in the country. Democrats struggled to field a recruit here last cycle but managed to flip the seat, thanks in part to a flawed GOP nominee. Republicans have a bevy of declared and potential candidates, including a professional golfer, a state senator, and a nonprofit leader. Democrats hope to draft Susie Lee, a wealthy philanthropist who lost a primary in the neighboring 4th district, but their field has been slower to materialize.
6. Minnesota-02: Rep. Jason Lewis (R)
Democratic attempts last cycle to tie Lewis to Trump proved unsuccessful in what was then an open-seat race. But wealthy Democrat Angie Craig is back for a second shot at Lewis after losing by 2 points. The seat is ranked this high because of Lewis’s 47 percent take last time, Trump carrying the seat by a point with just 46 percent of the vote, and a now-better-known and likely well-funded challenger—who said she won’t self-fund this time—to run in Trump’s first midterm.
7. New Hampshire-01: Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D)
It seems likely that, for the first time since 2008, Shea-Porter will face a Republican other than Frank Guinta. Republicans have tarred the four-term, on-again off-again congresswoman as too liberal for a district that backed Trump by 2 points, and she’s been slow to fundraise this cycle after only narrowly besting Guinta, who was saddled with a campaign finance scandal and barely snagged the GOP nomination. A former police chief and state senator are already vying for the Republican nomination, and more could enter.
8. Florida-26: Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R)
Clinton’s 57 percent take in this Miami-Dade district, which covers the southern tip of the Florida peninsula and its keys, was her second-highest of any Republican-held district, behind only the neighboring 27th District, the open seat ranked first on this list. Democrats hoped to defeat the freshman Curbelo in 2016, but he faced the scandal-tarnished Democrat he’d unseated two years earlier, Joe Garcia, and won by 12 points. He’ll have a new opponent this time.
9. Virginia-10: Rep. Barbara Comstock (R)
Clinton’s 10-point win here in the D.C. exurbs has helped attract one of the largest Democratic fields in the country to take on Comstock, who won a second term despite Trump’s poor performance. The list of contenders includes former Obama administration appointees Alison Kiehl Friedman and Lindsey Davis Stover, and state Sen. Jennifer Wexton, who took a pass last cycle. The conditions may be even better for Democrats now that Trump is in office, but Comstock has proved her mettle.
10. Minnesota-08: Rep. Rick Nolan (D)
Rick Nolan is used to weathering tough elections, having twice bested his GOP foil Stewart Mills by less than 4,000 votes. But Trump is popular in northeastern Minnesota, and Republicans are excited about St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber, a police lieutenant and former professional hockey player whose family runs a popular sporting goods store in Duluth. Mills could still seek and self-fund a third matchup, but Stauber would likely be a more formidable candidate.
11. Colorado-06: Rep. Mike Coffman (R)
Coffman is well aware of the challenge he faces yet again in this district based in Denver’s eastern suburbs, having already set up a field operation. He’s sought to highlight his bipartisan tendencies, including briefly filing a discharge petition for a vote to extend protections for undocumented immigrants. The Democrats taking him on include former Army Ranger Jason Crow, who raised $300,000 in the second quarter and has been endorsed by former Sens. Ken Salazar and Mark Udall.
12. Texas-23: Rep. Will Hurd (R)
Hurd’s narrow 2016 victory in a rematch with former Rep. Pete Gallego marked the first time in eight years that this West Texas district didn’t flip. He’s cut an independent profile, and he recently lucked out when a federal court declined to order his district redrawn, but keeping the seat will still be challenging. Gallego is sitting it out, and Democrats have a top-tier replacement in Jay Hulings, a former assistant U.S. attorney with Castro brother connections who hails from the northern side of San Antonio, where Hurd thrashed Gallego last year.
13. Michigan-11: Open (R)
Two former Obama appointees were already vying for the nomination to take on Rep. Dave Trott when he announced his retirement Monday, including Haley Stevens, who had matched Trott in cash on hand by the end of July. The road to picking up this seat is a lot less rocky without the incumbent, though several Republicans were quickly named as potential replacements, including state Sen. Marty Knollenberg, whose father, former Rep. Joe Knollenberg, represented parts of this district until losing reelection in 2008.
14. Nebraska-02: Rep. Don Bacon (R)
Former Rep. Brad Ashford is back for a rematch with Bacon, who ousted him by a point as Trump carried the district by 2. A former brigadier general, Bacon has an impressive profile and had a respectable $340,000 war chest by the end of June. But the Paul Ryan-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund is concerned enough about Bacon that it chose his district as one of the first beneficiaries for its new field strategy, and it has been inundating voters with information about Bacon’s work to protect a local Air Force base.
15. New York-22: Rep. Claudia Tenney (R)
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer helped Democrats finally land Anthony Brindisi, a moderate state Assemblyman who boasts top marks from the National Rifle Association. Politically, Brindisi might be more similar than Tenney to the seat’s previous GOP incumbent, Richard Hanna. Brindisi said he’s met with Martin Babinec, a wealthy third-party spoiler who helped Tenney win the open seat last year, and would like his support—perhaps making a three-way race less likely. Still, this Upstate district is Trump territory; voters backed him here by 15 points.
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