The midterm environment just over eight months before Election Day continues to portend significant Democratic gains in the House.
Retirements, successful Democratic fourth-quarter fundraising, candidate announcements, and a complete overhaul of Pennsylvania’s congressional map have combined with favorable metrics such as generic-ballot and presidential-approval polling, as well as the historical trend of midterm underperformance by the president’s party.
It’s all reflected in Hotline‘s second ranking of the cycle’s most vulnerable seats. This is a snapshot of the districts most likely to flip, based on an analysis of fundraising, candidate quality, demographics, and interviews with strategists from both parties.
Nine of the top 11 seats on the list are open. Retirements and redistricting have given Democrats some near-certain pickups. The party added a safe seat in the Philly suburbs, and GOP recruitment flops have made two seats in South Florida and South Jersey ripe for a takeover.
However, two prime Democratic targets in Southern California have slid down our list because of credible fears that the massive Democratic field will splinter the top-two primary vote and box the party out of the general election.
Other races from our September rankings have been crowded out of the top 15 but remain top targets. There will undoubtedly be plenty more shake-ups in the months ahead as both parties battle for House control.
1. Pennsylvania-05: Open (R)
Redistricting handed Democrats a guaranteed pickup by consolidating retiring Rep. Pat Meehan’s seat into Delaware County. The most competitive race here will be the Democratic primary. Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Rich Lazer could be a top contender and 2016 nominee Mary Ellen Balchunis is making a third run for the seat.
2. Florida-27: Open (R)
When Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement in April, it seemed improbable that any seat would ever displace it from being the most vulnerable on the map. But while it got bumped out of the top spot, it isn’t any less likely to change hands, and the most interesting race to watch may be the Aug. 28 primary. While Republicans have had trouble recruiting here, Democrats had five candidates with at least $325,000 on hand by the end of the year.
3. New Jersey-02: Open (R)
National Republicans have struggled to land a top contender here since Rep. Frank LoBiondo announced his retirement in November. For years Democrats have coveted this South Jersey seat, which Barack Obama won by 8 points in 2012, and secured a sought-after recruit in state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, a conservative Democrat with a top rating from the National Rifle Association. Three top GOP recruits—former Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, state Sen. Chris Brown, and former state Assemblyman Vince Polistina—all declined bids.
4. Minnesota-01: Open (D)
Rep. Tim Walz nearly lost this seat in 2016, as Trump won it by 15 points four years after Obama narrowly carried it. With Walz running for governor, Democrats will have a difficult time holding it again. The leading Democratic fundraisers are Iraq War veteran Dan Feehan and attorney Joe Sullivan, while 2016 Republican nominee Jim Hagedorn released an internal poll last week showing him with twice as much support in the Aug. 14 primary as state Sen. Carla Nelson.
5. Pennsylvania-06: Rep. Ryan Costello (R)
Costello, a moderate who bucks the party on climate change and health care, knows how to run a tough race, but he was endangered before redistricting stripped away about half of his constituency. Democrats now have their top recruit in Chrissy Houlahan, an Air Force veteran who started 2018 with nearly $1 million in the bank, in a friendlier district that Hillary Clinton would have won by 10 points. Democratic prospects would look even rosier should Costello choose to retire or jump to a neighboring district.
6. Arizona-02: Open (R)
This seat, which Clinton carried by 5 points and Mitt Romney won by 2, got competitive when former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick announced in July she was running for the Democratic nomination. It officially flew up the vulnerability charts in January when Rep. Martha McSally confirmed she was running for the Senate. Kirkpatrick raised $750,000 by the end of the year, but Republicans have a well-funded contender in Lea Marquez Peterson, the president of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
7. Virginia-10: Rep. Barbara Comstock (R)
Comstock could do everything right and still lose. The second-term incumbent from a Northern Virginia district that Clinton won by 10 points was handed a gift in early February as cameras rolled while she confronted Trump over his stated desire to shut down the government. She also raised $2 million through the end of the year. But four Democratic opponents, including state Sen. Jennifer Wexton and former State Department official Alison Kiehl Friedman, already had more than $400,000 apiece by the end of 2017.
8. Washington-08: Open (R)
The presence of state Sen. Dino Rossi, who had more than $1 million on hand by the end of the year, gives Republicans a chance to hold this open seat. But the district supported both Clinton and Obama in the past two elections, and with Rep. Dave Reichert retiring, this is the Democrats’ golden opportunity to finally pick it up. They have three candidates who had raised $150,000 by the end of the year and minimal concerns with the Aug. 7 top-two primary.
9. California-39: Open (R)
It didn’t take long for Democrats to realize that Ed Royce’s retirement from this 9-point Clinton district was a double-edged sword. The large field of Democrats includes 2012 nominee Jay Chen, and Gil Cisneros and Andy Thorburn, who entered 2018 with $1 million and $2 million in the bank, respectively. Royce’s late retirement gave Democrats a fundraising head start, but if they don’t narrow down the field, there is a serious risk of a splintered vote resulting in two Republicans advancing from the all-party primary.
10. California-49: Open (R)
Democrats face a similar nightmare scenario in Rep. Darrell Issa’s district, which is just one notch lower on the list because Clinton had a slightly smaller winning margin here and recent polling has indicated a possible shutout. Sara Jacobs, the granddaughter of the Qualcomm cofounder, and Paul Kerr are self-funding their bids. Meanwhile, Doug Applegate is back for a 2016 rematch, and progressives have been rallying around Mike Levin, an environmental attorney. All had at least $250,000 to spend heading into 2018.
11. Minnesota-08: Open (D)
This was a golden pickup opportunity for Republicans before Rick Nolan’s unexpected retirement. The Iron Range district, which Trump won by 16 points, could be hard territory for Democrats to find a recruit who can match Nolan’s authenticity—he taps maple syrup every spring. The GOP is excited about Pete Stauber, a former minor-league hockey player who with his five brothers owns a sporting-goods store in Duluth. But he needs to improve his fundraising and hope perennial candidate Stewart Mills sits out the primary.
12. Florida-26: Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R)
Curbelo is unlikely to benefit from a second straight disastrous primary for Democrats, who in 2016 nominated an ethics-plagued former congressman whom Curbelo unseated two years earlier. The leading contender is Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who ran competitively but lost an expensive state Senate race last cycle in an overlapping district. This one will be pricey, too, against one of the best-funded Republican incumbents, and Mucarsel-Powell had $316,000 on hand at the end of the year to Curbelo’s $1.7 million.
13. Colorado-06: Rep. Mike Coffman (R)
Democrats have targeted Coffman since his 2008 election, but they put up a somewhat weak showing last cycle when state Sen. Morgan Carroll lost by 8 points as Clinton won the district by 9. Coffman has immense political savvy and continues to burnish his independent profile by introducing proposals to help “Dreamers” and calling for the resignation of a scandal-plagued Veterans’ Affairs chief. But Democrats landed former Army Ranger Jason Crow to match Coffman’s Marine credentials, and at least one recent poll showed Crow up 5 points.
14. Minnesota-02: Rep. Jason Lewis (R)
The Democrats’ dreams of picking up this seat in the Twin Cities’ southern suburbs when it came open in 2016 were dashed thanks in part to a third-party candidate who took nearly 8 percent of the vote. In a more standard two-candidate race and with a potentially more favorable environment, the party sees a top opportunity here with businesswoman Angie Craig running again and raising $550,000 in the fourth quarter. Lewis had $718,000 on hand at the end of 2017.
15. New Jersey-11: Open (R)
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s retirement deprives Republicans of a last name that’s been in New Jersey politics since the late 18th century, the clout of an Appropriations chairman, and a $1.2 million war chest. Democrats have a top recruit in Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy helicopter pilot who started 2018 with more than $800,000 in the bank. A couple of top Republican contenders decided against a bid, but state Assemblyman Jay Webber, who already represents a chunk of the district, is running, as is Antony Ghee, an investment banker with strong local support.
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