House Races to Watch

While much of the coverage in election season goes to the Presidential race, followed by the Senatorial and Gubernatorial (governor) races, the House of Representatives elections are arguably just as important. While you are watching coverage of the election, be on the lookout for these six House races to get a sense of what is going on in American politics.

1.) Georgia 6th District: Rep. Lucy McBath (D) against Karen Handel (R)

Handel (left) will face-off with McBath (right) once again for a seat representing the northern suburbs of Atlanta.

The Georgia 6th has seen headlines recently, notably the attention of a 2017 special election in the wake Tom Price’s appointment to head up Health and Human Services. This special election, painted as the first referendum on the Donald Trump Presidency, saw Handel defeat media darling Jon Ossoff (now a Senate candidate in Georgia) after Democrats poured millions into the race. Handel’s victory was short-lived however, as she was subsequently defeated by a new Democratic challenger, McBath, in the 2018 midterms.

Handel returns to try and reclaim this seat, going up against McBath once again. The back-and-forth of this suburban district is indicative of Trump’s congressional struggles as a whole, losing support amongst suburban voters. A GOP internal poll in early August saw McBath with a slim lead over Handel, 48% to 46%.

This race is one to watch as it very well could reflect the state of Georgia as a whole. A traditionally GOP state, Joe Biden has lead several Georgia statewide polls, and if he’s able to capitalize on anti-Trump sentiment in suburban areas like Cobb County, he will have a shot at flipping the state overall. If Handel pulls through, however, it would likely be a sign that Joe Biden did not receive the turnout and support he’d need to flip the state of Georgia.

Prediction: McBath wins a fairly narrow re-election bid, defeating Handel by about 4% of the vote.

2.) Ohio 1st District: Rep. Steve Chabot (R) against Kate Schroeder (D)

Chabot is a 12-term veteran of the House of Representative, stepping into the seat the same year I was born, 1995. Chabot, the Ranking Member of the House Small Business Committee, faces off against Kate Schroeder, a public health professional at the Clinton Health Access Initiative (part of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Foundation).

The polling in this district has shown both candidates with small leads at various points. Chabot led a poll from late July by 2%, while a Democratic internal poll in early August had Schroeder leading by 2%. Another poll had Schroeder’s lead up to 4%, though with questionable accuracy. The Cook Political Report, which rates, analyzes, and provides useful context to House races, has labelled this one as a “Toss-Up”, which would seem to match the polling.

Schroeder has outraised Chabot in the race for this Cincinnati suburban district, but the incumbency advantage means Chabot won’t be an easy beat. Democrats have previously gotten their hopes up in the Ohio 1st recently, however, with the candidacy of Aftab Pureval in 2018. Pureval ended up losing to Chabot by 4%. If Democrats are able to flip this seat, much like the Georgia 6th, it would further the clear decline of the GOP in the suburbs, as Trump originally won the 2016 election in the OH-1st, defeating Hillary Clinton by 7% there. Chabot also figures to be one of the highest profile Republican incumbents that the Democrats would have a chance to defeat.

Prediction: Chabot wins in a very narrow win that won’t see a concession on Election Night. Chabot by ~1%.

3.) Oklahoma 5th District: Rep. Kendra Horn (D) against Terry Neese (R)

One of the seats Democrats are most vulnerable to lose is the OK-5th. Horn won in a bit of a surprise in 2018, flipping a historically red seat. Despite being a largely urban district (87% urban), Oklahoma City has consistently been one of the most conservative cities in the nation.

Neese, a local businesswoman, won the primary vote against State Senator Stephanie Bice despite being outspent by Bice. While Bice portrayed herself as a more moderate candidate, Neese was quite outspoken in her support of Donald Trump, who still holds a high approval rating within his party.

With no statewide elections (Senate or Gubernatorial), this will likely be the highest profile race in the state of Oklahoma (other than the Presidential election of course). Given the trend of midterm elections going against the party in the White House (likely the Democrats), the GOP needs to begin chipping away at the Democrats lead in the House with seats like this. If the GOP is able to prevent the Democrats from substantially adding to their lead, they’d be well positioned to retake the House in either 2022 or 2024, depending on the success of a hypothetical Biden administration.

Prediction: Neese wins a narrow upset bid, knocking off Horn by 3% in OKC.

4.) Illinois 13th District: Rep. Rodney Davis (R) against Betsy Dirksen Londrigan (D)

While this is also a highly competitive race (Cook rates it as a toss-up), this will be quite an interesting one to watch specifically for the effect that mail-in voting could play in this House race. The Illinois 13th District covers a good stretch of the heartland of Illinois, from Champaign in the northeast, all the way out to the Illinois-Missouri border.

Davis has held this seat for several years, but was nearly defeated by Dirksen Londrigan in 2018, winning by a very narrow 1% margin, a little of 2,000 votes. While Dirksen Londrigan figures to make it a competitive race once again, her campaign faces a mobilization issue given the hybrid learning model of the University of Illinois, in Champaign, IL. College aged voters across the nation lean Democratic, and their turnout was a big boost to Dirksen Londrigan’s efforts in 2018.

The intriguing impact of this one is that between increased remote learning at the University and Dirksen Londrigan’s need for those voters to turn out to vote, it will be fascinating to see if her campaign can find a way to drive turnout from a more scattered population. If she cannot get that vote to turn out, her chances of defeating Davis don’t figure to be any better than in 2018. She’ll be heavily reliant on the accessibility and ease of mail-in voting.

Prediction: While I’m tempted to go Davis here, Illinois has been a great spot for Democrats as of lately, with Peter Roskam and Randy Hultgren being knocked out of seats in 2018. Given Pritzker’s authoritarian handle on the state, he’ll ensure that Democrats will be able to navigate the mail-in process, leading to a very narrow win for Dirksen Londrigan.

5.) California 25th District: Rep. Mike Garcia (R) against Christy Smith (D)

Garcia being sworn in after flipping the CA-25th, a traditionally blue district.

A district that will see this seat up for grabs twice in one year, Garcia defeated Smith in a special election for this seat in May. After Congresswoman Katie Hill resigned the seat following a personal scandal only 10 months into her term.

While Garcia did manage to defeat Smith by a sizeable margin (10%) in the May special election, the low turnout leaves this one up for grabs in November, with the most recent polling leaning towards Smith by small margins. Presidential election cycles always see heightened turnout, and Trump’s poor approval rating, especially in California, could see Garcia’s term very short lived.

For the Republicans, Garcia represents an optimistic look to the future. A Latino fighter pilot who has advocated for a more restrained foreign policy and stricter border security, Garcia has been described as a “dream candidate” for Republicans, who have continually lagged behind Democrats with minority voters. For the GOP, their traditional demographic has been changing since Trump became President. They have lost ground with white, college-educated voters, and instead made up for that with more white working class and Hispanic working class voters. Their ability to win majorities in the future will likely be determined by how well they can compete in heavier Hispanic districts like this one.

Prediction: Garcia wins re-election on the narrowest margin of the entire group here.

6.) Texas 21st District: Rep. Chip Roy (R) against Wendy Davis (D)

Democrats are bullish about their chances of turning Texas blue, with the Biden campaign even authorizing a major ad buy in the Lone Star State a month ago. While historically viewed as the anchor of the Republican Party, Texas has seen a shifting demographic change (younger people and minorities moving to the state in massive numbers) that suggest the Democrats have a chance to flip it. Without Texas, the GOP path to an electoral college victory is practically non-existent.

With the major push from the Democratic Party, down-ballot candidates like Davis figure to benefit heavily from the effort and attention. With Texas seeing a rise in COVID cases in June and July, approval for GOP Governor Greg Abbott took a dive, in addition to Trump’s already poor approval rating on handling the pandemic (52% in TX disapprove in Aug).

Additionally, polling to this race specifically show a tight one. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball (another race monitoring resource) moved this one from “Leans Republican” to “toss-up” in late July, as did the Cook Political Report. Davis has done well with her own fundraising, capitalizing on her public speaking career, and her non-profit Deeds Not Words, which helps encourage women to pursue political ambitions. While the specifics of this race aren’t particularly intriguing, both Roy and Davis will likely be tied directly to the result of the state’s Presidential result.

Prediction: While Biden has polled higher in Texas recently (though usually only 1-3% higher than Trump), this would be one spot where I’d expect Trump to outperform polling, and slide the result to his end of the margin of error, a narrow win. Thus, I’d expect the results of this race to mirror the Presidential result, thus a prediction for a narrow Chip Roy re-election.

Overall House Race Predictions: Cook Political Report lists a total of 26 races as toss-ups. They list 15 of those seats as seats in Democratic leaning districts, while 11 fall in Republican leaning districts. However, the Democrats will likely win a handful of open seats, such as the North Carolina 2nd and 6th, along with the Texas 23rd, where the Republican incumbents retired, rather than face an uphill battle for re-election in 2020. What is significant, is that the Republicans are defending more open seats than Democrats. Ultimately, between that, the nature of many of these districts, and Trump’s poor outlook for a 2020 win, it seems likely that Democrats will add to their lead in the House of Representatives, though a net result in single digits seems more likely than a double digit change as there are a handful of races that Republicans could hold and flip for themselves, negating some of the other seats they’ll lose.

While the Democrats do not figure to lose the House, the bigger concern for them will be taking back the Senate and, most importantly, the White House. Should they do these things (those predictions will come over the next two weeks), then they’d be taking office in 2021 with the trifecta, House, Senate, and White House all under their control, a clear mandate to reverse many policies of the Trump administration, if they can bring together their two warring factions of progressives and corporate Democrats.

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