by Amber Phillips, Washington Post
Democrats had a dream election two years ago to win back the House majority, including winning races in tough Republican territory that even they weren’t expecting.
Republicans have been plotting to wrest back some of those seats, especially among the 30 Trump districts that Democrats now hold.
But the political environment is not what Republicans were hoping for going into this election: President Trump is polling poorly, threatening to take Senate Republicans down with him.
Republicans now hope that their candidates in these House races can run more local, less-Trump focused races and that casual Trump supporters who didn’t show up to vote in 2018 will vote this time around for the president.
While Republicans may have gotten a boost in confidence by winning a competitive, Democratic-held seat in a special election in California, for now it looks like the House majority isn’t in play. Republicans appear to have a chance to just pick up a handful of seats, rather than the more than 30 required to take back the majority.
As these rankings published Friday, nonpartisan election handicapper Cook Political Report moved 20 House races in favor of Democrats, adding that it is unheard of for them to move so many at once in favor of one party.
Also, nobody knows how an election largely cast by mail could shape voting patterns.
Here are the top 10 competitive races most likely to flip parties, updated from our rankings last summer.
10. Georgia 7th (Republican-held but will be open in 2020; no change in ratings): This seat outside Atlanta is ground zero for Democrats’ attempts to own suburban America. The once-conservative district is no longer majority-white. And even though it voted for Trump in 2016, a Democrat nearly won it in 2018 (Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams did win the district). After that close encounter, Rep. Rob Woodall (R) is retiring. His 2018 challenger, Carolyn Bourdeaux, is the Democratic nominee again. She’ll face Marine veteran Rich McCormick. Democrats are optimistic based on the fact there could be two competitive Senate races in the state and that Trump’s margins against former vice president Joe Biden are narrowing, making Georgia a potentially competitive state for Democrats at all levels this year.
9. Illinois 13th (Republican-held; new to list): Moderate Republican Rodney Davis is seeking a fourth term, but Democrats are targeting this farming district after Davis won his 2018 race by less than a percentage point. He’ll face a rematch against Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, who has been outraising Davis and is trying once again to make this race about health care and the fact Davis voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
8. New York 22nd (Democratic-held; previous ranking 4): Democrat Anthony Brindisi won this central New York seat by two points in 2018; Trump won the district by 15 points. Republicans think Brindisi’s win was a fluke. He was helped by the fact he was facing Republican Claudia Tenney, who can be polarizing among Republicans in the district. He’ll face Tenney again, which makes this race less competitive than we had it a year ago. But Trump could win this district again, and Brindisi now has to defend his vote to impeach him. Brindisi’s campaign just reported having $1.7 million more cash on hand to spend than Tenney’s, which could help him weather a storm.
7. Iowa 1st (Democratic-held; new to list): Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer is a top Republican target after she flipped this Trump district in 2018, in decisive fashion for a swing district. Republicans are excited about their challenger, state Rep. Ashley Hinson, who is best known as a former morning TV anchor. Finkenauer is a prolific fundraiser, but Hinson just outraised her. Despite Hinson’s momentum, there’s a competitive Senate race in Iowa, and the state is looking more and more competitive for Democrats in a way that could help Finkenauer win another tough race.
6. New York 24th (Republican-held; new to list): Republican John Katko is a moderate whom Democrats have tried, unsuccessfully, to unseat since he took this district away from them in 2014. He’ll have a rematch with Syracuse professor Dana Balter. She lost by five points two years ago, but Democrats say she’s running a smarter campaign, and the Democrats’ congressional campaign committee just released its internal polling showing her up by three points. (Though party polling tends to favor that party by a few points.) Katko outraised her and has more money in the bank overall. Still Trump lost this district by four points and could perform even worse, which would be just what Democrats need to finally unseat Katko.
5. Texas 24th (Republican-held but will be open; new to list): Once solid Republican country, this suburb in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is now a majority-nonwhite district. Democrats surprised even themselves with how well they performed in Texas suburbs in 2018, picking up a couple of seats. They’ll try to do it again here now that GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant is retiring. Democrats just nominated Candace Valenzuela, who has a compelling life story that includes being homeless as a child. But Valenzuela only won her runoff this week and now has to raise money and introduce herself to the rest of the district. By contrast, the Republicans’ candidate is former Irving mayor and Trump administration official Beth Van Duyne, who is more well known. But the continued fight to turn Texas more blue plays out in suburbs like this one, and Democrats are more focused than ever on it as a result.
4. South Carolina 1st (Democratic-held; previous ranking 3): This race is among a group of newly Democratic-held seats that Republicans feel they should be able to take back. Rep. Joe Cunningham became the first Democrat to win this Charleston district in nearly 30 years by running on local issues and taking advantage of a divisive GOP primary. He won’t have such luck this time around. Republicans easily nominated state Rep. Nancy Mace. But Cunningham has nearly $2 million more cash to spend than Mace, which he’ll need if he’s going to win in Trump territory again.
3. Texas 23rd (Republican-held but will be open; previous ranking 6): The Democrats’ top pickup opportunity comes in a seat they’ve long desired, this vast border district in Texas. They haven’t been able to knock out Rep. Will Hurd (R), but they won’t have to. Hurd surprised everyone in politics by announcing his retirement last year. The majority-Hispanic district voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and is one of just a few like it that Democrats haven’t picked up since. Democrat and Iraq War veteran Gina Ortiz Jones came close to beating Hurd last year. Now she’ll face a lesser-known, to-be-determined Republican. This week’s Republican runoff is too close to call between former Navy cryptologist Tony Gonzales (who has Trump’s endorsement) and Air Force veteran Raul Reyes. Ortiz Jones has $3 million to spend while both her opponents are comparatively broke.
2. Oklahoma 5th (Democratic-held, previous ranking 2): Rep. Kendra Horn’s (D) narrow win in this Oklahoma City and suburban district was the one of the biggest surprises for Democrats in 2018. Horn is the only Democrat in Oklahoma’s delegation and just the third woman Oklahoma has ever sent to Congress. This is another district that Trump won by double-digits, and Horn voted for his impeachment. But Horn is stockpiling money (she has $2.6 million to spend) while Republicans are locked in a runoff that won’t be over until late August between business executive Terry Neese and state Sen. Stephanie Bice.
1. New Mexico 2nd (Democratic-held, previous ranking 5): Rep. Xochitl Torres Small is Democrats’ most vulnerable member of Congress right now because she’s representing a conservative, mostly rural district that voted for Trump by 10 points. And she’ll face a rematch against former Republican state representative Yvette Herrell, who lost by just 3,722 votes in 2018. But like all the Democrats on this list, Torres Small is doing what she needs to do to have a chance to hang on. Her campaign just reported having an astonishing $3.9 million to spend for the rest of the race — raising lots of money was part of her winning 2018 playbook — while Herrell has much, much less.
Amber Phillips analyzes politics for The Washington Post’s nonpartisan politics blog and authors The 5-Minute Fix newsletter, a rundown of the day’s biggest political news. She was previously the one-woman D.C. bureau for the Las Vegas Sun and has reported from as far away as Taiwan. Follow Amber