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Looking Ahead to the Fall: GOP House Majority Possible?

As Americans around the country focus on attempting to enjoy a Memorial Day Weekend with numerous restrictions and continual fear about future outbreaks, the possibility of a vaccine at the beginning of 2021 and how many will continue to stay afloat financially in an economy ravaged by unemployment and entire industries forced to shutdown. In the midst of the pandemic, politicians have not forgotten to strategize and plan for their reelection strategies this fall, in a year where the presidential race threatens to overshadow the events in the House and Senate. While much could be said regarding the presidential race, as Minority Leader McCarthy and the Republican leadership look to wrest control from Speaker Pelosi here is a breakdown of several key races that will be watched on November 3rd.

To begin with a reminder of the current situation, Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats hold 233 seats, while the Republicans have 197, meaning just 21 seats would need to be flipped in order for Leader McCarthy and his party to achieve a majority. The success of the 2018 midterm elections for the Democrats was built from arguably two key factors. First, the attempts to recruit several moderate Democratic House candidates to run in districts that occupied portions of cities or suburban areas in the proximity paid off extremely well, allowing the party to flip multiple seats in places like Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, and Charleston, SC. Second, the cloud of Russian collusion was still hanging over the Trump presidency, which complicated the attempts of GOP to maintain control of the House. Two years later, the situation has dramatically changed. COVID-19 has altered the rules of campaigning, creating new challenges for both parties to engage voters and sell policies that appeal to the millions of Americans that have filed for unemployment, lost their jobs, and watched their businesses collapse. With this new context, here is a look at several key races that Minority Leader McCarthy and the GOP should be examining to potentially gain.

  1. California 25th District
    • Rep. Mike Garcia recently flipped the seat after the resignation of former Rep. Katie Hill, beating his Dem opponent Christy Smith, by roughly 10 points. However, he has to maintain his hold on the seat in a district that has historically been Republican before 2018, but the impact of mail-in voting on turnout in November is uncertain, along with the amount of importance that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) allocates to the race in terms of financial support. For Rep. Garcia, the special election was encouraging because it was the first time a Republican has flipped a Democratic held seat since 1998.
  2. California 39th District
    • Democratic incumbent, Rep. Gil Cisneros faces a difficult challenge from GOP opponent, Young Kim, a former state assemblywoman. Having already gone through the “jungle primary” that California employs, Kim led by roughly 2 percentage points setting up a close rematch in November. Unfortunately for her, in the 2018 round, she lost to Cisneros by just over a percent, ironically due to mail-in ballots arriving later. As previously mentioned, especially in California and potentially several other states, election security and voting methods will have a significant impact on several key races.
  3. Georgia 6th District
    • In a district that supported President Trump by a thin margin in 2016 and occupies the northern suburbs of Atlanta, the GOP has an opportunity to flip Rep. Lucy McBath’s seat with two candidates as possibilities. Former Rep. Karen Handel is running for the seat, along with Joe Profit, a businessman and former NFL player. The Republican primary is scheduled for June 9th, with the winner possessing a fairly decent chance to take back the seat, but once again it will depend on the amount of funding McBath does receive from the DCCC, compounded with the amount of turnout from swing voters in this suburban district.
  4. Iowa 1st District
    • Rep. Abby Finkenauer won a close race by just barely 1 percentage point in a district that includes Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, and Dubuque, with a significant urban population. She faces a challenge from either Ashley Hinson, a state rep. or Thomas Hansen, a businessman. If Hinson manages to win the primary next week, she is best in position to challenge Rep. Finkenauer who does not possess a record in the House thus far worth any particular merit.
  5. Maine 2nd District
    • Rep. Jared Golden carefully attempted to navigate the impeachment articles presented by House Democrats a few months ago, deciding to vote in favor of Article 1, the abuse of power charge, but not Article 2, the obstruction of Congress charge. Coming from a district in Maine that occupies most of the state and has a significantly rural population, Golden was certainly wary of maintaining support from constituents that might have been at least mildly supportive of President Trump. Regardless, three GOP opponents, Adrienne Bennett, press secretary to Gov. Paul LePage, Eric Brakey, a state senator, and Dale Crafts, a former state rep., are competing for the nomination to be decided on July 14th. Of the three, Eric Brakey’s previous run for Senate in 2018 and experience might prove to be beneficial in a potential match up with Golden, but that remains to be seen as the primary results are awaited.
  6. Minnesota 7th District
    • Rep. Collin Peterson was the only Democrat (with the exception of Rep. Van Drew who switched parties) that decided to vote against both articles of impeachment in December. The 7th district occupies a significant portion of Western Minnesota, with a majority rural population that supported President Trump in 2016 by nearly 30 points. Even with his support for the president, Peterson faces a strong challenge from the GOP if Michelle Fischbach, former Lt. Gov. and former President of the Minnesota Senate, is nominated on August 11th. There are several other candidates in the GOP primary of interest, but Fischbach is the only one that represents a significant challenge to Peterson’s hold on the district.
  7. New Jersey 3rd District
    • Rep. Andy Kim succeeded in flipping the seat in 2018 winning by just barely 1 percentage point over Tom MacArthur, the GOP incumbent. Representing a district that contains Burlington and Ocean County with a vast majority of upper middle class wealthy urban voters, Kim does have a decent chance of keeping the seat, but the statewide politics of Gov. Phil Murphy during the pandemic have the potential to push swing voters towards candidates that are less inclined to support continual restrictions on key sectors of the local economy. Kate Gibbs, former Burlington County Freeholder Director, and David Richter, former CEO of Hill International will compete for the nomination on July 7th, both with a competitive chance to flip the seat.
  8. New Mexico 2nd District
    • Rep. Xochitl Torres Small had a similar situation in 2018, successfully flipping the seat by almost 2 points, in a district that occupies the southern half of New Mexico with Las Cruces, Roswell, and Albuquerque. The district did support President Trump by roughly 10 points in 2016, unclear what the results will be in November, but as indicated before, state government politics during the pandemic will most likely impact the district race as well. Rep. Small is faced by three challengers, Claire Chase, an oil company executive, Yvette Herrell, a former state rep., and Chris Mathys, a businessman and former councilman, with the nomination to be decided on June 2nd.
  9. Oklahoma 5th District
    • In 2018, Rep. Kendra Horn scored a significant upset, winning by just over 1 point, but faces a difficult reelection campaign with a crowded field of GOP candidates. The primary is on June 30th and the GOP certainly has a decent chance of taking back the seat, but with a wide field and the lack of a clear front runner, it is still quite possible Rep. Horn could keep the seat. Janet Barressi, former Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction, Terry Neese, entrepreneur and nominee for Lt. Gov. in 1990, and Stephanie Bice, an Oklahoma state senator, are the foremost options for the nomination in a district that voted for President Trump by over 10 points in 2016.
  10. Pennsylvania 17th District
    • Rep. Conor Lamb won reelection in 2018 by almost 13 points in a district that supported President Trump by nearly 11 points in 2016. Facing a strong challenger in GOP candidate, Sean Parnell, a U.S. Army veteran, Lamb will certainly need a renewed focus from the DCCC and grassroots support in a district that includes Beaver County and the northwestern Pittsburgh suburbs, which have been severely impacted by COVID-19, but more importantly the economic shutdowns implemented by Gov. Tom Wolf. Parnell will need a strong donor support network and really sell his message of economic and individual freedom in order for him to compete.
  11. South Carolina 1st District
    • Rep. Joe Cunningham additionally won a close contest in 2018, in a district that includes Charleston and the Atlantic Coast of the state. Nancy Mace, a state rep. and former Senate candidate presents a strong challenge to Cunningham, a moderate Democrat that still maintained voting for both articles of impeachment in a district that supported President Trump by 13 points or so in 2016. Mace still has to survive the GOP primary on June 9th before turning her attention to challenging Cunningham.

There are additional districts that could be considered competitive, but these 11 represent clear and realistic that GOP candidates have to take back the lost seats of 2018. Even with those regained seats they would still need 13 seats to get a majority in the next cycle. The battle over finances in the campaign committees on both sides along with the mail-in voting practices will be very important factors to watch for as November approaches.

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