Dems’ bid for House majority — close but no cigar?

Source: Jennifer Yachnin, E&E reporter • Posted: Sunday, October 23, 2016

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made a splash when he entered the GOP primary contest last year before unexpectedly surging to the head of a crowded field and claiming the party’s nomination.

Now as Trump struggles to keep pace in the race for the White House — weighed down by poor debate performances and accusations of sexual assault — Democrats are hoping that initial splash builds into a wave election that puts them back in control of the House for the first time since they lost the majority in 2010.

But with a 59-seat deficit in the House for Democrats — and fewer than 20 truly competitive GOP-held seats — most political prognosticators agree it’s unlikely Democrats will be able to flip the 30 seats the party needs to take back control of the chamber.

Instead, The Cook Political Report predicts Democrats could pick up between five and 20 seats — reducing the largest GOP majority since the 1920s but not enough to take charge.

The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics predicts an even narrower window, estimating Democrats could claim victory in 10 to 15 GOP-held districts.

Those races include numerous close-in suburban districts — like the suburban Washington, D.C.-based 10th District in Virginia held by freshman Rep. Barbara Comstock (R) and the suburban Denver 6th District in Colorado, held by perennial Democratic target Rep. Mike Coffman (R) — as well as possibilities like Rep. Darrell Issa’s San Diego-area 49th District seat in California.

Some races could become competitive at the eleventh hour, if Trump seems destined to lose badly to Hillary Clinton. And Democrats are still playing defense in a handful of districts.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the Center for Politics, told E&E News that poll watchers looking for an early gauge on the balance of power in the House should keep an eye on East Coast races like Pennsylvania’s open-seat contest in the 8th District, where former FBI agent Brian Fitzpatrick (R) is competing to succeed his brother, retiring Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R) (E&ENews PM, Oct. 13).

Potential sleeper races include the Keystone State’s open-seat race in the 16th District, as well as the open seat in Virginia’s 5th District.

“If either flips early in the night, it could be the start of a big night,” Kondik said.

Still, with numerous Republicans abandoning Trump or offering less-than-enthusiastic support for their party’s standard-bearer, low turnout could prompt surprises all over the House map.

“I think the biggest danger for either side right now is Republican apathy. It could really hurt GOP House members all across the map if their voters end up being disenchanted with Trump and not showing up in sufficient strength,” Kondik said.

Here’s a look at some of the races to watch:

Arizona’s 1st District

Democrats are fighting to hang onto the GOP-leaning northern Arizona seat that Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) is giving up to challenge Sen. John McCain (R) (E&E Daily, Sept. 8). The race features former state Sen. Tom O’Halleran, who served in the state Legislature as a Republican but is now a Democrat, and Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu (R). But due to Babeu’s many scandals — including allegations of misconduct at a Massachusetts boarding school he once led — the race could tip to Democrats. Mitt Romney won the district by 2 points in the 2012 presidential election.

California’s 10th District

Democrats see potential in this Central Valley district that twice voted narrowly for President Obama. Rep. Jeff Denham (R) faces a rematch with bee farmer Michael Eggman (D), whom he beat by 12 points in 2014. But Eggman touted an internal poll to The Modesto Bee this week that shows him leading 47 percent to 42 percent, with a 4.4-point margin of error. A big Hispanic turnout in the district, linked to antipathy over Trump’s anti-immigrant statements, could tip the race in the Democrats’ favor.

California’s 21st District

Republican Rep. David Valadao hopes to repeat his success with split-ticket voters this cycle. He won his first term in 2012 with 58 percent at the same time Obama took 55 percent in the Central Valley district. But this cycle he faces lawyer union representative Emilio Huerta (D), the son of noted farmworker advocate Dolores Huerta. Hispanic turnout could be key in this district as well.

California’s 25th District

Republican Rep. Steve Knight faces a challenge from attorney Bryan Caforio (D) in the northern San Fernando Valley-based seat. Caforio has made Knight’s response to the massive Aliso Canyon gas leak as well as Sempra Energy’s past support of the incumbent central themes of his campaign (E&E Daily, April 4). Romney won the district by 2 points in the 2012 election.

California’s 49th District

The Cook Political Report upgraded the Oceanside-based 49th District to its most competitive rating of “toss-up” earlier this month. Rep. Darrell Issa (R), who has held the seat since 2000, faces attorney Doug Applegate (D). Romney won the district by 6 points in 2012.

Colorado’s 6th District

Democrats have unsuccessfully targeted Republican Rep. Mike Coffman since redistricting made the district evenly split among Republicans, Democrats and independents. But state Sen. Morgan Carroll (D) thinks tying Coffman to Trump should help her where other Democrats have failed. Obama won the district by 5 points in 2012.

Florida’s 7th District

Rep. John Mica (R) has maintained his support for the GOP nominee, a fact that Democrats think will help to shift the suburban Orlando district that he has held since 1992. A poll commissioned by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee showed challenger Stephanie Murphy in a dead heat with Mica earlier this month (E&ENews PM, Oct. 12).

Florida’s 18th District

Democrats could lose ground in the Treasure Coast-based seat that Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) gave up to compete in the state’s Senate race. Republicans have inundated the district with ads criticizing Democrat Randy Perkins over his ownership of AshBritt Inc., an environmental cleanup company. He faces Afghanistan War double amputee Brian Mast (R) (Greenwire, Oct. 18).

Florida’s 26th District

Democrats made ousting freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R) from his Miami-area seat a top priority this cycle. But former Rep. Joe Garcia (D) defeated the party’s preferred challenger, potentially opening a path to re-election for Curbelo. Obama won the district in both of his presidential bids.

Illinois’ 10th District

Republican Rep. Bob Dold and former Rep. Brad Schneider (D) have traded this suburban Chicago seat back and forth since 2012 — and presidential years favor Schneider. Obama won the district by double digits in 2012, taking 58 percent of the vote.

Indiana’s 9th District

Republicans have a slight edge in the race to succeed Rep. Todd Young (R), who is competing in the state’s open Senate seat race. Businessman and Tennessee transplant Trey Hollingsworth (R) is facing Monroe County Commissioner Shelli Yoder (D). Romney won the south-central Indiana district by double digits in 2012.

Iowa’s 1st District

Freshman Rep. Rod Blum (R) staged an upset to win the Cedar Rapids-based 1st District seat last cycle, but Democrats expect Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman Monica Vernon (D) to do better next month. Obama won the district by double digits in both 2008 and 2012 (Greenwire, Oct. 12).

Michigan’s 1st District

Democrats have unsuccessfully sought to retake the northern Michigan-based seat since it turned red in the 2010 Republican wave election. But with Rep. Dan Benishek’s (R) retirement, the party sees a new opening. Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Jack Bergman (R) is competing with former state Democratic Party Chairman Lon Johnson. The district went 54 percent for Romney in 2012.

Maine’s 2nd District

Freshman Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R) snagged this longtime Democratic seat in an open-seat race in 2014, but former state Sen. Emily Cain (D) looks poised to claim it in a rematch. Poliquin beat Cain by 5 points in 2014 at the same time independent candidate Blaine Richardson took 11 percent of the vote. Republicans have targeted Cain with a barrage of ads for her support of a carbon tax (E&ENews PM, Oct. 18). Obama won the district in both of his presidential bids.

Nebraska’s 2nd District

Freshman Rep. Brad Ashford is among Democrats’ most endangered candidates after he forced out Republican Rep. Lee Terry in an upset win in 2014. Republicans are relying on retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Don Bacon (R) to retake the Omaha-based seat. Romney took 53 percent of the vote there in 2012 (E&ENews PM, Oct. 19).

Nevada’s 3rd District

Democrats see an opening in Rep. Joe Heck’s (R) decision to give up this southern Las Vegas-area seat to run for Senate. Republican Danny Tarkanian, son of legendary former University of Nevada, Las Vegas, basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, faces Henderson synagogue leader Jacky Rosen (D). Obama and Romney split the 2012 presidential vote there with 49 percent each.

New Jersey’s 5th District

Democrats have long viewed Rep. Scott Garrett (R) as too conservative for his northern New Jersey district but haven’t been able to keep him below 55 percent in his seven campaigns. But in the wake of a report last year that Garrett said he would not raise funds for the National Republican Congressional Committee because it had backed gay candidates, there could be an opening. Former Clinton White House speechwriter Josh Gottheimer (D) has also challenged Garrett on perfluorooctanoic acid contamination in the district. Republicans claimed narrow victories in both the 2012 and 2008 presidential contests.

New York’s 19th District

Former New York state Assembly Minority Leader John Faso (R) and law school professor Zephyr Teachout (D) are locked in a tight race to succeed retiring moderate Republican Rep. Chris Gibson. Voters in the district have proved willing to split their tickets. In 2012, Gibson won re-election with 53 percent at the same time Obama took 52 percent in the district. Despite a contentious race, drinking water contamination in Hoosick Falls has been a point of agreement between the candidates (Greenwire, Oct. 14).

New York’s 22nd District

Environmental groups have made the Utica-based seat a top priority this cycle, backing Broome County legislator Kim Myers (D) over state Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney (R) in her bid to succeed retiring Rep. Richard Hanna (R) (Greenwire, Oct. 19). In August, Hanna became the first Republican lawmaker to announce he would support Clinton in the presidential race. The district split in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential contests, when it gave each major party candidate 49 percent.

Pennsylvania’s 8th District

The suburban Philadelphia seat is exactly the kind of battleground where Democrats believe distaste for Trump’s candidacy could help the party make gains. Former FBI agent Brian Fitzpatrick (R) is competing against state Rep. Steve Santarsiero (D) to succeed his brother, retiring Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R). The district split at 49 percent in the 2012 presidential race.

Pennsylvania’s 16th District

Political prognosticators see the Lancaster and Reading-based seat as a potential sleeper race for Democrats. State Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R) should be favored over nonprofit consultant Christina Hartman (D) in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Joe Pitts (R), but a growing Latino population in Reading and Trump’s caustic comments on immigrants could help to tip the seat to Democrats. Romney won the district by 6 points in 2012.

Texas’ 23rd District

Republicans hoping to hold onto the exurban San Antonio-based seat launched new attacks against former Rep. Pete Gallego this week, saying the Democrat is “owned” by environmental activists (Greenwire, Oct. 18). Freshman Rep. Will Hurd (R) defeated Gallego in 2014. The district favored Romney by just 2 points in the 2012 cycle.

Virginia’s 5th District

Although state courts overhauled congressional lines in the Old Dominion this cycle, Republicans saw the benefit in this district, which stretches from the North Carolina border to Fauquier County. State Sen. Tom Garrett (R) is favored over Albemarle County Board Chairwoman Jane Dittmar (D) to succeed retiring Rep. Robert Hurt (R).

Virginia’s 10th District

Freshman Rep. Barbara Comstock (R) is also playing the role of bellwether this cycle, as she looks to fend off a challenge from Democrat LuAnn Bennett (D), a real estate developer who is divorced from former Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.). The suburban D.C. district narrowly went for Romney in 2012.