CNN Key Races: Path to House majority comes into focus as a dozen races move toward Democrats
Posted July 29, 2018 7:59 a.m. EDT
With 100 days until Election Day, Democrats are poised to make substantial gains in the House, bolstered by an energized electorate and some significant headwinds facing Republicans.
Democrats hold a clear advantage when it comes to enthusiasm about voting this fall. Roughly two-thirds of Democratic voters say they have a high level of interest in the elections, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. That compares with 49% of Republicans who say they have a high level of interest.
Democratic engagement is also showing up in fundraising, with more than 70 Democratic challengers outraising Republican opponents in the 95 House races CNN rates as competitive this cycle.
President Donald Trump looks to be a drag for Republicans, with an approval rating stuck between the high 30s and mid 40s depending on the survey. His struggles with independents in particular should be a warning sign for the GOP given how critical that group has been in previous midterm elections.
Nearly six in 10 independents disapprove of the President's job performance in the NBC/WSJ survey compared with 36% who approve. Additionally, independents prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress by a 48% to 26% margin.
For comparison, independents backed Republicans in 2014 by a 54% to 42% while picking up 13 House seats. In 2010, independents supported Republicans by 19 points -- 56% to 37% -- on their way to gaining 63 House seats. Democrats net 30 House seats in 2006 when independents swung in their favor by 18 points -- 57% to 39%.
Another number to keep an eye on is the gender gap. More than six in 10 women disapprove of the President's job performance in a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. Half of men approve. That's an astounding 43-point spread.
Nearly six in 10 suburban women (57%) strongly disapprove of the President's job performance. By a 59% to 31% margin they are more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate this fall. Those are eye-popping numbers given how many House battlegrounds are based in the suburbs.
With all this in mind, CNN is moving 12 seats in the direction of the Democrats, including seven now rated as Toss-Ups, the most competitive designation. Democrats need to gain 23 seats in order to win control of the House.
There are currently 11 seats held or vacated by Republicans that CNN rates as Lean Democratic or better, which would get the party almost halfway to their magic number. Of the 27 seats currently rated as Toss-Ups, 25 belong to Republicans -- and Hillary Clinton won 11 of them in 2016.
Republicans have strong incumbents running in several of those districts, such as Rep. Mike Coffman in Colorado, Rep. Carlos Curbelo in Florida and Rep. Will Hurd in Texas, with unique personal brands and a proven ability of surviving countervailing political winds.
The House majority may be within reach for Democrats, but it's still far from a sure thing.
To the ratings:
IA-03: Two-term GOP Rep. David Young is running against Democrat Cindy Axne in Iowa's 3rd District, home to Des Moines and Council Bluffs. Axne, a small business owner and former state government official, outraised Young in the second quarter of 2018 by more than $110,000, though Young still leads in cash on hand with $1.4 million to Axne's $465,000. Barack Obama won this district with 52% of the vote in 2008 and 51% in 2012. Trump carried it with 48% in 2016. The district is evenly split among Democrats and Republicans -- roughly 169,000 registered voters for each -- with another 161,000 not affiliated with a political party. Another factor that could add the the challenge here: tariffs on pork and soybeans amid the fallout from the Trump administration's trade dispute with China and other countries. Race moves from Lean Republican to Toss-Up
FL-13: Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist looks to be coasting to re-election in the St. Petersburg-based 13th District. The one-time GOP governor has more than $2.1 million in the bank at last check, far outpacing potential Republican challengers Brad Sostack ($100,000) and George Buck ($5,700). In a different environment this race would be a top Republican target, with Crist winning by only four points in 2016. The name of the game for the GOP this year is defending the seats they currently hold. Race moves from Likely Democratic to Solid Democratic
ME-02: Bruce Poliquin is the lone House Republican from New England and a top Democratic target this cycle. The two-term congressman is running against state Rep. Jared Golden, a Marine Corps veteran, in this rural, blue-collar district that includes Lewiston and Bangor. The district swung heavily in Trump's favor in 2016, backing him 51% to 41%, after going 53% to 44% for Obama four years earlier. Democrats plan to make Poliquin's votes in favor of the GOP tax plan and to repeal the Affordable Care Act central issues in the campaign. The one area where Poliquin has an overwhelming advantage is money. He's sitting on more than $2.6 million compared with $356,000 for Golden -- though the Democrat ran even in the money race last quarter. Race moves from Lean Republican to Toss-Up
OH-12: The August special election in Ohio's 12th District will give both parties one last opportunity to gauge where they are ahead of the November midterms. Democratic overperformance has been the story of House special election contests since Trump's election, although so far the party only has one win to show for it -- Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania. As with that contest in March, millions have been spent in this Ohio race on TV by the campaigns and outside groups. For Democrats, a win by Danny O'Connor would further embolden the party as it strives to retake the House. A victory by Troy Balderson would have Republicans breathing a sigh of relief. Still, a margin closer than Trump's 11-point spread here in 2016 would send yet another signal to Republicans running in more competitive districts this cycle that they are in danger. Republicans have controlled this suburban Columbus district for more than three decades, so the race appears to be Balderson's to lose. But a low turnout election in the summer with voters more focused on family vacations and back-to-school shopping could work in favor of the party with the enthusiasm edge this cycle. Race moves from Lean Republican to Toss-Up
PA-16: GOP Rep. Mike Kelly's district became more competitive after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court re-drew the map earlier this year and reunified Erie County. The four-term lawmaker is still favored to win re-election, though he faces a real challenge from Marine Corps veteran Ron DiNicola. Kelly holds a commanding cash advantage entering July, with $1.7 million to DiNicola's $342,000. DiNicola could get a boost from the DCCC, which added him to the committee's Red to Blue program, making him eligible for fundraising and organizational support from the committee. Race moves from Solid Republican to Likely Republican
PA-17: The country's only battle of incumbents this cycle appears to be tipping toward Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb over three-term GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus. A recent Monmouth University poll gave Lamb a 51% to 39% lead over Rothfus in the 17th District, which under the new congressional map shifted from a district that went for Trump by nearly 21 points to one he would have carried by less than three points. Lamb bested Rothfus in second quarter fundraising by roughly $200,000 and holds a slight advantage in cash on hand. Lamb is seen more favorably within the district than Rothfus, and Trump's disapproval sits at 51% -- including 43% of voters in the district who say the strongly disapprove. Race moves from Toss-Up to Lean Democratic
SC-01: This race remains a longshot for Democrats, but the party's prospects got a slight boost when state Rep. Katie Arrington defeated Rep. Mark Sanford in the GOP primary. During the primary, Arrington made Sanford's criticism of the President a key issue, declaring the GOP is "the party of President Donald J. Trump." Trump carried the district with 54% in 2016 -- down from Mitt Romney's 58% share in 2012 -- and his lowest mark among the six GOP districts in the state. The President's policies, particularly when it comes to tariffs and offshore drilling, could pose a challenge for a Republican candidate in the Lowcountry. After initially voicing support for the President's plan to open nearly all US coastal areas to drilling, Arrington now says she opposes it off the coast of South Carolina. Arrington's general election opponent is Democrat Joe Cunningham, a construction lawyer and yoga studio owner. He started the month with a significant cash on hand advantage -- $318,000 to $61,000. Race moves from Solid Republican to Likely Republican
TX-07: GOP Rep. John Culberson is seeking a 10th term in this Houston-area district that Clinton carried by a single point in 2016. Romney won here by 21 points -- 60% to 39% -- four years earlier. This traditionally Republican district has seen dramatic demographic shifts, with whites now making up about 45% of the population, Hispanics 31%, blacks 12% and Asian Americans 10%. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher is one of at least 20 Democratic challengers who raised more than $1 million in the second quarter, more than doubling Culberson's haul. The GOP incumbent still holds a $1.2 million to $797,000 cash on hand advantage. Race moves from Lean Republican to Toss-Up
VA-02: It's safe to say Scott Taylor's second campaign will be harder than his first, when he defeated a poorly-financed Democratic opponent by 22 points. This year he's running against Elaine Luria, a retired Naval officer and small business owner. She outraised Taylor $945,000 to $740,000 in the second quarter and trails by less than $200,000 in cash on hand. Democrat Ralph Northam won this district 51% to 47% against Republican Ed Gillespie in the state's 2017 gubernatorial contest. Trump carried it in 2016, but with 48% of the vote. Complicating Taylor's bid is the potential for down-ballot drag from Corey Stewart's position atop the GOP ticket in Virginia this fall. Taylor, a former Navy SEAL, has been critical of Stewart, saying he has "zero shot" at defeating Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine based on the campaign he's running. If some GOP voters stay home because they object to Stewart's hardline politics, Taylor's chances could take a hit. Race moves from Lean Republican to Toss-Up
VA-07: GOP Rep. Dave Brat's district that stretches from the Richmond area to the exurbs outside Washington will serve as a barometer of how Republicans are faring with suburban voters in November. The 2016 redistricting in Virginia made this district more competitive, creating an additional challenge for Brat, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. In 2016, Trump carried the 7th District by six points -- 50% to 44%. Northam lost the district by less than four points in 2017. Brat will face Democrat Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA operations officer. She outraised Brat by more than $140,000 in the second quarter, though he has nearly double the cash on hand -- $917,000 to $465,000. Like in the 2nd District, Stewart could also be a factor in this race. Race moves from Lean Republican to Toss-Up
WV-03: Democrat Richard Ojeda is trying to flip a district that Trump carried by nearly 50 points by running on a populist platform and personal appeal. A Monmouth University poll last month showed a close race between Ojeda at 43% and Republican nominee Carol Miller at 41%. Ojeda also outraised Miller in the second quarter, $351,000 to $291,000. While the district has backed Republicans at the presidential level in recent cycles, it was represented by former Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall until 2015 and favored Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in his 2012 Senate race. Race moves from Likely Republican to Toss-Up
WI-03: This western Wisconsin district is another that would be a top GOP target if the landscape looked different. Democratic Rep. Ron Kind ran unopposed in 2016, when the district went for Trump 49% to 44% four years after giving Obama a 55% to 44% victory. Kind, who is seeking a 12th term, has $3.1 million in the bank. He's set to face Retired Army Colonel Steve Toft, who started July with $107,000 cash on hand. That financial advantage, combined with the President's sagging approval ratings in the Badger State, should be enough to keep the seat comfortably in Democratic hands. Race moves from Likely Democratic to Solid Democratic