Democrats Leave Few Seats Unchallenged in Quest for House Control
Posted December 24, 2017 6:14 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON — Rep. Pete Sessions, a veteran Republican, was re-elected to his affluent Dallas-area House seat in 2016 with 71 percent of the vote, the remaining 29 percent split between the Libertarian and Green Party candidates.
Hillary Clinton won the district by 3 percentage points, but no Democratic candidate even showed up to ride her coattails.
In 2018, there will be 10.
Federal Election Commission filings show that if a wave crashes on the Republican House majority in November, as many have predicted, Democratic surfers will be on their boards to catch it. Nearly a year out from the election, Democratic candidates have filed in all but 20 House districts held by Republicans. By comparison, Democrats in 80 districts do not have a Republican opponent for their seat.
The Democrats are not just filing to run in districts where Clinton performed well. They are also running for conservative seats that were uncontested in 2016 and where Republicans remain heavy favorites, in states like Texas, Arkansas and Nebraska.
Four Democrats — a farmer, a soccer coach, an immigration lawyer and a health care consultant — are on the primary ballot in Illinois’ 16th District, a C-shaped district outside Chicago running from Wisconsin to the Indiana border. The Republican incumbent, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, ran unopposed in 2016, when President Donald Trump won the district by 17 points. Kinzinger is not high on anyone’s endangered list.
But Democrats are clamoring to enter the ring.
“I started seeing changes to U.S. policy that concern me,” said Sara Dady, one of the candidates. “I’ve been practicing immigration law under three administrations. I have a client who has a green card. He did everything right. He was denied boarding. To me that is not the America I know and love.”
Democrats are investing in candidates like Dady. She attended three trainings before declaring her candidacy, including events hosted by the Illinois Democratic County Chairmen’s Association and Rep. Cheri Bustos, who represents another Illinois district.
For Democrats in 2018’s long-shot districts, the 2017 special elections provided some hope — at least on the financial front. Jon Ossoff raised a record $30 million in his unsuccessful bid in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. And Doug Jones brought in nearly $12 million as of late November on the way to victory in Alabama’s Senate race.
Ossoff and Jones’ campaign funds were primarily from small-dollar donors, many of them from outside the district. It’s unclear whether those donors will be able to maintain the pace in an election where every seat is up.
They will have a formidable opponent in the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC that supports Republican candidates and can raise unlimited money. The Congressional Leadership Fund raised more than $12 million in 2017, mostly from a few donations measured in millions and tens of millions of dollars.
The Republican National Committee has also built up a war chest of $40 million, compared with $6 million for the Democrats.
Even with the political wind at their backs, most Democratic challengers will be underdogs.
“Incumbents have a lot of built-in advantages,” said Michael Beckel of the bipartisan campaign finance reform group Issue One. “They have higher name recognition, and they can spend a lot of time building up a huge campaign war chest to ward off opponents. Additionally, interest groups in Washington are incentivized to bet on incumbents.”
But at least the Democrats have the candidates.
“If you have a candidate running,” Beckel said, “your odds of picking up seats increases.”