These Senate and House races have become more competitive for Democrats in final sprint to Election Day
Posted October 29, 2020 12:33 p.m. EDT
CNN — Joe Biden's lead in national and state polls has Democrats well-positioned to have a good night up and down the ballot next week.
The latest race ratings from Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, a CNN contributor, tell the story: Democrats aren't just playing in red states and districts; they're seriously competitive in many of them, with more than a third of registered voters having already cast their ballots and less than a week to go until Election Day.
Inside Elections now projects Democrats to pick up a net gain of 14 to 20 seats in the House, building on their historic 2018 midterm gains to grow their House majority, and a net gain of four to six seats in the Senate, which would be enough to flip the chamber. (Democrats need a net gain of three seats if Biden wins the White House, since the vice president breaks ties in the Senate, or four if he loses.) But the nonpartisan election analyst notes that greater Democratic gains in the Senate are possible.
Inside Elections has shifted three Senate races in Democrats' favor: Alaska and the two Georgia races. Both are red states that Trump carried in 2016. But in Georgia particularly, Trump is struggling to match his margin from four years ago, with some public polls showing him trailing Biden, who visited the Peach State this week.
There are few states that capture just how quickly demographics are changing American politics than Georgia, which hasn't voted for a Democrat for president since 1992.
Three years ago, a special election for a House seat in the well-educated and affluent Atlanta suburbs was viewed as a referendum on the President several months into his administration. Democrats came up short. But just over a year later, in the 2018 midterms, Democrats flipped the 6th District, which the party is now even more likely to hold this year, according to Inside Elections' latest ratings. The neighboring 7th District, which Democrats came about 400 votes shy of flipping in 2018, tops CNN's ranking of the seats most likely to flip in 2020.
Interactive: 2020 House race ratings
Overall, 23 House races shifted toward Democrats this week, with just one race in Texas shifting in Republicans' favor. Many of these shifts toward Democrats are in longtime red districts, underscoring both how favorable the national environment is for Democrats and, in many cases, just how much partisanship in this country is being redrawn around suburban and rural lines.
Senate race ratings changes
The biggest changes are in Georgia. Jon Ossoff was the Democrat who came up short in that 2017 special election for the House, falling just shy of the 50% threshold in the first round and then losing the runoff. Now Ossoff is challenging GOP Sen. David Perdue, and he has at least a shot at crossing 50%, especially if Biden is doing very well in the state. It's not a clear path — there's a third-party candidate that could make it tough for either major party candidate to surpass 50. January runoffs in red states have usually benefited Republicans, but it's hard to tell what that dynamic will look like without knowing the outcome of the presidential race or the balance of power in the Senate. Inside Elections moves the race from Tilt Republican to Toss-up, signifying the incumbent no longer has a clear advantage here.
The other Georgia race -- the special election to fill the former Sen. Johnny Isakson's seat — also shifts in Democrats' favor, but Republicans still have a slight edge here. Appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler is running to keep the seat, but she's facing Democrats and Republicans all on the same November ballot, almost guaranteeing a January runoff since no one will be able to surpass 50% on Election Day. While Democrats have consolidated behind Rev. Raphael Warnock, Loeffler is still dueling with GOP Rep. Doug Collins for a spot in the runoff. Both Republican candidates are trying to run close to the President to try to lock up GOP base support, with Loeffler going so far on Wednesday as to say she wasn't familiar with the "Access Hollywood" tape on which Trump boasts about sexually assaulting women. Inside Elections moved the race from Lean Republican to Tilt Republican.
Alaska, where GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan is running for a second term, also became less safe for Republicans -- moving from Likely to Lean Republican. Trump carried the state by 15 points in 2016, but Sullivan is up against Independent Al Gross, who's running with the backing of national Democrats and raised $3 million in the first two weeks of October compared to Sullivan's $458,000. Gross is just one example of a Senate challenger who's put a red state in play by vastly outraising the GOP incumbent.
Suburban districts moving toward Democrats
Many of the House districts moving toward Democrats are in suburban areas. That was true in 2018, too, with well-educated voters in sprawling metropolitan areas rejecting the President. The question in many traditionally red districts this year, with Trump on the ballot, was whether voters would take their anger out on Trump, and only Trump, continuing to vote Republican down the rest of the ticket.
But given how closely most down-ballot Republicans have stood with Trump over the past four years and how nationalized House races have become, more of them are now at risk of going down with the President.
Arkansas' 2nd District, for example, voted for Trump by more than 10 points in 2016, while reelecting GOP Rep. French Hill by nearly 22 points. Two years later, Hill won by only 6 points. And now because of shifts in the greater Little Rock suburbs, the district moves from a Tilt Republican to Toss-up race, with Hill facing a strong challenge from Democratic state Sen. Joyce Elliott.
It's a similar story in several other GOP-held districts that Trump won that are moving even closer to Democrats in the ratings: That includes places like Indiana's 5th District (an open seat), Missouri's 2nd District (help by GOP Rep. Ann Wagner), Nebraska's 2nd District (held by GOP Rep. Don Bacon), Ohio's 1st District (held by GOP Rep. Steve Chabot) and Texas' 24th District (an open seat). Those are all now Tilt Democratic races.
Several suburban seats that Democrats flipped in 2018 are also becoming safer for the majority party. Georgia's 6th District, which Ossoff lost in that expensive special election, moves from Lean Democratic to Likely Democratic. New Jersey's 7th District, where Democratic freshman Rep. Tom Malinowski is facing Republican Tom Kean in the affluent exurbs of New York City, moves from Lean Democratic to Likely Democratic.
Democrats also flipped New Jersey's 2nd District in 2018, but Rep. Jeff Van Drew's party-switch around the impeachment vote handed it back to Republicans. Now the South Jersey district, which voted for Trump, may return to Democratic hands. The loyalty Van Drew pledged to Trump, which he had hoped would save his seat, could now be costing him. His race against Democrat Amy Kennedy moved from Toss-up to Tilt Democratic.
Virginia's 2nd District, another 2018 flip, also looks safer for Democrats. Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria is in a rematch against Scott Taylor, the former Republican congressman whom she defeated. Trump isn't likely to repeat his 2016 victory in this Virginia Beach district, either, making it a Likely Democratic contest.
Another rematch, this one in Washington State, moves toward Democrats as GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler again tries to fend off Democrat Carolyn Long. Inside Elections shifts the race from Likely Republican to Lean Republican.
Democrats increasingly competitive, including in rural areas
It's not just the affluent suburbs of New York City, St. Louis or Indianapolis, where Democrats are becoming more competitive.
Two rural seats in Iowa, where Biden is keeping things close, move from Tilt Democratic to Lean Democratic. Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer is trying to hold onto the 1st District, which she flipped in 2018, and is facing one of the GOP's favorite recruits in Ashley Hinson. Democrat Rita Hart is trying to keep the 2nd District in Democratic hands since longtime Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack is retiring. She's facing perennial GOP candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks.
Minnesota was ground zero for partisan shifts along geographic lines in the 2018 midterms: Democrats picked up two seats around the Twin Cities while losing a mining region in the north and an agriculture-heavy district in the south. But now that rural southern district, one of just three seats nationwide that Republicans flipped in 2018, is moving from Toss-up to Tilt Democratic. GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn has faced fundraising, ethics and health issues in his rematch against Iraq war veteran Dan Feehan.
And then there's Virginia's 5th District, which moves from Tilt Republican to Toss-up, a remarkable shift in a rural district that voted for Trump by 11 points. Republican Bob Good defeated incumbent GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman at a party convention this summer, but he hasn't been able to put together a strong operation, which is giving Democrat Cameron Webb an opportunity to seriously contest the Charlottesville-area district.
North Carolina, home to a tight presidential and Senate race, is also seeing some surprising, late shifts at the House level. It would've been difficult to imagine at the beginning of the cycle that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows' old North Carolina seat would be competitive for anyone other than a Republican. Even after court-mandated redistricting, which made the district slightly less Republican by including most of the liberal enclave of Asheville, it remained a mostly rural and conservative district. But Republican Madison Cawthorn, who upset the Meadows- and Trump-backed candidate in the primary, has faced a series of negative headlines that is making this race more competitive for Col. Moe Davis, a Democrat who might also benefit from some of Biden's momentum in the state. It moves from Likely to Lean Republican.
Farther to the east, in North Carolina's 8th District near Fayetteville, GOP Rep. Richard Hudson is in a real race against former state Supreme Court Justice Pat Timmons-Goodson. How real is it? Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC tied to GOP leadership, is now spending at least $3.6 million to make sure they don't lose it. It moves from Lean to Tilt Republican.
Colorado's 3rd District might not be notable if Lauren Boebert hadn't upset incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton in the GOP primary earlier this year. But the restaurateur and gun rights advocate, who has expressed some familiarity with and sympathy for QAnon before trying to distance herself from the conspiracy theory, is making the contest competitive against Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush, who lost by about 8 points in 2018. The race is now Tilt Republican.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has called Texas its ground zero in its effort to expand the majority. Inside Elections rates nine of the state's 36 congressional districts as competitive. And now three GOP-held seats have become more competitive for Democrats. One seat, however, moves away from them back into the Solid Republican column.
The bright spots for Democrats are in the 24th District, mentioned above, where the national environment favors Candace Valenzuela to win an open seat in the suburbs north of Dallas and Fort Worth. She would be the first Afro-Latina in Congress.
Elsewhere, GOP Rep. Van Taylor is running for a second term in the 3rd District, which voted for Trump but is a highly educated area. Biden's competitiveness in the state, especially the suburbs, may give Democrats a better shot. It moves from Likely to Lean Republican.
The 10th District, where GOP Rep. Michael McCaul is running for an eighth term, also shifts from Likely to Lean Republican. But Trump carried this district by about 9 points in 2016, and the former Homeland Security Committee Chairman still has the advantage here.
Texas' 2nd District moves in the opposite direction, with GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw -- of Saturday Night Life fame — looking like he'll be coming back to Congress. His seat is now Solid Republican.
No longer competitive for Republicans
Several seats have dropped off the map off competitive seats, meaning they're now considered safe for Democrats.
That's the case in New Jersey's 3rd District -- including parts of the Jersey shore and Philadelphia suburbs -- which Trump carried in 2016. Rep. Andy Kim flipped the district in 2018, and the Democratic freshman is far outspending his GOP opponent.
Republicans had been eager to take out Democratic Rep. Ron Kind in Wisconsin's 3rd District, another place that voted for Trump in 2016. And this race briefly moved out of the Solid Democratic category earlier this year. But Kind and Biden look like they'll do well here.
Pennsylvania's 17th District also moves to a Solid Democratic race, with Rep. Conor Lamb, who first came to Congress in a 2018 special election, in a good place to keep his seat, which includes Pittsburgh suburbs.