Across the region, at least 30 House seats are potentially competitive, all of them now in GOP hands
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
A month away from the 2018 midterm election, Republicans in the South are finding themselves in a situation they haven’t faced in several election cycles.
Namely, playing defense in U.S. House races.
Currently, at least 30 seats are either highly or potentially competitive across the 14 Southern states. And not one of those seats is now held by a Democrat.
Of course, this disparity is to be expected, given that Republicans hold 114 Southern House seats to just 40 for Democrats. With such a dominant majority, the GOP has more of the field to defend.
However, the fluid situation in 2018 stands in stark contrast to 2016, when Democrats managed to take away just two seats anywhere in the South, and in 2014, when Democrats suffered a net loss of three seats.
Democratic opportunities have opened up across the region, including a few isolated districts in states such as Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky and South Carolina, where President Donald Trump won massive victories in 2016.
But the Democrats’ biggest hopes of trying to chip away at the Republicans’ Southern hegemony lie in suburban swing districts in the largest Southern states, including Florida, Texas, Virginia and North Carolina.
Of the 11 highly competitive districts, three are in Virginia and two each are in Florida, Texas and North Carolina. There are also two seats in metro Atlanta where Republicans are currently favored but Democrats are within striking distance.
Of the six Republican-held seats that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, the Republican candidate is currently ahead in just one, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd’s seat in West Texas.
Those five seats are perhaps the most endangered. But Democrats also have a decent shot at seats in the Kentucky Bluegrass, metro Little Rock and the coalfields of southern West Virginia.
And in Texas, which has been a wasteland for Democrats for the better part of three decades, at least eight House seats are competitive in 2018.
What has made the difference for Democrats in this election cycle as opposed to 2014 and 2016? Part of the answer may be money.
According to Federal Election Commission reports, 16 Democratic House nominees have raised more than $1 million, led by Amy McGrath in Kentucky’s 6th District, who raised more than $3 million. Another nominee, Clarke Tucker in Arkansas’s 2nd District, is likely to break the million dollar barrier before all is said and done.
Money does not, by itself, make a seat competitive. But anyone who has a million dollars to spend on a House race has to be taken seriously, no matter the traditional partisan lean of the district.
Having to play defense in the South also has significant implications for Republican chances of keeping control of the House.
The region has been the GOP’s big red wall, supplying nearly 60 percent of its House majority. So any erosion in that wall is an unwelcome development, particularly in an election where polls show Democrats with a lead in the generic congressional ballot.
Still, one should be careful not to overstate Democratic prospects in the South in 2018. If Democrats take half of the current seats that are toss-ups and Republicans hold all the seats where they are now ahead, the net Democratic gain across the region would only be six seats.
However, given that Democrats only need to shift a net of 24 seats nationally to take control of the House, the loss of six seats in the GOP heartland could prove problematic. A blue wave in Texas or Virginia — the states where Democratic hopes are highest — could be catastrophic.
The one thing we can be sure of is that on election night, the political class will be paying more attention to the results of House races in the South than has been paid in quite some time.
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