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Election Preview: GOP’s Southern U.S. House wall faces Democratic challenge in suburbs

Democrats have put 31 Republican-held seats in play across the South

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Will the Republican’s big, blue Southern wall that has been the linchpin of their U.S. House majority hold, or will Democrats reverse a decade of disappointment and eat away at GOP dominance in the South?

That question will be answered in Tuesday’s midterm elections, in which voters will decide all 152 House seats in 14 Southern states.

Heading into the vote, Republicans hold a 112-to-40 advantage across the region. But at least 31 GOP-held seats are on the Democrats’ radar for possible takeaways in 2018, which could portend the biggest comeback for the party in Congress since 1994, when scores of traditionally Democratic seats in the South melted away, seemingly for good.

By contrast, none of the 40 Democrat-held seats in the region are expected to flip.

The possible Republican-to-Democrat flips are concentrated in four states — Florida, with nine; Texas, with eight; and Virginia and North Carolina, with four each.

But Democrats have also targeted Republican seats in West Virginia, Arkansas and Oklahoma, where they were shut out in 2016, and South Carolina, where they won but a single seat.

Many of the most competitive races are in suburban areas around major cities that have traditionally been solidly Republican, including districts in and around Dallas, Houston, Austin, Atlanta, Tampa, Miami, Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Little Rock, Oklahoma City and Washington, D.C.

The elephant in the room in all of these races has been President Donald Trump, with Democrats trying to make inroads in normally Republican districts where Trump underperformed in 2016, as he was overperforming in rural areas on his way to capturing the White House.

This election might also portend the revival of what has in recent years become something of a endangered species in Congress — the white Southern Democrat.

Currently, just 13 white Democrats who are not Latino or Asian hold Southern House seats. But of the 31 competitive seats this year, 22 feature a white Democrat trying to oust a Republican.

Among the Southern races drawing the most national attention are in Kentucky’s 6th District, where Democratic newcomer Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot, raised more than $7.8 million in a bid to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr — a race which drew a visit from Trump on Barr’s behalf.

Kentucky has the nation’s earliest poll closing, at 6 p.m. in the part of the state located in Eastern time zone. So the McGrath-Barr race should provide an early indication of how the national results may develop.

Another possible bellweather race: West Virginia’s 3rd District, where Democratic State Senator Richard Ojeda is battling Republican State Rep. Carol Miller for an open seat in a district that Trump carried by a whopping 49 points in 2016.

Polls close in the Mountaineer State at 7:30 p.m. ET; an Ojeda win or a close vote could be a harbinger of a difficult night for the GOP.

In Texas, Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions is in the fight of his political life in suburban Dallas, where he faces Colin Allred, a lawyer and former NFL linebacker who worked in the Obama administration.

Sessions, first elected in 1996, is the chairman of the House Rules Committee and was one of the architects of the Republican wave in 2010, which swept the party back into control of Congress.

While he won re-election with 71 percent of the vote in 2016, Hillary Clinton was narrowly carrying his district, which made him a top Democratic target in2018.

Another Texas Republican whose race is a toss-up is U.S. Rep. John Culberson, whose metro Houston district was also carried by Clinton in 2016. He faces Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, a Democratic attorney.

Culberson’s district has been in Republican hands since former President George H.B. Bush won it in 1966.

Barbara Comstock

The most endangered Southern Republican is U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, who represents a district in Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Polls have shown her trailing Democratic State Senator Jennifer Wexton in a district where Clinton scored a 10-point win.

In Florida, Democrat Donna Shalala, President Bill Clinton’s former health secretary and former president of the University of Miami, is trying to win an open Republican-held seat in a district Clinton won by 20 points. But she has run into a stiff challenge from Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a popular journalist on Spanish-language TV.

Karen Handel

Meanwhile, in suburban Atlanta, Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel — who won her seat in a sensational 2017 special election in which $50 million was spent — is in a tight race with Democrat Lucy McBath, a gun control advocate whose son died in a racially charged shooting.

In Virginia, U.S. Rep. Dave Brat, the giant-killer who ousted former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 primary, is being challenged by Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA operative.

In North Carolina, three Republican incumbents find themselves in competitive races — George Holding, Richard Hudson and Ted Budd — and the GOP is trying to keep control of an open seat in metro Charlotte.

The news is better in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee, where Republican incumbents are all expected to survive without any trouble.

See ChickenFriedPolitics.com’s latest ratings for hot U.S. House races.

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