6 freshmen Democrats are in tough races to defend their seats, while a dozen GOP incumbents are fighting off Democratic challengers
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
(CFP) — When the dust cleared after the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats had picked up 10 U.S. House seats across the South, climbing slightly out of a deep hole dug over the previous decade but still trailing Republicans by a better than 2-to-1 margin.
The question for 2020 will be whether Democrats can hang on to those gains and take advantage of an expanded map — particularly in Texas — to add to their numbers, or whether 2018 was a high-water mark for the party’s fortunes.
Six freshmen Democrats who flipped seats in 2018 are facing stiff challenges in November, five of whom represent districts that President Donald Trump carried in 2016. All of them have raised piles of money, outpacing their GOP opponents, but will have to hold their seats this time around with Trump at the top of the ballot.
Democrats are also contesting nine open Republican held seats without an incumbent. Four are competitive, Democrats are poised to flip three of them, and Republicans are favored to hold the other two, for a net Democratic gain of between three and seven seats.
In addition, 12 Republican incumbents targeted by Democrats are in potentially competitive races, though only four of them seem in significant jeopardy as of yet. Seven of those races are in Texas, where Republicans are playing defense after a slew of retirements by incumbents and Democratic gains in 2018.
The likely best case scenario for Democrats right now would be a gain of 11 seats, slightly better than they did in 2018, or as many as 19 if all of the Republican incumbents fall. The likely best case scenario for Republicans would be a net gain of three seats, if they topple all of the Democratic freshmen and elsewhere hold the line.
The result will probably be between those extremes, with biggest wildcard being what happens at the topic of the ticket. Will Trump propel Republicans in close races to victory in a region where he remains popular — or imperil more of them with a weaker-than-expected national performance?
Here is your guide to the 2020 Southern U.S. House races:
Democrats Fighting to Hold Seats
Virginia 2 (metro Norfolk): Democratic incumbent Elaine Luria is facing a rematch against the man she ousted in 2018, Republican Scott Taylor, in this Trump district. But she enjoys as 4-to-1 fundraising advantage and may also be helped by criminal charges lodged against Taylor’s 2018 campaign staffers for election fraud.
Virginia 7 (Richmond suburbs, central Virginia): Democratic incumbent Abigail Spanberger faces Republican State Delegate Nick Freitas. This district went for Trump by 7 points in 2018, but Spanberger has raised more than $5 million, giving her a significant financial edge.
Georgia 6 (Northwest Atlanta suburbs): Democratic incumbent Lucy McBath is also facing a rematch against her 2018 opponent, Republican Karen Handel. But this is a district that Trump barely carried, with diversifying demographics that could help McBath hang on in a race for which she’s raised more than $5 million.
Oklahoma 5 (Metro Oklahoma City): Democrat Kendra Horn’s win here in 2018 was among the biggest shocks of the election. She is facing Republican State Senator Stephanie Bice, who had to fight her way through a contentious primary runoff. This is a solidly Republican district in a solidly Republican state, which is why Horn is considered one of the nation’s most endangered Democratic incumbents.
South Carolina 1 (Lowcountry and Charleston): Incumbent Democrat Joe Cunningham faces Republican State Rep. Nancy Mace. While the district went for Trump by 13 points in 2016, some more recent local results showed some Democratic strength, and Cunningham has outraised her by more than 2-to-1. The other wildcard in this race is a highly competitive U.S. Senate race in the Palmetto State between Republican Lindsey Graham and Democratic Jaime Harrison, which could increase turnout.
Florida 26 (South Miami-Dade and Florida Keys): Trump lost by 16 points in this district in 2016, which should be good news for Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. However, she is facing a formidable opponent in Republican Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who has his own political pedigree separate from Trump or his party. Gimenez has also benefited from being front-and-center in handling the coronavirus crisis in his perch as head of county government.
Open Republican Seats
Georgia 7 (Northeast Atlanta suburbs): This was the closest race in the country in 2018, with Republican Ron Woodall hanging on by a mere 400 votes. He retired, but his 2018 Democratic opponent, Carolyn Bourdeaux, is back, facing Republican Rich McCormick, a military doctor. This district was once a mostly white Republican bastion; it is now a majority minority district where Democrats have been making gains in local and legislative offices.
Virginia 5 (Central Virginia around Lynchburg): This district only became open when the Republican incumbent, Denver Riggleman, was bounced at a GOP party convention amid a controversy over his presiding over a same-sex wedding. The man who beat him, Bob Good, a social conservative county supervisor and former official at Liberty University, is facing Democratic doctor Cameron Webb, who has gotten increased party support in the wake of Riggleman’s demise.
Texas 22 (Southwestern Houston suburbs): Incumbent Pete Olson decided to retire rather than contest this seat in Houston suburbs, which showed a purple streak in 2016 when Hillary Clinton carried once solidly Republican Fort Bend County. Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls is trying to keep the seat for Republicans against Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni, a former congressional aide who challenged Olson in 2018.
Texas 24 (Metro Dallas-Fort Worth): This is another suburban district where the Republican incumbent, Kenny Marchant, decided not to seek re-election in 2020. The Republican in the race is former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, who faces Candace Valenzuela, a local school board member. Valenzuela has drawn national attention and endorsements since her win in the Democratic primary, including a nod from vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris. Black, Hispanic and Asian voters are now a majority here, which should work to Valenzuela’s advantage.
Open Seats/Likely to Flip: A court-ordered redrawing of North Carolina’s House map has tilted two Republican-held seats, North Carolina 2 (metro Raleigh) and North Carolina 6 (metro Greensboro), toward the Democrats, prompting both Republican incumbents to retire. In Texas 23 (West Texas), the retirement of the lone African-American Republican in the House, Will Hurd, has opened up a seat likely to flip to his Democratic opponent from 2018, Gina Ortiz Jones, in a district Hillary Clinton carried.
Open Seats/Republicans Favored: In Florida 15 (eastern Tampa Bay), Democratic hopes may have been dashed when the Republican incumbent, Ross Spano, mired in a criminal ethics investigation, lost his primary to Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin, who appears poised to keep the seat. In North Carolina 11 (western mountain counties), the Republican nominee, Madison Cawthorn, just 25, has been facing questions about his finances and personal conduct since he won the primary, although this district is strongly Republican and his Democratic opponent, Moe Davis, has also been dealing with similar fallout from a colorful past.
Republican Incumbents in Competitive Races
Texas 3 (Northern Dallas suburbs): Incumbent Republican Van Taylor, who won this seat in 2018, is being challenged by Democrat Lulu Seikaly, an employment lawyer from Plano who is the daughter of Lebanese immigrants. Democrats have targeted this race, even though Taylor won it by 10 points and Trump by 14, because it is the type of suburban district where Democrats made gains in 2018, although Taylor holds a substantial financial advantage.
Texas 10 (North Austin suburbs, northwest Houston suburbs, areas between): Republican incumbent Mike McCaul faces a rematch with the Democrat he beat in 2018, Mike Siegel, a Austin civil rights lawyer. In 2018, McCaul only beat Siegel by 4 points, as Democrat Beto O’Rourke was carrying the district in the U.S. Senate race. But Siegel had to fight his way through an expensive Democratic primary runoff, leaving McCaul with a financial advantage.
Texas 21 (Austin and Hill Country/San Antonio suburbs): Incumbent Republican Chip Roy, a freshman who held this seat for Republicans in 2018, is facing former Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, who built a national following with her unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2014. Davis represented Fort Worth in the legislature but decided to run in this Austin-area seat, and she’s used her national profile to raise more than $4.4 million, outpacing Roy by nearly $2 million Roy’s win in 2018 was by less than 3 points, which is why this seat is one of Democrats’ top targets in Texas.
North Carolina 8 (Piedmont between Fayetteville and Charlotte): Incumbent Republican Richard Hudson, who won the seat in 2012, is facing Democrat Pat Timmons-Goodson, a former state Supreme Court justice who has made the seat competitive by raising more than $1 million for the race. Democrats have targeted this seat as their best chance for an additional pickup in North Carolina, in addition to the two seats that are expected to shift their way under new court-imposed maps.
Republican Incumbents in Potentially Competitive races
Arkansas 2 (Metro Little Rock): Incumbent Republican French Hill is facing Democratic State Senator Joyce Elliott. Both are from Little Rock, which Democrats usually carry; Hill’s strength will be in surrounding suburban counties that vote heavily Republican. This is may be Natural State’s most Democratic district, but Trump carried it by 10 points and a Democrat hasn’t won it since 2008. The stars will have to align for Elliott to carry off a victory, although Hill has been sufficiently concerned to run negative ads against her.
Florida 16 (Sarasota and Bradenton): The incumbent Republican, Vern Buchanan, has held this seat since 2013 and won by 9 points last time. But Democrats are hoping that a repeat of the 2018 suburban wave can lift Democratic State Rep. Margaret Good to victory. Buchanan holds the financial edge, but Good has raised more than $1.8 million in what could be Buchanan’s strongest challenge since winning the seat.
Florida 18 (Treasure Coast): Incumbent Republican Brian Mast is facing Democrat Pam Keith, an attorney and Navy veteran who made an unsuccessful run for the seat in 2018. Mast won by 9 points in 2018, but this seat had been held by a Democrat before he won it in 2016.
North Carolina 9 (Charlotte suburbs east toward Fayetteville): The race in this district was razor-close in 2018, and the results were eventually overturned amid allegations of absentee ballot fraud by the campaign of the Republican winner, Mark Harris. But Dan Bishop held it for the GOP in a 2019 special election, and the Democrats’ nominee in both 2018 and the special election, Dan McCready, opted not to run again. Facing Bishop is Democrat Cynthia Wallace, a financial services executive and Democratic party chair in the district.
Texas 2 (Houston): Incumbent Republican Dan Crenshaw a former Navy SEAL who wears an eye patch because of a combat injury, won this seat in 2018 and quickly became one of the best-known freshmen Republicans in the House. Given his high profile, Democrats are gunning for him in November with their nominee, Sima Ladjevardian, a Houston attorney and senior advisor to the 2018 O’Rourke Senate campaign. But Crenshaw has used his national profile to raise more than $9 million, giving him a huge financial advantage.
Texas 6 (Arlington, Waxahatchie, Corsicana): Incumbent Ron Wright is another Republican freshman facing a Democratic challenge after winning by 7 points two years ago. He is facing Democrat Stephen Daniel, a Waxahatchie lawyer. Trump carried this district by 12 points in 2016, but nearly half of its population are minority voters, which could give Wright a shot if the Trump vote falters.
Texas 25 (Suburban Austin, central Texas): Incumbent Republican Roger Williams, first elected to the House in 2012, is facing Democrat Julie Oliver, an Austin attorney who has has built her campaign around the issue of health care and included her background as a homeless teen mother in campaign ads. Trump carried this district by 15 points in 2016, and Williams won by 9 in 2018. Williams has run into controversy after revelations that a car dealership he owns received government coronavirus relief payments.
Texas 31 (North Austin suburbs, Temple): Incumbent Republican John Carter is facing a challenge from Democrat Donna Imam, a computer engineer and businesswoman from Round Rock. Carter won by just 3 points two years ago, the closest race he’s had since first taking the seat in 2002. But his 2018 challenger, MJ Hegar, opted to run for the U.S. Senate this time around, and Imam had to spend money to win a contested primary, leaving Carter with a 2-to-1 cash advantage heading into the home stretch.