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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.
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Southern U.S. House Democrats in Trump districts post strong fundraising numbers for 2020 re-election bids
Democratic challengers in targeted GOP seats show more fundraising success so far than Republican challengers in targeted Democrat seats
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Five Southern U.S. House Democratic freshmen who represent districts carried by President Donald Trump in 2016 have posted strong fundraising numbers during the first half of 2019, stocking up their war chests ahead of expected stiff re-election challenges from Republicans in 2020, according to the latest campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Topping the list was Joe Cunningham of South Carolina at $1.28 million, followed by Lucy McBath of Georgia at $1.15 million and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia at $1.12 million. Kendra Horn of Oklahoma raised $961,500, while in Virginia, Elaine Luria raised $865,400.
All five hold significant leads in fundraising over their Republican rivals, although McBath’s GOP challengers have, together, raised more money than she has. So far, Spanberger and Luria are getting a free ride against GOP challengers who have raised very little money, with 17 months to go before election day.
The new numbers also show that across the South, Democratic challengers in targeted GOP seats have had somewhat more fundraising success to date than Republican challengers in targeted Democrat seats, with no significant fundraising to this point from Republican challengers in five of the 10 seats Democrats flipped in 2018.
However, the lone Southern Republican who represents a district Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 — Will Hurd in West Texas’s 23rd District — raised $1.23 million, more than twice as much as Democratic challenger Gina Ortiz Jones, whom he beat in 2018.
The race that has drawn the most money so far is the contest in Georgia’s 7th District, a GOP-held seat in Atlanta’s northeastern suburbs where Rob Woodall is retiring. Seven Republicans and five Democrats have together raised nearly $2.9 million, with Republican State Senator Renee Unterman and Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, who nearly unseated Woodall in 2018, leading the pack.
In 2018, five Democrats won Clinton districts that had been held by Republicans — Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala in Florida; Colin Allred and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher in Texas; and Jennifer Wexton in Virginia. Powell, Allred and Fletcher have all raised more than $1 million for 2020; Wexton, $932,400; and Shalala, $691,500.
Shalala, Allred and Wexton have yet to draw challengers who have raised significant amounts of money. Mucarsel-Powell and Fletcher have, although both hold a significant fundraising advantage over their nearest Republican rival at this point in the campaign cycle.
The Democrats’ House campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is targeting 11 Southern seats currently held by Republicans, and Democratic challengers have raised at least $300,000 in six of those districts, including four seats in Texas, where Democrats hope to build on gains made in 2018.
The Republicans’ House campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee, is targeting 12 Southern seats currently held by Democrats, and Republican challengers have raised at least $300,000 in just three of those districts, held by Horn, McBath and Fletcher.
GOP challengers have topped the $200,000 mark in the race against Cunningham and in two other Democrat-held seats in Florida, now held by Mucarsel-Powell in South Florida and Charlie Crist in Pinellas County.
The most glaring absence for Republicans is in Virginia, where all three Democrats who flipped seats in 2018 — Spanberger, Luria and Wexton — are, to this point, getting a free ride.
Based on the latest fundraising numbers, here are the 2020 races to keep an eye on:
Texas: Democratic challengers have raised substantial money in four districts where Republican incumbents won narrow victories in 2018: Hurd in West Texas; Pete Olson in suburban Houston; Kenny Marchant in Dallas-Ft. Worth; and Michael McCaul, whose district runs from the suburbs of Austin to the suburbs of Houston. All four incumbents still hold a fundraising advantage, although Olson has only raised $230,000 more than Democrat Sri Kulkarni, whom he beat by just 5 points in 2018, and two Democrats running against McCaul have together raised nearly $670,000, compared to his $875,500. Given that Democrats are staying competitive financially, all four of these races will likely be close in 2020.
Georgia 6/Atlanta’s Northwest Suburbs: McBath shocked the political world in 2018 when she defeated Republican Karen Handel, a former statewide officeholder with a long political pedigree. Handel is trying a comeback in 2020, and the Republican race has already turned into a food fight between her and former State Senator Brandon Beech. But the surprise so far in fundraising has come from Republican Marjorie Greene, a Milton businesswoman making her first run for political office who has already raised $523,400, eclipsing both Handel and Beech. And while Republicans will need to spend money slugging it out in a primary, McBath has what appears to be an unobstructed path to the Democratic nomination.
Georgia 7/Atlanta’s Northeast Suburbs: After winning by a scant 420 votes in 2018, Woodall decided to retire. Bourdeaux, the woman who nearly toppled him, is running again and currently holds a large fundraising lead over her Democratic rivals at $654,200. On the Republican side, Unterman — best known in the legislature as the author of a controversial law outlawing abortions once a child’s heartbeat has been detected — has raised $677,500, followed by Lynne Hormich, a former Home Depot executive making her political debut, at $500,300. This race, which could feature two Republican women in a runoff, will closely watched by GOP leaders looking to add to the thin ranks of Republican women in Congress.
Oklahoma 5/Metro Oklahoma City: Horn may arguably be the nation’s most vulnerable Democrat, in ruby red Oklahoma. And while she has posted strong fundraising numbers so far, two Republican rivals have together raised more than $710,000 to her $961,500. One key to her ultimate survival is how much money her GOP rivals will spend in a primary; right now, businesswoman Terry Neese has outraised the other Republican in the race, State Senator Stephanie Bice, by a 3-to-1 margin. The less competitive the Republican primary is, the more Horn will need to worry — but she’ll need to worry quite a bit in any case.
South Carolina 1/Charleston and the Lowcountry: Cunningham, too, faces an uphill battle for re-election in a traditionally Republican district. But his fundraising has been strong — only two Southern incumbents in either party have raised more money — and he has been trying to carve out a moderate voting record. Three Republicans running against him have, together, raised just a little more than $540,000, less than half of his total. Cunningham is to this point running a textbook campaign for someone trying to survive tough political terrain.
Two Seats To Watch: In Florida’s 13th District, Republican Amanda Makki, a former congressional aide, raised $220,000 is less than a month in her quest to unseat Crist, a former Florida governor who at various times in his career has been a Republican, an independent and now a Democrat. In North Carolina’s 2nd District, in and around Raleigh, Democrat Scott Cooper, a Marine Corps veteran, has raised more than $300,000 in his challenge against Republican incumbent George Holding for a seat that could be the top pick-up prospect for Democrats in the Tar Heel State next year.
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South Carolina’s Joe Cunningham, Texas’s Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher lead pack in 2020 contributions
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — The 10 Southern U.S. House Democrats who flipped Republican-held seats in 2018 all posted strong fundraising numbers for their re-election campaigns during the first quarter of 2019, as they try to build the war chests they will need to stave off GOP challengers next year.
Leading the pack was Joe Cunningham, representing the Low Country of South Carolina, who raised $663,500 during the first three months of the year, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
He raised more money than any other Southern House incumbent in either party, except for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, who raised $2.5 million.
Cunningham was followed by two Texans — Lizzie Pannill Fletcher in Houston, who raised $582,900, and Colin Allred in Dallas, who raised $530,400. In the Atlanta suburbs, Lucy McBath, who already has two Republicans actively campaigning against her for 2020, raised $482,000.
Among the three Democrats who won seats in Virginia in 2018, Jennifer Wexton, in the Washington D.C. suburbs, raised $424,200; Abigail Spanberger, in suburban Richmond, raised $415,300; and Elaine Luria, in Hampton Roads, took in $327,000.
Kendra Horn, who won a surprise victory last November in metro Oklahoma City, raised $377,600 during the quarter.
While all of these Democrats will have stout competition in 2020, no potential Republican challengers raised any significant money during the first quarter, except the two candidates running against McBath in Georgia. So as of now, all of these Democrats are out ahead financially of their challengers.
McBath raised more money than both of her Republican rivals combined. Karen Handel, who is gunning for a rematch with McBath after losing to her in 2018, raised $259,800, and State Senator Brandon Beach raised $123,800.
Historically, freshmen House members tend to be most vulnerable during their first re-election race, particularly in a wave year such as 2018, when large numbers of seats changed hands between parties.
Six of the 10 Southern Democrats who flipped seats won by 2 points or less in 2018, and, in 2020, President Donald Trump — who won or nearly won seven of these districts — will also be on the ballot.
Cunningham and Horn face perhaps the biggest hurdle. Both won their 2018 races by less than 2 points; Trump carried their districts by 13 points.
Trump won Spanberger’s district by 7 points in 2016, and she won it by 2 points in 2018. Trump narrowly won the districts represented by McBath and Luria; they each won by less than 2 points in 2018.
In Texas, Fletcher and Allred represent districts Trump narrowly lost, but their margins of victory in 2018 were slightly larger, 5 and 7 points respectively.
Wexton, Mucarsel-Powell, and Shalala would seem to have little to fear from a Trump effect in their districts, all of which Hillary Clinton carried handily. However, Mucarsel-Powell only won her 2018 race by 2 points, and her district, the 26th, has a history of swinging back and forth between the parties.