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Down-ballot battle

Politics | Republicans have a slim chance of winning back control of the House
by Harvest Prude
Posted 8/20/20, 04:03 pm

The battle for the U.S. House of Representatives has taken a back seat to the presidential election, but the makeup of the chamber will determine how effectively the occupant of the White House can accomplish his agenda over the next four years.

Several major political forecasters, including the Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and Inside Elections, favor the Democratic Party maintaining the majority it won in 2018’s blue wave.

House Democrats hold a 37-seat edge over Republicans coming into this year’s election, but they also have a stack of other advantages. Twenty-eight GOP House members are either retiring or seeking another office, while Democrats are losing just nine representatives. Among five existing vacancies, four are Republican seats—meaning the GOP could win all four and still need to pick up 18 more seats to flip the House. Control of the House hasn’t switched between parties in a presidential election year since 1952.

Part of the challenge here is that the presidential race is the biggest deal, then the Senate,” said Scott Lasley, head of the political science department at Western Kentucky University. “The House races are getting lost in some of this.”

Some good news for Republicans: Democrats must defend about 30 seats in districts that supported President Donald Trump in 2016. A dozen of those races are considered competitive. Lasley said GOP candidates likely will have to align themselves tightly with the president to win. But that may be tough in some suburban districts where Trump has less support now. In those areas, GOP candidates will seek to tie incumbents to far-left proposals, such as the Green New Deal and calls to defund police departments.

“There are not that many Democrats in Republican districts or vice versa,” Lasley said. “To the extent there is a battle here, it’s probably in the suburbs.”

Jordan Powell, a GOP strategist and president of RedRight Strategies, said the national political environment will shape the congressional races, but it’s not the most important factor: “With 1,000-plus candidates [among] Republicans, Democrats, and third parties, those races can become so local and niche.”

Here are five races to watch in the battle for control of the House.

  • Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., is one of the only pro-life Democrats left in Congress. He is slightly favored to win against his Republican opponent, former Minnesota Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach, even though Trump carried Peterson’s rural district by a whopping 30 percentage points in 2016. Peterson has served 15 terms, but his margins shrunk in recent years: He won by only 4 percentage points against his Republican challenger two years ago. Lasley called it “the type of race that could turn one way or the other with a Trump surge or Biden surge.”
  • Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., an Afghanistan War veteran, is running for a second term in his Staten Island district. He captured former GOP Rep. Dan Donovan’s seat by a 53-47 percent vote two years ago in a district Trump won by 10 points. Rose faces Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican member of the New York State Assembly, in a race currently rated a toss-up.
  • Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., ousted former Republican Rep. Dave Brat two years ago by 2 percentage points. Trump carried Spanberger’s district in the suburbs of Richmond by 6 points. Virginia state Del. Nick Freitas is a libertarian-leaning Republican seeking to unseat Spanberger, who has one of the most bipartisan records in Congress. If Republicans can’t flip this seat, they probably won’t be able to recapture the House.
  • North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District is one of two vulnerable GOP seats in the state. A court-ordered redistricting made the boundaries much more favorable to Democrats and led to incumbent Republican Rep. George Holding’s retirement. Now, Democrat Deborah Ross, Republican Alan Swain, and Libertarian candidate Jeff Matemu are running in the general election.
  • The same court-ordered redistricting made North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District more Democratic, prompting GOP incumbent Rep. Mark Walker not to seek reelection. Democrat Kathy Manning, Republican Joseph Lee Haywood, and two independent candidates are running to replace him.

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Harvest Prude

Harvest is a political reporter for WORLD's Washington Bureau. She is a World Journalism Institute and Patrick Henry College graduate. Harvest resides in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @HarvestPrude.

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