Where the House of Representatives will be won (and lost) in the midterms

From New England to California to the districts that voted for Trump in 2020, some races are a lot more interesting than others

Eric Garcia
Washington DC
Wednesday 02 November 2022 14:17 GMT
Election 2022 Congress Explainer
Election 2022 Congress Explainer (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Six more days until polls close! Throughout most of the summer, Democrats enjoyed something of a bump, even sometimes leading the generic House ballot. They overperformed in special elections in Minnesota and Nebraska, held New York’s vulnerable  19th district, and flipped Alaska’s sole House seat for the first time in decades.

But with less than a week left, the climate seems to have changed. A Wall Street Journal survey that dropped yesterday gave Republicans a two-point generic ballot lead. (This particular survey was conducted by Trump pollster Fabrizio Lee and Biden pollster Impact Research; for more insight, you can read our chat with Impact partner Zac McCrary here).

Unlike our Senate rankings, we are giving you regions to watch rather than individual seats. If Democrats can only hold the line in these places, they might either hold the House or lose by only a hair. If Republicans flip other seats on our list, we’ll have a red wave on our hands.

So without further ado, here’s where to watch.

Sweet Virginia

In 2018, Democrats flipped Virginia seats: Jennifer Wexton won the commonwealth’s 10th district, which includes the DC suburbs; Abigail Spanberger managed an upset in the 7th, a little further south; and Elaine Luria won the 2nd district, which covers the Virginia Beach area. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report has recently moved its rating for the 10th from “likely Democratic” to “lean Democratic”, reclassified the 7th to a toss-up, and kept the 2nd in the toss-up column.

That leaves Luria, now the sole member of the January 6 select committee still fighting a tough re-election, the most endangered of the three. She has made defending democracy a central part of her campaign against state Senator Jen Kiggans, but the fact remains that her district went for Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin by 11 points last year.

The Republican Party has all three women firmly in its sights. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Kevin McCarthy-affiliated super PAC, is going into overdrive in the 2nd and the 7th. Democrats could just about afford to lose Luria, but if the GOP flips the 2nd, they have a shot at the majority. If they flip the 7th, they will almost certainly take the House; if they win the 10th, the red wave will certainly be here.

Democrats’ gamble in Michigan

Michigan’s latest round of redistricting left its Republican-held 3rd district much more competitive than it was in 2020. In an effort to try and pick the most beatable Republican opponent, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ran ads boosting John Gibbs, the Donald Trump-backed challenger to Representative Peter Meijer. Meijer is one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for his actions on January 6. This Democratic choice angered many in the party, including both the aforementioned Spanberger and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who called the strategy “dangerous”.

Dangerous or not, Gibbs won, and is now taking on Democrat Hillary Scholten. Cook says the race leans Democratic. But if Democrats blow it, they will look much scummier for sabotaging a rare Republican who stood up to his party to the benefit of a right-wing extremist who might well be part of a hardline GOP majority come January.

California here we come

In 2018, Democrats flipped seven California districts that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but in 2020, Republicans won four back. And with the state now redistricted, Cook has rated five of its redrawn seats as tossups.

Republican Representative David Valadao won the 21st district back in 2020, and subsequently voted to impeach Trump. Having made it through a California-style top-two primary, he’s now running in the 22nd against Democratic state assemblymember Rudy Salas. Conversely, Mike Garcia, who flipped the 25th in a special election in March 2020, voted to object to the presidential election results. He is now running in the 27th against Christy Smith, whom he beat in the special and in November of 2020, even as his district voted for Joe Biden.

In the 49th, Democratic Representative Mike Levin faces his toughest race so far in the San Diego area, which has historically leaned fairly Republican. Meanwhile, the open 13th district is a highly competitive seat that could go either way.

But perhaps no California seat worries Democrats more than the 47th, currently held by Katie Porter, a protégé of Senator Elizabeth Warren who’s become a progressive star thanks to her relentlessly effective style of questioning at congressional hearings. Most California Democrats speculate she might one day take over Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat when the grand dame of California politics finally leaves office. But if Porter loses this year, her career could be over before it begins.

New England blues

Most people associate New England with progressive Democrats, despite the fact that three of the region’s six states have Republican governors (all of them fairly popular). And contra its progressive reputation, New England might well determine how much Republicans can break through on election night.

Republican Allan Fung is putting up a robust effort in Rhode Island’s 2nd district against Democrat Seth Magaziner. Were he to manage an upset, he would be the first Asian-American Rhode Islander sent to Congress. Republicans also have high hopes for George Logan, who is Black, to take out Representative Jahana Hayes in Connecticut’s 5th district. Bruce Poliquin is trying to recapture his old seat in Maine from Democrat Jared Golden, while pro-Trump Karoline Leavitt is challenging Democrat Chris Pappas in New Hampshire’s 1st district.

If Fung wins and Hayes loses, it’s game over for Democrats. But Golden’s scalp would make Republicans smile, specifically because he represents a district that voted for Donald Trump. Which leads us to…

The Trump district Democrats

These are the Democrats who represent districts that Donald Trump won in 2020. Two are retiring, but others are still putting up a fight. Democrat Cindy Axne faces a tough re-election in Iowa’s 3rd district, and if Representative Matt Cartwright can run up a winning vote in Pennsylvania’s 8th, he’ll help boost John Fetterman in his Senate race (or vice versa).

Meanwhile, Representative Elissa Slotkin, who won Michigan’s 8th in 2020, is now fighting to hold the new 7th district, which narrowly voted for Biden. Her opponent is pro-Trump Republican state Senator Tom Barrett – and last week she received the endorsement of none other than January 6 committee vice chair Liz Cheney. That’s a measure of just how serious the effort to hold off an election-denying majority really is.

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