After impeachment and a Supreme Court fight (that wasn't much of one) and amid a global pandemic and racial reckoning, many congressional candidates have struggled to control their own destiny. But the House battlefield has steadily moved towards Democrats all cycle. And much like 2008, Speaker Nancy Pelosi could expand her party's newly won majority by double digits.
A combination of President Trump's unpopularity in the suburbs, a fundraising disadvantage, and 32 open seats for the GOP to defend (to Democrats' dozen) has weighed down Republicans' prospects. And in the final week, Republicans are spending heavily trying to stave off losses in unlikely places like Little Rock, Southside Virginia and western North Carolina.
In 2018, Democrats gained the majority mostly in suburbs of heavily blue metro areas like Orange County (outside of LA), North Jersey, Northern Virginia, Denver and Minneapolis. But this cycle, Trump's toxicity is imperiling GOP-held seats in traditionally conservative suburbs of metro areas like Indianapolis, St. Louis, Omaha, Cincinnati, Phoenix and San Antonio.
There are still a handful of highly vulnerable Democratic incumbents, including Reps. Collin Peterson (MN-07), Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02) Max Rose (NY-11), Anthony Brindisi (NY-22) and Kendra Horn (OK-05). But all of them are still very much in the game, and GOP attacks on the "Squad" and socialism have failed to move numbers in other places because voters are more focused on Trump.
The DCCC has made Texas the centerpiece of their offensive push, and today there are six vulnerable GOP seats there, more than any other state. Two open GOP seats now lean to Democrats, and three more GOP seats are in Toss Up. And privately, Republicans admit they're in real danger of losing the Texas state house, which could cost them the ability to redistrict the state in 2021.
We now view a Democratic net gain of 10 to 15 seats as the likeliest outcome, with anything from five to 20 seats well within the realm of possibility. It could be valuable insurance if Democrats face a more challenging environment in 2022. A double-digit GOP loss could also generate a leadership challenge to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy or, more likely, to NRCC Chair Tom Emmer.
In our final House ratings, we're shifting eight more races in Democrats' direction, including three in the high-turnout Lone Star state. If the 27 races in our Toss Up column were to split evenly down the middle, Democrats would net nine or ten seats. But as the past few cycles have shown, Toss Ups tend to break disproportionately towards the party on offense. View our full ratings here.
AR-02: Hill (R) - Lean R to Toss Up
NJ-03: Kim (D) - Lean D to Likely D
NJ-05: Gottheimer (D) - Likely D to Solid D
NY-18: Maloney (D) - Likely D to Solid D
PA-17: Lamb (D) - Lean D to Likely D
TX-10: McCaul (R) - Lean R to Toss Up
TX-24: OPEN (Marchant) (R) - Toss Up to Lean D
TX-31: Carter (R) - Likely R to Lean R
Updated Bottom Lines:
AR-02: French Hill (R) - Central: Little Rock
Toss Up. Among the cycle's biggest surprises is that Democrat Joyce Elliott, a Little Rock state senator who lost a race for this seat by 20 points in 2010, has a real chance to unseat Hill. One GOP strategist frets that Hill, a wealthy banker, "totally mis-litigated" the race, waiting too long to attack the appealing former schoolteacher and then warning the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette "she’d be a member of the Congressional Black Caucus." Both parties now agree the race is tied.
NJ-03: Andy Kim (D) - South central: Burlington, Toms River
Likely Democrat. In January, President Trump and Republicans convinced GOP construction executive David Richter to move to the 3rd CD to clear a path for party-switching Rep. Jeff Van Drew in the 2nd CD. But Richter never invested the personal money necessary to put the race in play, and Kim has had the airwaves to himself. In a twist of fate, both Richter and Van Drew could now lose.
NJ-05: Josh Gottheimer (D) - North: Ridgewood, Hackensack, Hackettstown
Solid Democrat. GOP investment banker Frank Pallotta has struggled to gain traction all cycle, considering Trump's unpopularity in upscale Bergen County and the cost of the New York media market. The perennially well-funded Gottheimer won by 14 points in 2018, and may be on track for a similar win this time. It's possible he could get an even safer district in 2021 redistricting.
NY-18: Sean Patrick Maloney (D) - Hudson Valley: Poughkeepsie, Newburgh
Solid Democrat. President Trump carried this district by two points in 2016, but Joe Biden is on track to win the district this time and after initial hype Republican Chele Farley's campaign never got off the ground, raising just $207,000 in the third quarter. An unanswered October poll by Global Strategy Group for the Maloney campaign found the incumbent ahead 53 percent to 35 percent.
PA-17: Conor Lamb (D) - Pittsburgh suburbs, Beaver County
Likely Democrat. On Sunday, GOP nominee Sean Parnell's home was allegedly vandalized with pro-communist propaganda. Other than that, the race has been quiet in the home stretch and Democrats are increasingly confident Biden is well ahead in these Pittsburgh suburbs. Republicans hope Parnell might run again in 2022, depending on the lines and the political environment.
TX-10: Michael McCaul (R) - Central: Austin and Houston suburb
Toss Up. Earlier this fall, it looked like McCaul was in the clear: national Democrats' favored candidate, physician Pritesh Gandhi, lost the runoff to progressive Austin attorney Mike Siegel, who ran a lackluster race two years ago and lost to McCaul by four points. And, McCaul has been airing blistering ads linking Siegel to the Austin City Council's votes to cut the police budget.
But McCaul might have a top-of-the-ticket problem. Three-quarters of the 10th CD's vote is cast in Travis and Harris counties (the Austin and Houston suburbs), which are on pace for record-shattering turnout. Beto O'Rourke carried the 10th CD by a fraction of a point in 2018, and Biden may be on pace to win it by considerably more - which could help even a weak Democrat like Siegel pull off an upset.
TX-24: OPEN (Marchant) (R) - Dallas/Ft. Worth suburbs: Grapevine, Irving
Lean Democrat. Republicans believe former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne is still in the hunt thanks to GOP ads painting Democratic Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board trustee Candace Valenzuela as a "radical" who wants to "destroy the energy industry and defund police." And it's true that Valenzuela, 36, is to the left of other Democrats who have won similar suburban districts.
But this majority non-white seat is undergoing a rapid metamorphosis that polls might not be capturing. Mitt Romney carried it by 22 points in 2012, Trump carried it by six points in 2016, Democrat Beto O'Rourke carried it by four points in 2018. With record-shattering turnout, Joe Biden could carry it by much more. That might be tough for Van Duyne, a former Trump HUD appointee, to overcome.
TX-31: John Carter (R) - Central: Round Rock, Temple, Killeen
Lean Republican. DC Democrats wrote off this fast-growing exurban Austin seat when computer engineer and first-time candidate Donna Imam won the July Democratic runoff. Imam, who grew up mostly in New Zealand, has eschewed consultants and refused newspaper interviews, supports Medicare for All and has called for COVID lockdowns without exceptions for grocery stores.
But the I-35 corridor is poised for explosive turnout, and Carter could get caught napping if Trump fails to carry the seat. The 78-year-old beat Democrat M.J. Hegar by just 2.9 points in 2018 and hasn't run any negative ads, allowing Imam to run almost totally under the radar. The irony is that if Hegar were running against Carter again instead of for the Senate, she could be headed to Congress.