United States: Road To The Elections: Overview Of House Democrats

Karl R Koch is Senior Policy Advisor in Holland & Knight's Tampa office

Jodi A Richardson is Public Affairs Advisor in Holland & Knight's Washington D.C. office

The outcome of the midterm elections on Nov. 6 will significantly impact the lame-duck session and the 116th Congress. Currently, both chambers of Congress and the White House are controlled by Republicans. To win the majority, House Democrats must increase their seats from 193 to 218, which is feasible given the unusually high number of districts deemed as competitive this year.

The results of the House elections could alter the political and legislative landscape, including policy priorities, party dynamics and committee leadership. In Holland & Knight's Public Policy & Regulation Group, we are closely watching a number of House races, which are summarized below. Karl Koch, a member of our House Democrats Team, will provide an analysis of the election results, and will be available to answer any specific questions.

House Election Trends

In the months preceding the 2016 election, the total number of House seats considered competitive fluctuated between 50 or 60 seats leading to election night. This number has nearly doubled in the 2018 election season, with almost 100 at-risk seats in the chamber this year. A third of these races are considered by experts to be "toss-ups," meaning that victory could be achieved by either party. These toss-ups are the focal point of this election cycle, as Democrats are eager to claim as many seats as possible in hopes of breaking the eight-year reign of Republicans as the majority party in the House.

Historically, the party that holds the White House loses an average of 26 seats in a typical midterm election. If this trend continues, Democrats are likely to win the additional races needed to secure the majority, but that will hinge upon how well each candidate's message resonates with voters. Democratic House candidates are expected to benefit from President Donald Trump's subpar approval rating, and strong candidate recruitment and fundraising. Moreover, many Democrats running in traditionally moderate to conservative districts have made local issues a central focus of their platforms. On the other hand, Republicans' have battle-tested incumbents and several legislative wins to tout, such as tax reform and filling two Supreme Court vacancies since the last election. Candidates may be also be impacted by others above or below them on the ballot. As election day approaches, polling and the likelihood of the House flipping will continue to fluctuate.

Races To Watch

Given these dynamics, we consider the tight races summarized below in California, Minnesota, New Jersey, Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania critical to House Democrats' success in the 2018 elections.

  • California: A series of districts in California are shaping up to be essential in the Democratic effort to gain traction in the House. Eleven seats are thought to be vulnerable in November, seven of which are ranked as toss-ups or worse for Republicans. Specifically, four Republican seats could end up in the hands of either party, and could significantly increase the chance of a reversal in the majority party should Democratic candidates claim any of these seats. Two open seats, CA-39 and CA-49, were previously held by Republicans Ed Royce and Darrell Issa, respectively. Rep. Royce's seat is narrowly leaning toward Republican candidate Young Kim, while Rep. Issa's seat is Lean Democrat in favor of Mike Levin.
  • Minnesota: In Minnesota, a majority Democratic delegation, there are two seats currently held by Republicans that are now potential Democratic pickups. In MN-2, incumbent Rep. Jason Lewis is running against returning challenger Angie Craig. Lewis beat Craig in 2016 by slightly less than 2 percentage points. Real Clear Politics rates the race as "Lean D" currently. In the MN-3 seat held by Rep. Erik Paulsen, Democrat businessman Dean Phillips leads polling in the moderate district. Two open seats in the state – MN-1 and MN-8 – are potential Republican pickups that are currently held by Democrats.
  • New Jersey: In New Jersey, two longstanding Republicans – Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02) and Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) – are leaving office in November, making their districts vulnerable to Democratic takeover. Frelinghuysen's departure creates a vacancy in the chairmanship of the House Committee on Appropriations, a crucial committee in the budgetary process. Current analysis puts the race at a toss-up, with Democrat Mikie Sherrill ahead of Republican Jay Webber. Sherrill, a former prosecutor and Navy veteran, had a 4-point lead as of June polling. LoBiondo's former district is now all but guaranteed to be a party reversal as Democrat candidate Jeff Van Drew, a state senator, is ahead by double digits. Both districts are now considered to be two potentially large pickups for the party, despite both having favored Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
  • Arizona and Florida: Arizona's 2nd Congressional District as well as Florida's 27th District are both currently controlled by Republicans. Despite this fact, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in both districts in the previous election. In both districts, Democratic hopefuls are significantly surpassing their Republican opponents in terms of fundraising, indicating increased public support for their candidacy.
  • Pennsylvania: Because of recent redistricting in Pennsylvania, several traditionally conservative districts have become more liberal. In PA-1, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican currently holds the seat, but redistricting made the suburban district slightly more Democratic. Fitzpatrick has broken with the GOP on environmental and labor votes. His opponent, Scott Wallace, a wealthy philanthropist, is the grandson of Vice President Henry Wallace. With Rep. Charlie Dent's retirement in PA-7, Republicans may lose another seat. Moreover, Republican Marty Nothstein is taking on Susan Wild in a redrawn district that is more compact and more Democrat-friendly. These races are priority wins for both parties to secure the majority.

With just days remaining in the 2018 election cycle, it is unclear which party will control the House in the next Congress. There are many potential paths to a Democratic majority in the House, none of which are guaranteed. Hoping to regain control of the House for the first time since 2010, Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats. History and current polling show a likely gain of at least some Democratic seats, and we will be watching the districts noted above closely for signs of a new majority.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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