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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

September 12, 2018

A Closer Look at Republican Districts Democrats May Be Able to Flip in the Midterms

Midterm / Elections / National

Map of states with flip districts

The Wason Center has identified twelve congressional races it predicts are likely flip to Democrats following the midterm elections, – AZ 2, CA 21, CO 3, FL 26, FL 27, GA 6, IL 14, MI 11, NJ 7, PA 7, TX 32, and WA 8. Profiles of each of these districts appear below. 

AZ 2

Following Rep. Martha McSally’s announcement that she would be leaving her House seat in the second district to run for Arizona’s U.S. Senate seat, both Democrats and Republicans lined up in the primaries for a chance to fill McSally’s vacated seat. In the end, Ann Kirkpatrick (D) and Lea Marquez Peterson (R) gained their party’s nomination for the general election after advancing from the primary on August 28, 2018. Beginning her career as a prosecutor, Ann Kirkpatrick is a former member of the U.S. House representing Arizona’s first congressional district from 2009 to 2011 and 2013 to 2017. Kirkpatrick also sought election to the U.S. Senate for Arizona in 2016 but was defeated by incumbent John McCain in the general election. Messaging around Kirkpatrick’s campaign has focused on her accomplishments from her previous tenures in Congress, including her work to advance benefits for Arizona’s veterans and Native American tribes, as well as her role in reforming the entire VA system under the Obama administration.

Lea Marquez Peterson, the winner of the Republican nomination for the general election for the second district, has had a long history of public service in Arizona, most recently serving as the CEO and President of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Given her background in business, Peterson’s messaging has focused on advancing Arizona’s economy through pro-business initiatives, while also highlighting her favorable stances towards increased border security and repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

The race has received national attention, partly because it is considered one of the more promising possibilities for a Democratic win, putting Democrats that much closer to gaining a majority in the U.S. House. In fact, Rep. Ron Barber, who represented the district from 2012 to 2014, argued that “The path to a Democratic majority in the House runs right through this district.” According to Open Secret, Kirkpatrick has already raised $1,939,501, while Peterson has raised $773,809. As the two candidates continue to gain traction and garner attention following their recent primary wins, we can expect coverage of this race to increase substantially.

CA 21

Heading into California’s general election for the 21st district is incumbent David Valadao (R) and Democratic challenger TJ Cox. Rep.Valadao was first elected to represent the 21st district in 2012 and was then reelected to that seat in November 2014. Throughout his time in Congress, he has served on the House Appropriations Committee, specifically the Agriculture, Energy and Water, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs subcommittees. Recent activity and messaging pertaining to Valadao’s campaign has centered around immigration reform legislation and trade policies, as the sitting representative has participated in two high-profile events that have focused on increased border security and enforcement.

TJ Cox, the Democratic candidate for California’s 21st district, has focused used his stances on immigration to drive a wedge between him and his opponent. The Visalia Times Delta, a local news source, notes that this district “is the most Democratic in California represented by a Republican,” highlighting the Hillary Clinton carried the district by 15 points in the 2016 election. In his messaging, Cox has used this factor to his advantage, emphasizing that he is “the son of immigrants” and is focused on “implementing an immigration policy that works for everyone.” “He pretends to be a moderate, but time and again stands with extreme Republican party leaders, instead of with the hard-working families of the Central Valley. DREAMers and our communities will pay the price for Valadao’s betrayal,” says Cox in a statement made to the Visalia Times Delta. Given the demographics of the district, both candidates have also devoted a great deal of attention towards agriculture and energy development, trade policy, and investing job training.

As reported by Open Secrets from earlier this summer, Rep. Valadao had already outraised his opponent by almost one million dollars, with Rep. Valadao having raised $2,300,633 and Cox having raised $1,320,049.

CO 3

Colorado’s third congressional district is seeing incumbent Scott Tipton (R) running against Democratic challenger Diane Mitsch Bush. Rep. Tipton ran unopposed in the Republican primary, while Bush beat out two competitors to win the Democratic primaries with 64% of the vote. Throughout his tenure representing Colorado’s third congressional district, which first began in 2010, Rep. Tipton has served on the House Committee on Financial Services and House Natural Resource Committee. While in office, he has focused on advancing fiscal policy, strengthening law enforcement, and developing legislation surrounding renewable hydropower.

Diane Mitsch Bush, a former state representative and county commissioner, is hoping to unseat Rep. Tipton following the failed challenges of attempts from Democrats in 2012, 2014, and 2016. Mitsch Bush’s messaging against her competitor has focused on undermining Rep. Tipton’s voting record and service towards Colorado’s third district. “I feel that my job is to point out — not just on one or two issues, but on issue after issue after issue, bill after bill — how he’s voted against our interests. By our, I mean everybody in this district: seniors, veterans, children, small businesses, coal miners. He voted against coal-miner safety. Most people don’t know those specific votes,” said Mitsch Bush. Mitsch Bush has already received a wide number of endorsements from local and state progressive groups, as well as a number of endorsements from high profile representatives including Senator Elizabeth Warren and former governor of Colorado, Bill Ritter.

FL 26

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R) is running against Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in a race to represent Florida’s 26th congressional district. Rep. Curbelo has served in this seat since 2014, with his recent activity focusing on tax reform as a sitting member of the House Committee on Ways and Means. Although Curbelo won re-election in 2016 by 12 points, the district has voted majority blue in the recent presidential elections, supporting President Barack Obama in 2012 by a margin of 8 points and Hillary Clinton in 2016 by a margin of 16 points. Additionally, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has projected findings in line with the Wason Center’s Midterm Projection model by placing this district on their “Red to Blue” list. This race has also been listed on Politico as one of the top ten House races to watch in 2018.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is a former Democratic candidate for District 39 of the Florida State Senate and has spent a majority of her career working for nonprofit organizations across the Miami Dade area. On her campaign website, Mucarsel-Powell states that she “is running for Congress because the same opportunities that allowed her and her family to improve their lives are disappearing for too many of our neighbors today,” with healthcare reform being listed as one of her top priorities.

Mucarsel-Powell began running introductory ads about herself at the beginning of August, however, Curbelo has not begun running TV campaign ads. The Miami-Herald reports that educating voters on Mucarsel-Powell’s background and messaging will likely take millions of dollars and both parties have reportedly already reserved TV ad time to promote their candidates ahead of Election Day. As reported by Open Secrets, Rep. Curbelo has a significant fundraising advantage over Mucarsel-Powell, with $3,708,783 raised by August, as compared to Mucarsel-Powell’s $1,871,929 raised.

FL 27

Also on the list of Florida races to watch for a potential Democratic upset this November is Florida’s 27th congressional district. Incumbent Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, who was first elected in 1988, is not seeking reelection this year, opening the door for two new candidates to compete for her vacant seat. The race to replace will be between Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala (D) and journalist Maria Elvira Salazar (R). The New York Times called this district “the best Democratic pick-up opportunity in the country” as a result of Ros-Lehtinen’s retirement. In 2016, Hillary Clinton took the district by nearly 20 percentage points over President Donald Trump, the highest margin for any Republican-held district. With this in mind, Democrats are hoping to ride the blue wave all the way to the end of the general election within this district.

In a recent interview, Shalala stated, “Our theme is basically: ready on Day One.” Shalala has focused a majority of her messaging around her extensive background in public service, with her top priorities clearly defined as advancing women’s rights, increased access to healthcare and education, and promoting sustainable energy initiatives.

Salazar has already received endorsements from a number of colleagues, including Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and the district’s former representative, Ros-Lehtinen. “Let’s come together and let’s make sure that we do not flip this district. It’s got to stay in the hands of someone who understands about limited government, about less bureaucratic regulations, about more freedom, help for the oppressed people throughout the world, whether it’s Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, wherever it is. And that voice of freedom is going to be the voice of Maria Elvira Salazar,” said Ros-Lehtinen in a recent speech. Salazar noted that while she might not agree on all of Ros-Lehtinen’s policies, she promised constituents that it would “be a seamless transition” between the former representative and herself. Thus far, Salazar has positioned herself as an expert on Latin American affairs and the U.S. Hispanic community and has emphasized her conservative positions on issues such as stimulating job growth, improving education, reforming healthcare and immigration.

GA 6

This past year, Republican Karen Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff in a special election to represent the 6th congressional district of Georgia. It was the most expensive US House race in history, with spending for the campaigns surpassing $50 million. Now, one year later, Rep. Karen Handel is being targeted by national Democrats in an attempt to turn the 6th district blue. In a district where President Donald Trump rates relatively unpopular compared to other Republican presidents, Rep. Handel has already attempted to slightly separate herself from the President. Additionally, her recent ads focus on her bipartisan support for legislation to combat human trafficking, a stark departure from ad campaigns last year that sought to attack and undermine her opponent actions and policy stances.

Challenging Rep. Handel is Lucy McBath (D), a businesswoman and self-described social justice activist. Much of her messaging and reasons behind running for office are tied back to her long-standing involvement with political and social activism, specifically highlighting the early death of her son who passed away as a result of gun violence. Though she has no experience running for public office, McBath has been very active in politics thus far, lobbying for stricter gun laws, campaigning for Hillary Clinton, and speaking at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. McBath has received endorsements from EMILY’s List, Giffords, and Everytown for Gun Safety. In addition to her strong stances on gun policy reform, McBath website also indicates her support for reforming healthcare, increasing the minimum wage, reforming immigration policy, and investing in infrastructure.

As reported by Open Secrets earlier this summer, Rep. Handel has already raised a significant amount more than McBath, with $7,651,245 and $313,109 being raised respectively.

IL 14

Rep. Randy Hultgren (R) is running against Democratic candidate Lauren Underwood in a race to represent Illinois’s 14th Congressional District. Rep. Hultgren has represented this district in the U.S. House since 2011, having previously served in the Illinois State Senate from 2007 to 2011 and the Illinois House of Representatives from 1998 to 2007. Hultgren has focused his campaign messaging on taxes and the economy, touting his achievements relating to fiscal policy reform and committee and caucus involvement. Hultgren’s messaging has focused on his work related to improving Illinois’s economy, as well as aligning himself with veterans needs, workers compensation, and pro-growth policy initiatives.

Lauren Underwood is a registered nurse who was appointed by President Obama to serve as a Senior Advisor at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This is Underwood’s first run for public office and she has fully embraced her progressive label as she campaigns in this traditionally right-leaning suburban district. Underwood’s messaging has primarily centered health care initiatives, arguing that she will “work to propose measures that will preserve and expand access to healthcare for Illinois families.” “I’m progressive because I support the idea that all Americans should have affordable health care services. I’m progressive because I recognize that climate change is real and that we need to have solutions that would stem the impact of climate change. And I’m progressive because I believe that all Americans should be paid a fair wage for their work,” explained Underwood.

This congressional race has received considerable national attention as Hillary Clinton won Illinois by 16.9 points in 2016, with the 14th district specifically voting in favor of Clinton by a margin of 4 points. With Underwood hoping to unseat the seasoned incumbent, top party leaders have turned their attention and efforts towards this race. Just last week, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan headlined the campaign and fundraising trail for Hultgren in Illinois, noting, “We’re really confident that when people sit down and look at the results that Randy Hultgren has achieved for them, they’re going to vote for Randy Hultgren. He is a hard-working member of Congress, he’s achieved phenomenal results for the people here in Illinois.” Their efforts appear to be much needed given how formidable of an opponent Underwood is proving to be. This past quarter, Underwood outraised Hultgren by nearly $150,000. In line with Wason center findings, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has categorized IL-14 as a “red to blue” in an effort to strengthen the momentum of Underwood’s campaign and continue to funnel resources and supplies to her efforts.

MI 11

Within Michigan’s 11th congressional district, incumbent David Trott (R) announced that he wouldn’t be seeking re-election, igniting a competitive race between Haley Stevens (D) and Lena Epstein (R) to fill his vacant seat. Rep. Although the district voted for Barack Obama in 2008, it back Mitt Romney and President Donald Trump in the following presidential elections. Additionally, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already added this race to its “Red to Blue” list for 2018.

Epstein is a newcomer to running for political office, however, she co-chaired the Donald Trump Michigan Campaign in 2016. Following her tenure in this position, Epstein has “seen firsthand” the kinds of issues that are most important to Michigan voters and has placed economic growth, as well as education and healthcare reform at the top of her list for priorities.

Haley Stevens, a former Obama administration official, is campaigning on a platform of healthcare reform, growing the economy, improving education, and advocating for workers’ rights. Notably, Stevens has received an endorsement from former presidential candidate and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

This district has been reliably Republican in the past, however with the newly vacated seat, and two women running their first campaigns, Michigan’s 11th congressional race is slated to be one of the most closely watched races in the country this fall. With Democrats looking to take back control of the US House, as well as the fact that RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel lives in the district, the November general election is expected to draw a considerable amount of outside interest.

NJ 7

Heading into New Jersey’s 7th district congressional race in incumbent Leonard Lance (R) and former State Department official Tom Malinowski (D). The district, which voted for presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012 by a margin of seven points, flipped blue for Hillary Clinton 2016 by a narrow margin of 49% of the vote to Clinton to 48% to Trump. The recent win within the state gave Democratic leadership renewed consideration to the district, with many speculating whether the blue wave could extend through this year’s general election.

Despite Rep. Lance’s decision to break with conservative House members to oppose the repeal of Obamacare and a rewrite of the tax code, conservative leadership is still planning on funneling a significant amount of resources towards Lance’s campaign. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC aligned with Speaker Paul Ryan has already launched a $700,000 TV and internet ad campaign that emphasizes the sitting representative’s bipartisan nature while also attacking his opponent Tom Malinowski. While this is not the only ad that has been run for this race, it has received the most attention, as the ad accuses Malinowski of “defending the rights of terrorists,” failing “to pay his property taxes on times,” and being an “insider and DC lobbyist.”

The Congressional Leadership fund has reportedly reserved $2.1 million worth of commercial airtime for Lance’s campaign. This assistance towards Lance’s campaign is important given that challenger Tom Malinowski had already outraised Rep. Lance by about $800,000 earlier this summer.

PA 7

Attorney Susan Wild (D), Olympic cyclist Marty Nothstein (R) and former reporter Tim Silfies (L) are competing for the seat formerly held by moderate Republican leader Charlie Dent. Following a court-ordered redistricting of the Pennsylvania congressional map in February 2018, the new 7th district now includes parts of the old 15th, 17th, and 10th districts. While the old 7th district voted for President Trump by a margin of 8 points in 2016, the New York Times reported that the new 7th district voted for Hillary Clinton by a margin of one point, making the new district considerably more Democratic and competitive than before.

Just last month Nothstein called a press conference to discuss allegations of sexual misconduct recently published in The Morning Call. The article alleges that an “unspecified misconduct claim was lodged with a U.S. Olympic-related organization…to an alleged incident from about 2000.” Nothstein is strongly denying claims about the alleged sexual harassment incident, arguing that “it’s a political hit.” According to WFMZ, Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin said that the tip was fully investigated and has no basis.

While Nothstein was on the defensive, Wild used this as an opportunity to continue pushing out messaging about her issue and policy stances, as well as highlight the notable achievement of receiving endorsements President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. “I know eastern Pennsylvania, and I know how much people there need a representative who will fight for practical, bipartisan solutions to everyday kitchen table problems. Susan is that fighter — a real champion…” said Biden.

Current campaign finance records show Wild with a substantial funding lead over Nothstein, with Wild having raised $1,099,465 compared to Nothstein’s $525,853.

TX 32

Texas’ 32nd congressional district will see incumbent Pete Sessions (R) face off against Democratic challenger Colin Allred. While this district is traditionally GOP territory, this year’s midterm race is considered competitive because it is one of three Republican-held districts within the states that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Sessions did not have a Democratic opponent in 2016, however, the momentum of the blue wave has inspired competition within the district.

Sessions, who has held this seat since 2002, serves as the chairman of the House Committee on Rules. With this role and other responsibilities, Sessions has continued to staunchly defend U.S. homeland and national security interests, along with disability rights, and conservative fiscal policy.

Allred is a civil rights lawyer and a former professional football player who also worked for the Obama administration. Notably, Allred has already received President Barack Obama and Former Secretary of HUD Julian Castro’s endorsement. On his campaign website, Allred notes that he “is fighting to empower the communities he grew up in by improving public education, encouraging economic growth, improving access to quality healthcare for all, an protecting our civil rights and liberties.”

Back in August, the America First super PAC announced that it plans to invest $1.5 million in Session’s race, a significant contribution towards the incumbent who already has a $700,000 fundraising lead on Allred.

 WA 8 

Former state Senator Dino Rossi (R) and pediatrician Kim Schrier (D) are competing to fill former Rep. Dave Reichert’s vacated House seat. Although Reichert won re-election in 2016 by 20 points, Washington’s 8th congressional district has back the Democratic nominee in the past three presidential elections by a margin of two to five points.

With just three months before Election Day, Schrier has remained on the offensive, issuing a three-debate challenge letter to Rossi’s campaign and attacking Rossi for declining to appear at candidate forums before the primary. “I have participated in 29 candidate forums and debates since launching my campaign last August. I am committed to continuing this record of openness and transparency as we move toward the general election. I got into this race after Dave Reichert refused to meet with constituents or hold public town halls, because we deserve better than an absentee career politician. We deserve a representative who will engage in thoughtful, open discussion of the key issues that keep families up at night,” Schrier wrote to Rossi in the debate challenge letter.

However, Rossi hasn’t remained completely silent; the Republican candidate has continued to push out messaging on top policy issues across his website and social media accounts. But, as the race continues to gain momentum, constituents can expect to see an exciting face-off between the two candidates. As with all of the races in this report, Washington’s 8th district congressional race is set to be a highly watched race leading up to the general election.

The Wason Center will continue to report on the 2018 midterm races and post additional blog posts about races that are classified as “will flip to D”, “likely flip to D”, “lean D”, and the “toss up” races.

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