By Jim Ellis
Dec. 3, 2018 — The election of Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) as the new Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) chair at last week’s House Democratic Conference, and Rep. Tom Emmer’s (R-MN) previous selection to lead the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) for the coming election cycle means the national players are coming into focus for the next campaign year.
Bustos topped Washington Reps. Denny Heck (D-Olympia) and Suzan DelBene (D-Medina/Redmond) 117-83-32 in the conference election to officially head the DCCC. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) was also a candidate, but he is hospitalized recovering from a bacterial infection and was unable to attend the meeting. He failed to convince the membership to postpone the internal election.
With a partisan division of 235D – 200R in the 116th Congress, the Republicans will need a net gain of at least 18 seats to re-take the House majority. With 43 seats that flipped from Republican to Democrat in the November election, the field would appear ripe for GOP challenge efforts.
The first category that we cover today is comprised of the most obvious seats that will be battleground districts in 2020. A total of 18 seats can currently be considered for this category and again figure to be among the most competitive districts in the next election cycle.
The first nine, in alphabetical order, are (we’ll list the remaining nine in tomorrow’s update):
- CA-48 (Rep-elect Harley Rouda; 53-47 percent): Though most of the California seats will likely remain in their new Democratic column, Orange County’s coastal 48th District is the most Republican of the bunch. While defeated Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) is unlikely to run again, the GOP is sure to recruit a top-tier challenger for 2020. At the top of the list will likely be former state assemblyman and ex-Orange County Republican Party chairman Scott Baugh, who placed fourth in the jungle primary earlier this year, just 2,585 votes from qualifying for the general election.
- GA-6 (Rep-elect Lucy McBath; 50-49 percent): Though the 6th District is clearly moving toward the Democrats, its Republican base should still be more prolific than the opposition vote despite Rep. Karen Handel’s (R-Roswell) loss to McBath. Republicans improving their position among suburban voters will help their situation, especially against a new incumbent who is likely to vote to the left of this constituency.
- IL-14 (Rep-elect Lauren Underwood; 52-48 percent): This race is a another where GOP improvement with suburban voters could help them retrieve a traditionally Republican district. It is unclear at this point if defeated Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Plano) will attempt a 2020 comeback.
- IA-3 (Rep-elect Cindy Axne (49-47 percent): Axne unseated two-term Rep. David Young (R-Van Meter/Des Moines) in a district that stretches from the Polk County metropolitan area all the way to Council Bluffs. With the presidential race starting in Iowa early next year, it is likely that the congressional campaign politics will also begin ahead of when such campaigns typically configure. Whether or not Young runs again remains to be determined.
- ME-2 (Rep-elect Jared Golden (50-49 percent): With outgoing Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Oakland/Bangor) preparing a legal challenge to the instant run-off system that took away his victory even though he would have been re-elected with a plurality on Nov. 6, it is likely that we will see a drawn-out battle to determine future Maine electoral systems. Poliquin may have a decent chance of winning in court, but it is unlikely he will be able to topple Golden from taking the seat. A re-match here, however, and possibly under a different electoral procedure, is a realistic possibility.
- MN-2 (Rep-elect Angie Craig (53-47 percent): The southeastern Minneapolis outer suburb region had been in Republican hands for 18 years, so there is no doubt that GOP strategists will make a major effort to return the seat to their column. Healthcare executive Angie Craig lost here to radio talk show host Jason Lewis in 2016, even with consensus predictions that she would win. She did rebound to oust Lewis this year, however. Therefore, expect this seat to again become a top-tier challenger race in 2020, though with possibly a different GOP candidate.
Craig is beginning her congressional career as a strong supporter of Nancy Pelosi, being one of the newly elected members to second her nomination for Speaker before the Democratic Conference.
- NJ-3 (Rep-elect Andy Kim (50-49 percent): New Jersey’s 3rd District, which stretches from the Philadelphia suburbs all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, has been predicted to vote Democratic for years, but rarely does. The region has now elected a Republican congressman in all but two elections since 1978. The last time the seat flipped occurred in 2008, and two years later the Republicans quickly reclaimed the office. Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-Toms River) could seek a re-match with new Congressman Andy Kim, but has yet to indicate what may be his future political plans.
- NJ-7 (Rep-elect Tom Malinowski (50-48 percent): The suburban 7th District is another that had long been in Republican hands, flipping in this election for the first time since 1980. Malinowski upset veteran lawmaker Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Township), who spent 18 years in the state legislature before first winning election to Congress in 2008.
State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R), the son of former Gov. Tom Kean (R) and a state legislator since 2001, is already being mentioned as a possible congressional candidate in this district for 2020. Because New Jersey holds state legislative elections in odd-numbered years, Kean, or any other legislator, would not have to risk his state Senate seat in order to run for Congress.
- NY-11 (Rep-elect Max Rose (52-46 percent): The Staten Island constituency tossed Rep. Dan Donovan (R) in November, but this New York district also crosses the Hudson River to link part of Brooklyn and has traditionally voted Republican. The Rose election represents only the second time the seat has gone Democratic since 1982. Democrat Michael McMahon won here in 2008, but was quickly unseated in the next election.
Former Rep. Michael Grimm (R), who had to resign the seat when he was convicted of federal tax fraud, has already said that he would be interested in running in 2020. In the 2018 primary, Grimm challenged Rep. Donovan, losing to him 63-37 percent. Rose was one of the freshman Democrats pledging to vote against Nancy Pelosi and is one of the four who released their conference vote. It is unclear whether or not he will support her on the floor of the House in January.