Setting the 2020 Stage – Part II

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 4, 2018 — Continuing with our look at what will likely be the top 2020 Republican conversion targets, below are the remaining nine districts on our list:

  1. NM-2 (Rep-Elect Xochitl Torres-Small; 51-49 percent): In 2008, when then-Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs) left the district for an unsuccessful statewide run, the Democrats converted the district. Pearce re-appeared for the 2010 congressional wars and returned the 2nd District to the Republican column. Could history repeat itself? It’s a possibility. Attorney Xochitl Torres-Small just got by state Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-Alamogordo) in a tight finish that turned the Democrat’s way at the very end.
    With Pearce again losing a statewide bid, he is already saying that he would consider yet another congressional comeback. If he decides to run again, this will be a top-tier race from the beginning of the 2020 election cycle to the end.
  2. NY-19 (Rep-Elect Antonio Delgado; 49-46 percent): Freshman Rep. John Faso (R-Kinderhook) fell to newcomer Anthony Delgado (D) in a clear ideological contrast race between a conservative and a liberal. Though Rep. Faso strategically tried to paint Delgado into a Democratic Socialist corner, the move failed as the challenger scored a 7,543-vote victory, which is far beyond recount territory. It is unclear whether Faso will file for a re-match in 2020, but this district, which has voted more Republican than Democratic over the years, will attract a top-tier challenger regardless of what he decides.
  3. NY-22 (Rep-Elect Anthony Brindisi; 49.5 – 49.0 percent): State Assemblyman Brindisi upended freshman Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford) by just 1,293 votes from more than 238,000 ballots cast to convert the Upstate 22nd District to the Democrats. This central New York region has flipped between the parties over the recent decades because the area CDs drastically changed as a result of the state losing so many congressional districts in reapportionment.
    The swing nature of this particular area means that Brindisi can expect a stiff challenge in 2020, maybe again from Tenney. Rep-Elect Brindisi is one of the 16 Democrats who signed the letter pledging not to support Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for Speaker of the House. It will be interesting to see how he handles his first floor vote now that she is the official Democratic candidate for the post.
  4. OK-5 (Rep-Elect Kendra Horn; 51-49 percent): In one of the most surprising upsets, newcomer Kendra Horn slipped past two-term Rep. Steve Russell (R-Oklahoma City) in a result that the Republican largely blames on being tied to outgoing Gov. Mary Fallin (R). The Oklahoma chief executive is rated as the most unpopular governor in the country, at least according to one national survey.
    As proof of his claim, Russell points out that the 5th District, anchored in Oklahoma City, also backed Democratic former Attorney General Drew Edmondson in the governor’s race. The OK City seat was the only one of the state’s five congressional districts to support the Democratic nominee over eventual winner, Republican businessman Kevin Stitt. Clearly, the GOP will fight hard to regain this district in 2020, and Russell is not ruling out a political comeback.
  5. SC-1 (Rep-Elect Joe Cunningham; 50.6 – 49.2 percent): Another of the big election night surprises occurred in coastal South Carolina when Democrat Joe Cunningham upset Republican state Rep. Katie Arrington by a total of 3,982 votes of more than 287,000 cast, or a little over 11 votes per precinct. Cunningham took advantage of the Republican primary split after Arrington upended Rep. Mark Sanford (R-Charleston) in the GOP primary back in June. She then suffered a major automobile accident, which landed her in intensive care for a period of time, obviously knocking her from the campaign trail for an extended interval.
    Cunningham also used the off-shore oil drilling issue to his advantage, which played well in the Charleston area. Arrington is holding open the possibility of running again. Rep. Sanford indicates his plans are undecided. But, Republican leaders may desire to have someone totally new. This usually reliable GOP district will undoubtedly remain in the top tier of conversion opportunities for the next election.
  6. TX-7 (Rep-Elect Lizzie Pannill Fletcher; 52.5 – 47.5 percent): Once Hillary Clinton surprisingly carried this district in the 2016 presidential campaign, it was known that nine-term Rep. John Culberson (R-Houston) would have a difficult 2018 re-election fight on his hands.
    The seat originally went Republican in 1966 when the late President George H.W. Bush became the first member of the GOP to ever represent this Houston-anchored CD. Four years later he ran for Senate, yielding to Republican Bill Archer, who would spend 30 years in the House and rise to the chairmanship of the Ways & Means Committee. Culberson, a state representative in 2000, then won the seat for the GOP and wasn’t competitively challenged until this year.
    Though the district is changing, it still appears to be at least a lean Republican seat in typical elections. The GOP leadership will heavily target this seat in 2020, but it will likely be a more uphill battle here than in some of the aforementioned districts.
  7. UT-4 (Rep-Elect Ben McAdams; 50.1 – 49.9 percent): In a race that wasn’t finalized until last week, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams scored a 694 vote win over two-term incumbent Mia Love (R-Saratoga Springs). Though it is unlikely that Love will attempt to re-claim the district – she consistently ran below the average Republican vote in all four of her races here (two wins and two losses) – this will certainly be another district at the top of the GOP conversion chart.
    Expect a great deal of action to occur here very soon as the GOP will work to find the strongest candidate to oppose McAdams, another of the 16 Democrats who signed the opposition letter to Rep. Pelosi again becoming Speaker of the House.
  8. VA-2 (Rep-Elect Elaine Luria; 51.1 – 48.9 percent): Freshman Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Virginia Beach), who upset Rep. Randy Forbes in the 2016 GOP primary, lost his first re-election bid to retired Navy commander Luria. Taylor ran into trouble when campaign aides were caught attempting to qualify an Independent candidate in order to take votes away from an eventual Democratic nominee. The controversy cost Taylor heavily, though it appeared through late polling that he might stem the tide.
    At the end, however, Luria prevailed. It is unclear whether Taylor will run again, but this is another district that Republicans can be expected to rate very highly on their target lists.
  9. VA-7 (Rep-Elect Abigail Spanberger; 50.4 – 48.4 percent): Former CIA agent Spanberger was always viewed as a top-tier challenger to Rep. Dave Brat (R-Glen Allen) especially when she proved herself a prolific fundraiser bringing in almost $6 million for her congressional campaign. Brat, who defeated then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the 2014 Republican primary, never fully secured the seat and his overall political weakness showed against a top opponent in Spanberger.
    The new congresswoman casts herself as a moderate and is not fully committing to backing Nancy Pelosi as Speaker but did not go so far as to sign the opposition letter. It is probable the Republicans will return with a stronger candidate and the party leadership will attempt to deny Brat re-nomination should he attempt to return in 2020.

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