A Not So Open Seat

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 22, 2017 — Currently, we see a low number of open US House seats during this 2018 election cycle, and the number is about to get even smaller. Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Golden) is expected to announce that he has changed political course once again and now will seek re-election.

In April, the six-term congressman announced his candidacy for governor, only to withdraw two months later. At the time when ending his statewide bid, Perlmutter confirmed that he would not be seeking re-election to a seventh term in the House. Believing the 7th District, a likely Democratic seat, would be open in 2018, three state legislators and a former US Ambassador jumped into the party primary.

At the very least, each of the three legislators has previously indicated that they would end their congressional campaigns and defer to the returning incumbent should he decide to return. Therefore, it is likely Perlmutter’s re-entry into the congressional race will not spur a competitive primary campaign.

Assuming this predicted new course of action proves true, the number of open regular cycle House seats will temporarily drop to 20. At this point in time, the total open seat universe is half of what it was in the last two election cycles, and less than one-third the high water number of 64 we saw in 2012.

The new number does not count the vacant UT-3 seat (special election currently underway to be decided Nov. 7), or Indiana Rep. Luke Messer’s (R-Greensburg/ Muncie) district. Messer has tweeted that he plans to run for the Senate, but has yet to make a formal announcement.

The open seat category at this point is an impediment to the Democrats being able to wrest the House majority away from the Republicans. With only 20 open seats, and eight of those already in Democratic hands, little opportunity for them to gain exists in this key category.

Of the 20 open seats, only three are in the toss-up category, and two of those are Democratic. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s south Florida district is the only open Republican seat we classify as a toss-up at this time. The two Democratic seats that could easily flip to the GOP are MN-1 (Rep. Tim Walz running for governor), and NV-3 (Rep. Jacky Rosen running for Senate).

For the Democrats, two of the opens, CO-2 (Rep. Jared Polis running for governor) and TX-16 (Rep. Beto O’Rourke running for Senate), are completely safe. Three more slightly competitive seats, but ones that still will heavily favor the Democratic nominee, AZ-9 (Rep. Kyrsten Sinema running for Senate), MD-6 (Rep. John Delaney running for president), and NM-1 (Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham running for governor) are cast in the “Likely Dem” category.

One seat, MA-3 (Rep. Niki Tsongas retiring), could easily move into the Lean Democratic category should a strong GOP candidate emerge. If a Republican is to win in Massachusetts statewide, he or she must carry the 3rd District to have such a chance. With Gov. Charlie Baker (R) seeking re-election, the 3rd District will receive extra attention from the statewide re-election campaign in relation to a turnout operation, thus making the GOP congressional nomination more valuable.

Turning to the Republican seats, Democratic conversion opportunities appear few and far between. Of the 12 GOP non-toss-up seats, six are rock-solid Republican. They are: ID-1 (Rep. Raul Labrador running for governor), IN-4 (Rep. Todd Rokita running for Senate), OK-1 (Rep. Jim Bridenstine adhering to a self-imposed term limit), TN-2 (Rep. Jimmy Duncan retiring), TN-6 (Rep. Diane Black running for governor), and TX-3 (Rep. Sam Johnson retiring).

Three more seats can be considered “Likely Republican,” and all would begin with the eventual party nominee at least beginning the general election as a strong favorite for victory. They are: OH-16 (Rep. Jim Renacci running for governor), SD-AL (Rep. Kristi Noem running for governor), and WV-3 (Rep. Evan Jenkins running for Senate).

Two seats can be considered as Lean Republican, and the most likely to move into the “Toss-up” category from the current list of GOP opens. The electorates from Reps. Lynn Jenkins (KS-2; retiring) and Steve Pearce’s (NM-2; running for governor) districts usually vote Republican, but have both gone Democratic within the last dozen years. A strong Democratic candidate in each seat would become a serious contender.

With so few open seat opportunities developing at this point in the election cycle, Democrats will be forced to win a large number of difficult challenger races in order to capture the net 24 seats they need to again become the House majority party.

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