An Open Review – Part I

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 6, 2018 — With so many House retirements coming into focus within the past several weeks, it is a good time to review the list of 53 districts heading into their next election without an incumbent on the ballot.

Of the 53, Republicans currently hold 37 seats versus just 16 for the Democrats. Here’s the breakdown of how things look regarding all 53 seats right now:


  • Safe Republican (19)
  • Likely Republican (6)
  • Likely Democrat (6)
  • Safe Democrat (6)
  • Lean Republican (5)
  • Lean Democrat (3)
  • Toss-up (8)

This configuration could change drastically if the Pennsylvania map is re-drawn in a court-ordered redistricting. The state Supreme Court has declared the Keystone State map a political gerrymander and has ordered a new plan drawn by Feb. 15.

The state Senate President Pro Tempore is responding, however, that the legislature will not comply with the court order to turn over statistical data need to draw a new map because the state court did not cite the legal provisions violated in making the current plan a gerrymander. Additionally, the US Supreme Court is sending signals that it may try to involve itself even though this case is filed against the Pennsylvania Constitution and not its federal counterpart. We can count on major action coming here within the next several days.

Furthermore, the US Supreme Court is in the process of deciding the Wisconsin political gerrymandering case, which will also affect active lawsuits in Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia; in Pennsylvania, the political gerrymandering lawsuit realm is not directly part of this group because its case is filed within the state court system. But the Republicans have petitioned the federal high court to look at this case for other legal reasons.

If the maps remain in place for 2018, including Pennsylvania, then the following states are in the Lean and Toss-up categories. Today, we look at our Toss-Up open seats; tomorrow, we will examine the Lean R and Ds:


• AZ-2 (Rep. Martha McSally) – Always viewed as a marginal political seat, this district would have featured a tight race whether or not McSally had sought re-election instead of running for the Senate. Democrats feature a crowded field of eight announced candidates including former 1st District US Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick who has re-located to Tucson. Local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Lea Marquez-Peterson appears to be the leading Republican candidate.

• CA-39 (Rep. Ed Royce) – Hillary Clinton carried this district by eight percentage points, and it is clearly a changing political region. Democrats had 10 candidates running before veteran incumbent Royce announced his retirement, but none have ever before run for office. The leaders appear to be lottery winner and retired Naval office Gil Cisneros and physician and former Wall Street analyst Mai-Khanh Tran. Republicans now feature former state Senate Majority Leader Bob Huff, Orange County Supervisor and former Fullerton Mayor Shawn Nelson, and ex-state Assemblywoman Young Kim, an ex-Royce aide who has the congressman’s endorsement.

• CA-49 (Rep. Darrell Issa) – This San Diego/Orange County district performed as the closest congressional race in the country in 2016, delivering Rep. Issa a 1,621-vote victory, and figures to be highly competitive as an open seat contest. Republicans now have three credible candidates: state Board of Equalization member and former Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, state Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, and San Diego County Supervisor and former Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar. Democrats look to come back with either retired Marine Corps Colonel and 2016 nominee Doug Applegate, attorney Mike Levin who has already raised $1.2 million for his campaign, and former State Department and UN official Sara Jacobs.

• MN-1 (Rep. Tim Walz) – Rep. Walz was re-elected with just 50.3 percent of the vote in 2016, making it the second-closest electoral contest during that election cycle. Walz is vacating to run for governor, leaving the open seat. Republicans will likely nominate businessman Jim Hagedorn who scored 49.7 percent in the last election. State Sen. Carla Nelson (R) will also enter the state nominating convention. Democrats have seven announced candidates with only former state Sen. Vicky Jensen ever before running for office.

• NH-1 (Rep. Carol Shea-Porter) – Since this district has defeated more incumbents since 2004 than any other seat — only Shea-Porter was re-elected in 2008 — the eastern New Hampshire district is always in the toss-up category. As 2016 challenger campaign with then-ex-Rep. Shea-Porter returning over then-Rep. Frank Guinta with just 44 percent of the vote, we can again expect a razor-thin finish here. Democrats have seven announced candidates, and Republicans’ four. With a Sept. 11 primary, this race is just beginning.

• NV-3 (Rep. Jacky Rosen) – Freshman Rep. Rosen is leaving this seat to run for the Senate, which leaves another toss-up campaign to be settled in this southern Nevada CD. Though politically marginal in nature, Republicans have won six of the eight elections here since the district was created in the 2001 redistricting plan. Both parties have six announced candidates, meaning a tough June 12 primary for each, and a tight general election campaign.

• NV-4 (Rep. Ruben Kihuen) – Freshman Rep. Kihuen not seeking re-election because of sexual harassment allegations leaves this seat that normally leans Democratic in open configuration. Two former members are seeking to return to Washington, and the 2018 contest will likely be a re-match of the 2014 campaign. In that election, freshman Rep. Steven Horsford (D) lost to Republican Cresent Hardy, then a state Assemblyman. After Hardy fell to Kihuen in 2016, this seat will again host an interesting campaign. The 4th District was created in the 2011 redistricting plan, and has yet to re-elect an incumbent.

• NJ-11 (Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen) – This northern New Jersey seat was designed to be a safe Republican domain for veteran Rep. Frelinghuysen, now House Appropriations Committee chairman, but it is has moved closer to toss-up status even with an incumbent running. Donald Trump did carry the seat in 2016, but only with a 49-48 percent margin. Still, he lost the Garden State as a whole, 41-55 percent, so the fact that he carried the 11th District means the seat continues to have a strong Republican base. Frelinghuysen drew two strong Democratic opponents in attorney and Navy veteran Mikie Sherrill and businesswoman Tamara Harris; however, neither have previously run for office even though each has proved herself as a strong early fundraiser. Republicans are now featuring state Sen. Joe Pennacchio, and state Assemblymen Jay Webber and Tony Bucco in their field of candidates.

Though Republicans are risking more open seats nationally by better than a 2:1 ratio, the toss-up opens appear to be split at four apiece, at least at this early juncture.

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