Categorizing the Open Seats

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 22, 2017 — Seeing three Republican House members last week announce they won’t be running for re-election next year – Reps. Charlie Dent (R-PA; retiring), Tom Marino (R-PA; appointed Director of the Office of Drug Control Policy), and David Trott (R-MI; retiring) – obviously increases the number of House open seats, thus becoming a good time to analyze the early political trends for this important political category.

For Democrats to have a legitimate chance of actually winning the net 24 seats they must convert to dethrone the House Republican majority, the number of GOP competitive opens must climb. While the three aforementioned seats were just added to the now growing open seat category, one could still arguably point to only one open Republican seat (FL-27; Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) residing in the toss-up category at this early campaign stage.

Currently, and not counting the UT-3 special election that will be decided on Nov. 7 (Republican Mayor John Curtis vs. Democratic physician Kathryn Allen), the election cycle is yielding 26 open seats – 18 Republican-held as compared to just eight for the Democrats.

This ratio should give the Dems some key conversion opportunities, but the overwhelming majority of these GOP districts are safe for the next nominee, or heavily lean their way. Though many Democrats believe we are headed for a wave election that will sweep many traditionally Republican seats into their partisan column, it is much too early to begin making such a determination. Currently, there is no early empirical numerical information that categorically supports such a case.

First, let’s look at the eight open Democratic seats they must hold:

SAFE DEM
CO-2: Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder); running for governor
TX-16: Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso); running for Senate

LIKELY DEM
HI-1: Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Honolulu); running for governor
MD-6: Rep. John Delaney (D-Potomac); running for president
NM-1: Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-Albuquerque); running for governor

All of the Likely Dem seats are reliably Democratic, but Republicans have held each within the last 10 years.

LEAN DEM
MA-3: Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Lowell); retiring

This, too, is a reliably Democratic seat, but the seat has flipped Republican in statewide races. With a strong GOP congressional candidate and Gov. Charlie Baker (R) needing a strong 3rd District performance in his race to secure re-election, this open US House campaign could become interesting.

TOSS-UP
MN-1: Rep. Tim Walz (D-Mankato); running for Governor
NV-3: Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson); running for Senate

Both of these seats will be hotly contested and being forced to defend them makes the Democrats’ road to the majority even rockier.

Now, the Republican seats:

SAFE GOP
ID-1: Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Eagle/Boise); running for governor
IN-4: Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Brownsburg); running for Senate
IN-6: Rep. Luke Messer (R-Greensburg); running for Senate
OK-1: Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Tulsa); appointment to NASA; possible special
PA-10: Rep. Tom Marino (R-Williamsport); appointment as Drug Czar; possible special
TN-2: Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-Knoxville); retiring
TN-6: Rep. Diane Black (R-Gallatin); running for governor
TX-3: Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Plano); retiring

LIKELY GOP
OH-16: Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Wadsworth); running for Governor
PA-11: Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Hazelton); running for Senate
SD-AL: Rep. Kristi Noem (R-Castlewood); running for Governor
WV-3: Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-Huntington); running for Senate

All of these seats have performed well for the current GOP incumbent, but each has been in Democratic hands, or were at least competitive, within the past eight years. It is seats such as these where Democrats are forced to make a significant challenge in order to achieve their majority status goal.

LEAN GOP
KS-2: Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Topeka); retiring
MI-11: Rep. David Trott (R-Birmingham); retiring
NM-2: Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs); running for governor
PA-15: Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Allentown); retiring
WA-8: Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Auburn); retiring

Voting history in each of these districts suggests they should be prime Democratic conversion targets. Many believe the WA-8 open race should already be in the toss-up column, but the Republicans have two strong candidates and it appears the party will have a consensus before the campaign even begins. Therefore, this race becomes harder for the eventual Democratic candidate to win, but it certainly could move to a toss-up rating once the campaigns get underway in earnest.

TOSS-UP
FL-27: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami); retiring

As mentioned earlier, this is the only GOP open seat that begins the cycle in the toss-up column. But, even here, the Republicans have two strong candidates meaning the contest will not simply default to the Democrats.

As we know, the open seats tend to dominate the campaign action at the House level. With still a low number headed into 2018, the Republican chances of holding the House remain relatively strong. The Dems will need a significant increase in GOP retirements to greatly improve their chances regardless of what the political climate may be like at the time of the next election.

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