Challengers With a Lead – Part I

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 29, 2020 — We’ve already seen eight 2020 US House challengers unseat their incumbent opponents so far — obviously all in the primaries. Is it possible that that’s a precursor to a larger number of incumbents losing their seats in the general election?

In typical election years, well over 90 percent of incumbents who seek re-election win. Therefore, eight members denied re-nomination in their own party primary elections is an unusually high number. What’s more, turning to the general election, 22 House incumbents have trailed in at least one poll since July began.

Below is the list of the first 11 incumbents, alphabetically by state, who are facing what appear to be the most competitive challengers in the country. The list includes 14 Republican incumbents and eight Democrats for a total of 22. Tomorrow, we will cover the remaining 11. All challengers have led the incumbent in at least one political poll of their race.

Rep. Don Young (R-AK-AL):

• Public Policy Polling (July 7-8)
Challenger: Alyse Galvin (I/D) margin: +2 points
2016 Presidential: Trump, 51-37%
—   Galvin ran in 2018 and saw similar polling numbers even as late as Oct. 29. Rep. Don Young (R-Ft. Yukon) would still go onto win the race 53-46 percent. Galvin is one of the many close finishers returning for a re-match this year.

Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ-6):

• Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (Aug. 6-12)
Challenger: Hiral Tipirneni (D) margin: +3 points
2016 Presidential: Trump, 52-42%
—   Rep. David Schweikert (R-Fountain Hills/Scottsdale) has pleaded to 11 ethics violations relating to using his government resources for political purposes in addition to campaign finance irregularities. With the district becoming more Democratic in addition to his personal situation, Rep. Schweikert faces his toughest re-election campaign against physician Hiral Tipirneni who twice ran close races in the adjoining 8th CD.

Rep. Mike Garcia (R-CA-25):

• Normington Petts (Sept. 21-23)
Challenger: Assemblywoman Christy Smith’s margin: +3 points
2016 Presidential: Clinton, 50-44%
—   One of the most recent polls found for this House study shows Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita) — who won his seat in a May 12 special election by surprisingly taking a seat back from the Democrats — trailing state Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Newhall), the woman he defeated four months ago. With California going heavily Democratic in the presidential election, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that this race again becomes a toss-up despite Rep. Garcia’s 10-point win with a high special election turnout.

Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL-27):

• 1892 Polling (Sept. 2-6)
Challenger: Maria Elvira Salazar margin: +3 points
2016 Presidential: Clinton, 58-39%
—   This is a re-match of the 2018 open seat campaign that saw former Health & Human Services Secretary and President of the University of Miami, Donna Shalala, top former Spanish language television news reporter Maria Elvira Salazar. Shalala’s victory margin was 52-46 percent. The only public poll released so far came in early September and produced a surprising result with Salazar pulling slightly ahead.

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL-13):

• GBAO Research (Sept. 17-20)
Challenger: Rep. Davis margin: +1 point
• RMG Research (July 27-Aug. 7)
Challenger: Betsy Dirksen Londrigan margin: +2 points
2016 Presidential: Trump, 50-44%
—   In yet another re-match of a close race, Rep. Davis slipped past businesswoman Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, 50.4 – 49.6 percent, two years ago, a difference of only 2,058 vote of more than 270,000 ballots cast. The summer polling suggests the 2020 outcome will be equally as tight.

Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA-3):

Monmouth University (July 25-Aug. 3)
Challenger: Rep. Axne margin: +6 points
Tarrance Group (July 7-9)
Challenger: Ex-Rep. David Young margin: +1 point
2016 Presidential: Trump, 48-45%
—   Freshman Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Des Moines) unseated two-term Republican Congressman Young 48-47% in 2018. The 2020 early summer numbers gave Young a boost in his quest for a return to the House, but the latest available polling results produce an advantage for the new incumbent. Still, this race has the potential to again come down to a small number of votes.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI-6):

• LOC Wick (Aug. 25-28)
Challenger: Rep. Upton margin: +6 points
• RMG Research (July 30-Aug. 6)
Challenger: State Rep. Jon Hoadley margin: +4 points
2016 Presidential: Trump, 51-43%
—   Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph), originally elected to his southwestern Michigan seat in 1986, scored only 63 percent of the vote in this year’s Republican primary even though his opponent spent no money. This immediately suggested his 50-46 percent re-election victory in 2018 was no fluke. A competitive race is underway here, but the latest trends suggest Upton is improving his political position.

Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-MN-1):

• Public Policy Polling (Sept. 10-11)
Margin: Even
• RMG Research (July 31-Aug. 7)
Challenger: Rep. Hagedorn margin: +3 points
• Victoria Research (July 19-23)
Challenger: Dan Meehan margin: +2 points
2016 Presidential: Trump, 53-38%
—   The 1st District of Minnesota is one of only two 2018 House results that produced a Republican conversion of a non-redistricted Democratic seat, and in this election by only 1,315 votes of over 291,000 ballots cast. Former Defense Department official Dan Feehan returns for a re-match with Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-Blue Earth/Rochester), and another close contest is expected despite this being a majority Trump district in 2016.

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN-7):

• Tarrance Group (Aug. 2-5)
Challenger: Former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach margin: +10 points
2016 Presidential: Trump, 62-31%
—   The 7th District in the Land of 10,000 Lakes is the strongest Trump congressional district in the United States that elects a Democrat to the House. Not only did the one publicly released poll here show former lieutenant governor and State Senate President Michelle Fischbach leading the 15-term incumbent, but Republican primary turnout exceeded the Democratic participation figure by more than 9,100 votes. More data will undoubtedly soon be forthcoming from this campaign.

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO-2):

• Normington Petts (Sept. 10-14)
Margin: Even
• Public Policy Polling (Aug. 13-14)
Challenger: State Sen. Jill Schupp margin: +3 points
2016 Presidential: Trump, 53-42%
—   Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Ballwin) won a close re-election in 2018 with a 51-47 percent victory against a local Democratic attorney. This year, she faces two-term state Senator Jill Schupp from their suburban St. Louis congressional district. Though the 2nd was drawn as a Republican seat, the district has moved closer to the political center in the last election and the polling suggests we will see another tight congressional finish here this year.

Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE-2):

• Global Strategy Group (Sept. 14-16)
Margin: Even
• Global Strategy Group (July 27-29)
Challenger: Kara Eastman margin: +5 percentage points
• Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (June 30-July 5)
Challenger: Kara Eastman margin: +1 percentage point
2016 Presidential: Trump, 48-46%
—   Yet another rerun from 2018, the Omaha regional congressional district performs as a marginal seat. In one of two states that split their electoral votes, winning the 2nd District is a must for the Trump campaign. Rep. Don Bacon (R-Papillion) was first elected here in 2016, defeating one-term incumbent Brad Ashford (D-Omaha). Yet to break 51 percent of the vote, Rep. Bacon is again embroiled in another tough campaign, which will be heavily influenced by how the presidential campaign actually unfolds.

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