Challengers With a Lead – Part II

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 30, 2020 — Continuing with the second of our two-part series depicting challengers who have placed even with or ahead of their incumbent opponent at some point since summer began, today we look at the states in the second half of the alphabet. As a reminder, already eight 2020 US House challengers have unseated their incumbent opponents, obviously all in the primaries.

Below is the list of the second group of 11 incumbents, making a total of 22 challengers who have drawn even or led their incumbent opponents:

Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ-2):

• POLL: Public Policy Polling (Sept. 14-17)
Challenger: Amy Kennedy (D), margin: +5 points
• POLL: ALG (Sept. 14-15)
Challenger: Amy Kennedy (D), margin: +4 points
2016 Presidential: Trump: 51-46%
—    Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis Township/Atlantic City) was elected as a Democrat in 2018 but changed parties a year later. He now faces the general electorate for the first time as a Republican. At this point, we see two consecutive polls giving challenger Amy Kennedy, the wife of former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), leads at the outer edges of the polling margin of error. We will see a great deal of action here in the closing days.

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ-7):

• POLL: National Republican Congressional Committee (June 24-26)
Challenger: St. Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R), margin: +2 points
2016 Presidential: Clinton: 49-47%
—    The 7th Congressional District of New Jersey, which stretches from the Pennsylvania border to the outskirts of Newark, has been a Republican seat since 1980 until two years ago when freshman Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Rocky Hill) unseated five-term veteran Leonard Lance (R).
State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr., whose father served as governor for two terms from 1982-1990, returns for another race for federal office. He first ran for the 7th District in 2000, and then the US Senate in 2006, losing both times. Kean has served in the New Jersey legislature for 19 years. Though we’ve only seen one public poll here, this appears to be a toss-up race and more data should soon become available.

Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM-2):

• POLL: Research & Polling (Aug. 26-Sept. 2)
Rep. Torres Small, margin: +2 points
• POLL: Tarrance Group (July 7-9)
Margin: Even
• POLL: Public Opinion Strategies (Dec. 18-19, 2019)
Challenger: Ex-St. Rep. Yvette Herrell (R) margin: +2
2016 Presidential: Trump: 50-40%
—    This is a re-match of the 2018 open-seat campaign that saw political newcomer Xochitl Torres Small (D-Las Cruces) slip past then-state Rep. Yvette Herrell by a 51-49 percent count. Herrell returns with a strong primary victory over New Mexico Oil & Gas Association president Claire Chase, a candidate who many believed would be a stronger opponent for the congresswoman. Herrell did take the early general election lead, but the later polling has slightly favored the incumbent. The 2nd District is a must-win for Republicans if they are to be competitive for majority status.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1):

• POLL: Tulchin Research (Aug. 5-10)
Challenger: Nancy Goroff (D) margin: +2 points
• POLL: Global Strategy Group (Aug. 3-5)
Rep. Zeldin margin: +5 points
• POLL: Public Policy Polling (July 14-15)
Rep. Zeldin margin: +7 points
2016 Presidential: Trump: 54-42%
—    Three-term Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has done well in what is commonly a swing/lean R east Long Island district. The constituency here, however, does have a history of unseating its incumbents after a period of time, usually eight to ten years. Therefore, no member can be considered totally safe in this New York CD. Democrats recruited college professor Nancy Goroff to take a shot at Rep. Zeldin this year, and she is proving to be a competitive candidate. Zeldin remains in the favorite’s position, but the lack of a presidential presence in the state could adversely affect Republican turnout.

Rep. John Katko (R-NY-24):

• POLL: GBAO (8/23-25)
Challenger: Dana Balter (D) margin: +2 points
• POLL: Public Opinion Strategies (Aug. 12-15)
Rep. Katko margin: +11 points
• POLL: Global Strategy Group (Aug. 3-5)
Rep. Katko margin: +5 points
• POLL: RMG Research (July 29-Aug. 4)
Rep. Katko margin: +3 points
• POLL: Public Policy Polling (July 14-15)
Rep. Katko margin: +7 points
• POLL: Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (June 18-22)
Challenger: Dana Balter margin: +3 points
2016 Presidential: Clinton: 49-45%
—    The 24th District, anchored in Syracuse and one of just three congressional districts where Hillary Clinton was competitive in 2018, which a Republican now represents. Three-term Rep. John Katko (R-Syracuse) defeated college professor Dana Balter, 52-46 percent, despite the challenger spending almost $2.7 million. She returns for a re-match in a presidential year hoping to capitalize on a probable Joe Biden victory in this district. Pollsters are paying a lot of attention to this race, and we can expect to see several more published polls in October.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH-1):

• POLL: Normington Petts (Aug. 30-Sept. 3)
Challenger: Kate Schroder margin: +4 points
• POLL: Lake Research (July 13-15)
Challenger: Kate Schroder margin: +1 point
• POLL: Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (June 29-July 2)
Rep. Chabot margin: +5 points
2016 Presidential: Trump: 51-45%
—    Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Cincinnati) was first elected in 1994 and lost the seat in 2008. He regained it in the Republican landslide of 2010, and then had another close race two years ago. This year he faces healthcare company executive Kate Schroder (D) who had raised $1.4 million through the end of June.
The Cincinnati seat is another that is becoming political marginal, so the 2020 outcome is clearly in play. Rep. Chabot’s past campaign treasurer is under federal investigation, which has allowed the local media to hit him with negative news stories and tarnish his personal image.

Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK-5):

• POLL: Sooner Poll (Sept. 2-10)
Challenger: St. Sen. Stephanie Bice (R) margin: +1
• POLL: Normington Petts (Aug. 31-Sept. 3)
Rep. Horn margin: +8 points
• POLL: Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (Aug. 5-9)
Rep. Horn margin: +5 points
2016 Presidential: Trump: 53-40%
—    Oklahoma’s 5th District is another must-win for Republicans, as the seat was lost to the Democrats two years ago for the first time since 1972. Freshman Rep. Kendra Horn (D-Oklahoma City) stands for re-election against state Sen. Stephanie Bice (R-Oklahoma City) who came through a tough run-off campaign at the end of June. President Trump should again win here, which will help Bice, but this is another metropolitan district that is becoming less Republican.

Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA-10):

• POLL: Pennsylvania Survey Research (Sept. 23-24)
Challenger: State Auditor Eugene DePasquale margin: +7 points
• POLL: Pulse Research (Aug. 18-Sept. 3)
Rep. Perry margin: +3 points
• POLL: GBAO (Aug. 30-Sept. 1)
Challenger: State Auditor Eugene DePasquale margin: +4 points
2016 Presidential: Trump: 52-43%
—    The Pennsylvania state Supreme Court changing the congressional map in 2017, which had a major effect upon this south-central Pennsylvania CD. The addition of Harrisburg and all of Dauphin County has made the seat much more competitive as Rep. Scott Perry’s (R-Dillsburg/Harrisburg) 2018 victory spread of just 51-49 percent suggests. This year, he faces term-limited State Auditor Eugene DePasquale (D) who has won two statewide elections. The latest poll, just released, gives the challenger a seven-point lead over Rep. Perry, which clearly makes this a key Democratic conversion opportunity.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX-21):

• POLL: Garin Hart Yang Research (Aug. 31-Sept. 4)
Challenger: Wendy Davis (D) margin: +1 point
2016 Presidential: Trump: 52-42%
—    This central Texas district that includes parts of Austin, San Antonio, and the Texas Hill Country, is also becoming closer than in past years. After a tight win for freshman incumbent Chip Roy (R-Austin), 50-48 percent, after long-time incumbent Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio) retired, former gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis moved into this district and is making a move to unseat Roy, who is Sen. Ted Cruz’s former chief of staff.
Combined, the two candidates raised more than $7 million through June 30, with the preponderance ($4.6 million) coming from Davis. Outside organizations have also been pummeling the district media markets with heavy advertising. The seat should still remain Republican, but the outcome is sure to be close meaning that an upset is distinctly possible.

Rep. Ben McAdams (D-UT-4):

• POLL: Lighthouse Research (Aug. 31-Sept. 12)
Rep. McAdams margin: +11 points
• POLL: RMG Research (Sept. 7-12)
Rep. McAdams margin: +4 points
• POLL: RMG Research (July 27-Aug. 1)
Margin: Even
• POLL: Moore Information (July 8-11)
Challenger: Burgess Owens (R) margin: +9 points
2016 Presidential: Trump: 39-32%
—    Freshman Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Salt Lake City) unseated two-term Rep. Mia Love (R) by a scant 694 votes of almost 270,000 ballots cast in 2018. Earlier in the summer, former NFL football player and Salt Lake City businessman Burgess Owens (R) jumped out to a relatively strong lead. The trends have swung back toward Rep. McAdams, but the voting history here suggests we will again see a close race.
Utah has switched, for the first time, to an all-mail format, similar to Oregon, Colorado, and Washington. How this change will affect overall turnout remains to be seen. President Trump’s margin was low here in 2016 because Independent Evan McMullen recorded 23 percent of the vote.

Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA-2):

• POLL: Tarrance Group (July 14-16)
Margin: Even
2016 Presidential: Trump: 49-45%
—    Freshman Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Norfolk) unseated then-freshman Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Virginia Beach) after negative publicity surfaced, and later charges, that Taylor campaign operatives had secretly recruited a rump candidate on the Independent ballot line in order to draw votes away from Luria. The result: Rep. Taylor fell to her in the 2018 general election, 51-49 percent.
Taylor was originally in the 2020 US Senate race, but then switched back to the 2nd District when it became clear that his challenge to Sen. Mark Warner (D) was hopeless. Despite an even poll in July, the trends are clearly in Rep. Luria’s favor and a challenger victory here appears unlikely.

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