Open Seat Round-up

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 31, 2019 — With six US House seats coming open in October, it’s a good time to re-set where the incumbent-less districts stand for the next election.

To review the half-dozen October happenings in this regard, in consecutive order Reps. Nita Lowey (D-NY) announced her retirement, Elijah Cummings (D-MD) passed away, Francis Rooney (R-FL) declared that he would not seek re-election, Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) decided not to make another congressional run in order to concentrate on her presidential campaign, Katie Hill (D-CA) resigned in scandal, and Greg Walden (R-OR) released his statement saying he will not seek a 12th term in office.

Within the aggregate group of 30 opens, we now see four vacancies. In addition to Rep. Cummings passing away and Hill resigning, two more seats are also headed to special elections because of resignations. Those lie in New York (Chris Collins-R) and Wisconsin (Sean Duffy-R).

Two of the four have election calendars. The MD-7 seat will see a primary on Feb. 4 with a general April 28. The WI-7 district will hold a primary on Feb. 18, and a special general on May 12. Govs. Andrew Cuomo (NY) and Gavin Newsom (CA) will soon set special voting calendars in their states. Gov. Cuomo, who let the 25th District sit vacant for almost a year in 2018 after Rep. Louise Slaughter passed away, chose to fill the seat concurrently with the regular election cycle. The governor has already said he would like to follow the same course this year, but the law won’t allow such a long vacancy.

At this point, the Wisconsin and New York seats should remain Republican, but the GOP has a spotty record in holding NY districts in special elections including this 27th District (then numbered 26), which went Democratic that last time it went to special election in 2011. The Maryland seat will remain Democratic.

Though the House opens now reach 30 seats, a relative few are seriously in play for the districts’ next election. Of the majority Democrats’ nine open seats, seven are considered safe and the next Democratic nominee is a lock to win in each circumstance. For the GOP, which currently holds 21 of the 30, a total of 13 will assuredly elect another Republican.

In terms of competitive seats, the Democrats only risk two. The Hill seat in California is marginal and certainly competitive in an open special election. Democrats have carried the district in two of the last three presidential elections, but Republicans have won three of the four congressional elections in the current configuration during the decade.

The other is IA-2, the seat from which Rep. David Loebsack (D-Iowa City) is retiring. The 2nd District is generally reliably Democratic, but President Trump carried it in 2016, 49-45 percent. Democrats are coalescing behind former state Senator and 2018 lieutenant governor nominee Rita Hart as their candidate. It is here where former Illinois Rep. Bobby Schilling (R), hopes to make a serious run at an upset. First, however, he must clear the GOP primary and faces state Sen. Marianette Miller-Meeks (R-Ottumwa) who will be making her fourth run for the US House.

The two Republican seats that are in toss-up mode are the GA-7 district of retiring Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Lawrenceville), which was decided by only 417 votes in 2018. Both parties are fielding a large number of candidates: Republicans have eight, Democrats six, including 2018 nominee Carolyn Bourdeaux, right now. This campaign is likely to be tight all the way to Election Day regardless of who wins each party’s nomination.

The other seat lies in Texas, where Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio) is departing from the 23rd District that stretches all the way from San Antonio to El Paso. This seat has bounced back and forth between the parties with Republicans winning more races, but only once in the decade did a winner reach an absolute majority. Though many believe 2018 Democratic nominee Gina Ortiz Jones, who came within 926 votes of winning the seat in November, will be the favorite, it is more likely that each party nominee will start with 48 percent of the vote and then fight for the few votes that remain.

Three other seats look to be leaning toward the GOP but could easily fall into toss-up mode. The open Montana seat (Rep. Greg Gianforte-R running for governor) and TX-22 and 24 should still slightly favor Republicans, but all three will be in play for the general election.

All totaled, of the 30 open congressional races, just seven, at this time, appear to be potential conversion opportunities for either party (5 Republican and 2 Democratic). As we know, however, much will change between now and Election Day, and several more seats are likely to open as candidate filing deadlines begin to become timing factors.

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