The Open Seat Review

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 9, 2019 — With so many seats coming open during the past 10 days, it’s time to review exactly which districts will be incumbent-less for the coming election and how many are truly competitive.

With Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Heath/Rockwall) withdrawing from his nomination as Director of National Intelligence, it returned Texas’ 4th District to the incumbents’ list, but that move was quickly negated when fellow Texas Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Coppell/DFW Area) announced his retirement.

Taking those moves into consideration and including the two North Carolina special congressional elections that will be filled on Sept. 10, a total of 16 seats are open headed into the next election. Of the 16, Republicans hold, or last held in the case of the disputed NC-9 result from 2018, all but three of the open seats. Looking at the coming 16 campaigns, all can expect contested primaries in at least one party and seven look to be highly competitive during the general election.

Though the retirement action has been swift of late, the aggregate number of coming vacancies is still very low, especially when remembering that the number of cycle open seats throughout this decade has fallen between 47 and 64, inclusive.

The list below depicts the open House districts and their current status:

AL-1: Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile)
• Trump ’16: 63-34 | • Romney ’12: 62-37

This southern Alabama seat will be settled in the GOP nomination contest. A run-off after the March 3 primary is likely and will likely feature a two-person combination from the group comprised of former state Sen. Bill Hightower, state Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile), Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, and businessman Wes Lambert. The eventual GOP nominee wins the seat in the November 2020 election.
Safe Republican

AL-2: Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery)
• Trump ’16: 65-33 | • Romney ’12: 63-36

Rep. Roby was one of the surprise retirement announcements, but her leaving the seat open for the next election doesn’t cause the Republicans any harm. Expect a crowded Republican primary and a two-person run-off to ensue. The eventual Republican nominee wins the seat. So far, state Rep. Will Dismukes (R-Prattville) and former state Rep. Barry Moore are the most prominent candidates.
Safe Republican

GA-7: Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Lawrenceville)
• Trump ’16: 51-45 | • Romney ’12: 60-38

Rep. Woodall held this seat last November by just 417 votes over former state legislative staff director Carolyn Bourdeaux (D). Soon after the new Congress began, Rep. Woodall announced the current term would be his last. Bourdeaux is running again, but so are five other Democrats including state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero (D-Norcross) and former Fulton County Commission chairman John Eaves. A crowded Republican field of at least nine candidates is also forming. A competitive general election is forecast, but the seat still leans Republican despite 2018’s razor thin margin.
Lean Republican/Toss-up

IN-5: Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Carmel)
• Trump ’16: 53-41 | • Romney ’12: 57-41

Rep. Brooks is retiring, and Democrats appear poised to make a move on this newly open seat. The leadership convinced former state Rep. Christina Hale (D) to run, but her last race is a 2016 loss as the lieutenant governor nominee — part of the ticket that fell to Gov. Eric Holcomb (R). The Republican field is just beginning to develop. Candidate announcements should accelerate now that former Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard (R) announced that he will not run for the congressional seat.
Likely Republican

IA-2: Rep. David Loebsack (D-Iowa City)
• Trump ’16: 49-45 | • Obama ’12: 57-43

Rep. Loebsack is retiring after seven terms and Democrats look to be coalescing around lieutenant governor nominee and former state Sen. Rita Hart. Republicans look to be building support for former Illinois Congressman Bobby Schilling who moved across the Mississippi River to Iowa several years ago. The electorate here can deliver close results, but Democrats typically win.
Lean Democratic

MI-10: Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Dryden)
• Trump ’16: 64-32 | • Romney ’12: 55-44

The 10th is Michigan’s safest Republican district, and Rep. Mitchell is retiring after just two terms. A crowded Republican field is expected to form, but the Mitchell announcement certainly caught most politicos by surprise. Therefore, it will take some time before major candidates come forward.
Safe Republican

MT-AL: Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Bozeman)
• Trump ’16: 56-36 | • Romney ’12: 55-42

This will be the fourth time the Montana at-large seat will be open in eight years, and another crowded GOP primary is expected. So far, four Republican candidates have announced including state auditor and 2018 US Senate candidate Matt Rosendale. When Rep. Gianforte declared for governor, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, who had been a gubernatorial candidate, quickly switched to the open House seat.
Democrats have two candidates who will make the general election interesting regardless of which Republican wins their party nomination. Former state Rep. Kathleen Williams held Rep. Gianforte to a 51 percent victory in November. State Rep. Tom Winter (D-Missoula) is challenging her in the Democratic primary and could prove a formidable candidate. Also, in the race is Democratic rancher and US Army veteran Matt Rains. The seat will be competitive, but the eventual Republican nominee will be favored in the presidential year.
Lean Republican

NM-3: Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-Nambe)
• Clinton ’16: 52-37 | • Obama ’12: 57-39

With Rep. Lujan running for Senate, this open northern New Mexico congressional seat will remain in Democratic hands. With 10 Dems already announced, predicting which one will eventually head to Washington remains an unanswered question at this early date. The candidate field includes one state representative, three local officials, a tribal agricultural officer, and an ex-CIA officer.
Safe Democratic

NY-15: Rep. Jose Serrano (D-Bronx)
• Clinton ’16: 94-5 | • Obama ’12: 97-3

With Rep. Serrano retiring, an already crowded candidate field of 10 individuals in the Democratic primary alone has formed. There is no run-off in New York, so expect the June 23 primary winner to attract a small number of votes and electoral percentage. But, the eventual primary winner will have the opportunity of representing the safest Democratic seat in the country. At this point, the field includes a state assemblyman, a former New York City council speaker, two NYC councilmen, and a former state assemblyman.
Safe Democratic

NC-3: Vacant – Special Election
Trump ’16: 61-37 | • Romney ’12: 58-42

Veteran Rep. Walter Jones’ death creates a Sept. 10 special election to fill the balance of the current term. Nominations are already set, and state Rep. Greg Murphy (R-Greenville) and former Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas (D) are the pair of party nominees. The strong Republican nature of this eastern North Carolina seat clearly favors Murphy.
Expect a Republican victory here in September.

NC-9: Vacant – Special Election
• Trump ’16: 54-43 | • Romney ’12: 55-44

The 9th District still remains vacant because of 2018 voter fraud allegations, and the seat will finally be filled on Sept. 10. Democrats re-nominated their ‘18 candidate, businessman Dan McCready, while Republicans turned to state Sen. Dan Bishop (R-Charlotte).
McCready is a strong fundraiser and has already put over $3.4 million into his account. Sen. Bishop has only about one-third the money, but the district’s voting history clearly favors his party. Polling is scarce, but the little available suggests a very close race, much to the Democrats chagrin. They believed the post-election controversy would easily put McCready over the top, but such a conclusion is failing to unfold as we enter this campaign’s final month.

TX-11: Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Midland)
• Trump ’16: 78-19 | • Romney ’12: 79-20

Rep. Conaway is retiring after what will be eight terms, and he leaves the second strongest Trump seat in the country to what promises to be a crowded Republican primary. Expect a May 26 two-person run-off to decide who will represent this seat for probably as long as the winner cares to stay.
Safe Republican

TX-22: Rep. Pete Olson (R-Sugar Land)
• Trump ’16: 52-44 | • Romney ’12: 62-37

After seeing his victory percentage drop to 51-46 percent in November, Rep. Olson has decided to retire at the end of this current Congress. Candidate fields in both parties are starting to develop after the surprise retirement announcement. Democratic nominee Sri Preston Kulkarni, who spent more than $1.5 million to secure his 46 percent last year, returns and looks to be the favorite to win the party nomination. Other strong candidates, however, such as former Rep. Nick Lampson (D), may come forward now that the seat is open, so two spirited primaries could yield run-off elections.
The general promises to be tight, but the seat still favors a Republican even though the Democrats are gaining, and the minority population is rapidly growing.
Lean Republican that could move to Toss-up status once the race solidifies.

TX-23: Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio)
• Clinton ’16: 50-46 | • Romney ’12: 51-48

The 23rd is the one true swing district in Texas, and with Rep. Hurd winning by only a 926-vote margin in 2018, the district again proves that point. In fact, during his three election victories, Hurd has never reached the 50 percent threshold. Though this is now clearly a top Democratic conversion target, as it was even with Hurd seeking re-election, the eventual Republican nominee is still going to receive a minimum of 46-48 percent of the vote. Therefore, we can again expect a close election.
The candidate field will take some time to solidify because the Hurd retirement announcement is a surprise, but 2018 Democratic nominee Grace Ortiz Jones is back for another try. She may now draw some stiff competition in her primary, however.
This race continues to be rated as a Toss-up with an increased chance of again switching to Democratic.

TX-24: Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Coppell)
• Trump ’16: 51-44 | • Romney ’12: 60-38

Rep. Marchant only posted a 51-48 percent re-election victory over an opponent who didn’t even spend $100,000 on her race. Therefore, a crowded Democratic primary of six candidates was forming even before the Congressman announced his retirement earlier this week. We can now expect a crowded Republican primary, too, and it is quite possible that both parties will go to a secondary run-off election.
Though the numbers are tightening here, the Democrats have still yet to win this DFW Metroplex district. Therefore, the eventual Republican nominee must still be considered a slight favorite.
Lean Republican, but possibly headed to Toss-up after the nominations are set.

UT-1: Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Brigham City)
• Trump ’16: 50-22 | • Romney ’12: 77-20

Even before the 2018 election, Rep. Bishop indicated that the 2018 federal election would be his last. Publicly re-confirming his decision last week, we now see potential candidate action beginning to occur for the Republican primary. Expect a crowded GOP field with the eventual plurality winner easily carrying the general election.
Safe Republican

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