As the past few days have shown, a lot can change in a weekend, and certainly, in a month.
The last ranking of the top 10 most vulnerable House incumbents came out just after Labor Day, when polls showed a tightening presidential race.
It’s time for an update. It’ll be several more days before polls reflect the down-ballot effects of Donald Trump’s 2005 video comments about assaulting women.
But even as Hillary Clinton regained the lead over Trump in national polls after the first presidential debate, the Republican presidential nominee has not yet proved a consistent drag on House incumbents, some of whom have done a better job than others at distancing themselves from the top of the ticket.
As of press time, at least three members on this list had withdrawn their support of Trump and/or called for him to step aside.
Before Friday, Trump was actually performing well — if not beating Clinton, then keeping it close — in a few tossup districts. Trump’s resonance in New York, for example, bumped two Empire State Republicans off this list.
Replacing them are two Republicans gracing the top 10 for the first time. New Jersey’s Scott Garrett and Florida’s John L. Mica aren’t sitting in as Democratic districts as some of their peers, but they have emerged as top Democratic targets. It’s not apparent that either incumbent is prepared for a tough fight or will be getting the outside help they’ll need to hold on to their seats.
For the third time, this list is all Republicans. California Democrat Ami Bera, whose father pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to his son’s campaigns, remains a top target for Republicans. Bera trailed Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones by 5 points in a recent National Republican Congressional Committee poll, but his favorables remain high. And Jones has his own issues, facing allegations of unwanted sexual advances. The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates this race as Leans Democratic.
This ranking is a snapshot in time, based on public and private polling of the districts, candidate performance, and conversations with operatives on both sides of the aisle.
With just less than a month to go until Election Day, the ranking will undoubtedly change again.
4 Weeks To Go: Top Senate Challengers and Vulnerable House Incumbents
1. David Jolly, R-Fla. (13th District)
The Florida Republican is still the most endangered incumbent. Jolly has little money and can’t count on outside support from establishment Republicans.
But Jolly looks less vulnerable than he did during the summer when he bowed out of the Senate race and made a late decision to run for re-election in a district that became heavily Democratic after redistricting. Democrats are spending significant money here to boost former Gov. Charlie Crist.
2. Cresent Hardy, R-Nev. (4th District)
Trump has been doing better in Nevada than in some other battleground states, at least before last Friday’s revelations, but in a race against Hispanic Democrat Ruben Kihuen, Hardy still faces an uphill climb in a district that President Barack Obama carried by double digits.
3. Frank C. Guinta, R-N.H. (1st District)
Republicans might have had a better shot holding this swing seat without Guinta, who won his mid-September primary by 1 percentage point. But with his campaign finance violations well-publicized, his fourth matchup against Democratic former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter looks like yet another presidential-year flip in this district. And yet, Trump has done better than expected in the 1st District, giving the Trump-supporting congressman a glimmer of hope that he and the top of the ticket can override two relatively unpopular Democrats.
4. Robert J. Dold, R-Ill. (10th District)
In this suburban Chicago district that Obama twice carried by huge margins, Dold has to over-perform Trump — by a lot — to defeat Democratic former Rep. Brad Schneider. Republicans are optimistic that Dold can do that. He refused to back Trump early on, and is up with a new ad touting how he’s broken with his party on gun background checks and abortion rights. But Dold’s fate will likely come down to just how badly Trump does here and whether Dold is able to win over enough ticket-splitters.
5. John L. Mica, R-Fla. (7th District)
This 12-term Republican hasn’t faced a serious election in decades, and Democrats didn’t even have a competitive challenger against him until late June. But with Stephanie Murphy now in the race, Mica finds himself on this list for the first time because he’s facing re-election in a heavily redistricted seat that’s more Democratic and at least 40 percent new to him. Republicans are concerned that he hasn’t invested the time or resources to introduce himself to new voters, while Democrats are treating this like a top pickup opportunity.
6. Will Hurd, R-Texas (23rd District)
Hurd climbs in the rankings this month, mostly because two other Republicans have dropped off the list. Both sides expect this rematch against Democratic former Rep. Pete Gallego to be a nail-biter, although the presidential race looks tighter here than expected given Trump’s rhetoric about Latinos, who make up nearly 70 percent of the district.
7. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla. (26th District)
Curbelo’s district became slightly more Democratic in redistricting and is also nearly 70 percent Hispanic — not usually a winning combination for a freshman incumbent with Trump at the top of the ticket. But Curbelo, who ruled out supporting Trump in March and has carved out a moderate voting record, drops a spot this month. He’d be more vulnerable had the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s preferred candidate won the party’s primary. Instead, he’s facing embattled former Rep. Joe Garcia.
8. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine (2nd District)
Democrats have made knocking off Poliquin a presidential-year priority. They’ve invested heavily to paint the millionaire congressman as out of touch with his working-class district, which has traditionally voted Democratic. But Trump’s resonance in the Pine Tree State’s northern district puts the pressure on Democrat Emily Cain to over-perform Clinton in this 2014 rematch.
9. Rod Blum, R-Iowa (1st District)
Blum’s descent from No. 2 to No. 9 is the most dramatic shift over the past month. Obama twice won this district by double digits, and this Freedom Caucus member made no effort to moderate his voting record for a presidential-year electorate. His once-tenuous relationship with the NRCC and leadership meant he was never going to be a top defensive priority for his party.
All of those factors still make him vulnerable against Democrat Monica Vernon, but operatives from both parties concede that Blum’s fortunes have improved — even if his campaign’s recent poll, which had him up by double digits, looked unrealistic. So what’s going on here? Trump has been doing well in predominantly white districts (Blum’s is 90 percent white), so this may be one case where, at least for now, a congressman is riding Trump’s coattails.
10. Scott Garrett, R-N.J. (5th District)
This seven-term incumbent is the second new face on this month’s list. His northern New Jersey district has gone Republican in past presidential years, and if it weren’t for Garrett himself, this seat probably wouldn’t be competitive.
But Democrats have capitalized on Garrett’s now well-publicized comment from last year about not paying NRCC dues because he didn’t want to support gay candidates. House Majority PAC has spent $1.5 million so far on brutal ads casting the Freedom Caucus member as more in line with Alabama than Jersey values.
Garrett’s comments also turned off some of his backers in the financial services industry, traditionally one of his major sources of support. Democrats, meanwhile, are bullish about candidate Josh Gottheimer, who worked as a speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and has proved a strong fundraiser.