Riggleman, Davis join list of 10 most vulnerable House members

After 2018 wins, Democrats are defending more seats with six months to go

From left, Republican Reps. Denver Riggleman of Virginia and Rodney Davis of Illinois are new additions to CQ Roll Call’s list of the 10 most vulnerable House members in this year's elections. (Composite by Chris Hale/CQ Roll Call)
From left, Republican Reps. Denver Riggleman of Virginia and Rodney Davis of Illinois are new additions to CQ Roll Call’s list of the 10 most vulnerable House members in this year's elections. (Composite by Chris Hale/CQ Roll Call)
Posted May 5, 2020 at 5:30am

Most of the 10 most vulnerable House members are still Democrats, who are defending their majority. But with six months until Election Day, two Republicans join the list.

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan would have topped these rankings if he were still running to keep his House seat instead of the White House.

Republican newcomers include Illinois’ Rodney Davis, who clung to his seat during the 2018 Democratic wave and faces the same, well-funded opponent this year. Virginia GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman also joins the list because of an intraparty challenge that has extra weight because of the way Republicans in his district will choose their nominee.

Republicans need a net gain of 18 seats to flip the House, and their path to the majority runs through the 30 Democratic-held districts that backed President Donald Trump in 2016. Republicans were confident Democrats in these seats sealed their fates when they voted to impeach Trump.

[See October updates to lists of most vulnerable House members and senators]

The coronavirus pandemic has upended the in-person fundraising scene as well as the hand-shaking of traditional campaigning. Though it’s still not clear how the virus and the worsening economic picture will influence voters. With all that, will anyone even remember impeachment come November?

Vulnerable Democrats have a significant financial advantage. On average, a vulnerable House Democrat’s war chest was nine times the size of his or her Republican challenger’s as of March 31. And every Democrat on this list, except Minnesota's Collin C. Peterson, outraised the combined totals of their Republican challengers so far this year.

The 2016 presidential results in these districts were factored into the rankings, along with conversations with strategists on both sides of the aisle and race ratings from Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.

1. Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Okla.

Horn surprised everyone in 2018 when she became the first Democrat since the mid-1970s to win this seat anchored in Oklahoma City and its suburbs. Since then, she’s been a prime Republican target, mainly because Trump’s winning margin in the district was one of his biggest of the 30 Democratic-held seats he carried in 2016. In her favor, she’s been a regular presence in local media. She has focused on education, a potential wedge issue in a state that made deep cuts to public school budgets. The district’s suburban makeup could also help her, but that edge could be blunted by her eventual opponent: The three top GOP fundraisers are women.

2. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M.

Torres Small’s move up from No. 7 on this list six months ago is more the result of changes in her colleagues’ prospects than her own. A water rights lawyer, she’s built a local profile since her narrow 2018 victory. It’s unclear how damaged her eventual Republican challenger will be after emerging from a heated primary, which so far has seen 2018 nominee Yvette Herrell, a former state lawmaker, and Claire Chase, the former chairwoman of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, duking it out over who is the most loyal Trump supporter.

3. Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C.

Cunningham narrowly won the longtime Republican seat in 2018, partly by using his opposition to offshore drilling to draw a contrast with a GOP opponent who had defeated Rep. Mark Sanford, a Trump critic and former governor, in the primary. Democrats argue that voters in the affluent Hilton Head area and the Charleston suburbs might be unhappy with Trump’s response to the pandemic. Cunningham was one of the first members of Congress to test positive for a mild case of COVID-19. But he is likely to face a stronger opponent this year, and Trump on the ballot may draw out GOP-leaning voters who sat out the midterms.

4. Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.

Riggleman became vulnerable when the 5th District’s Republican committee voted in November to have a nominating convention instead of a primary. The move could give extra weight to votes from religious conservatives on the committee who tried to censure the freshman lawmaker after he officiated a gay wedding. The nomination process has been thrown into question by the coronavirus pandemic. Riggleman’s campaign was pushing to revert to a primary as a safer alternative. His opponent, former Liberty University athletics director Bob Good, told CQ Roll Call the party committee was planning a drive-thru convention in the parking lot of the church where Good happens to worship.

5. Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-N.Y.

Brindisi was hammered by outside GOP groups over his vote to impeach Trump, but the freshman also got a fundraising boost and ended the first quarter with nearly $2.2 million on hand. That’s more than five times the amount held by former GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney, who is seeking a rematch after narrowly losing to Brindisi in 2018. Democrats believe Brindisi can win again by focusing on issues specific to the district and building on a moderate brand he first cultivated as a state legislator. But he faces an uphill climb, considering Trump carried the upstate New York district by a wide margin and Republicans expect higher turnout from the president’s supporters in 2020.

6. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill.

Davis held on by the slimmest of margins during the 2018 wave that swept Democrats into the majority, so he’s no stranger to tough races that attract a lot of outside money. His bid for a fifth term once again finds him up against Betsy Dirksen Londrigan and offers Democrats one of their few opportunities to oust a Republican. The race will be hotly contested, with health care taking a prominent role in the messaging. Dirksen Londrigan had a slight fundraising advantage with $1.6 million on hand on March 31 to Davis’ $1.5 million.

7. Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y.

Rose moves from fourth to seventh on the list as he’s built a financial advantage in the expensive New York City media market. Campaign strategists in both parties say the blunt congressman is a good fit for his district, which includes Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn. Rose is also expected to benefit from his recent deployment with the National Guard to respond to the pandemic in his district. National Republicans have signaled that state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis is their preferred candidate to take on Rose — she carried the district when she ran unsuccessfully for New York mayor in 2017. Her campaign ended the first quarter with $884,000. Rose had $3.3 million.

8. Rep. Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn.

If Peterson weren’t running, this seat would be safe Republican territory. That’s why Democrats had to shiver when Peterson seemed to waffle about retiring earlier this year, telling an agriculture industry publication, “I’m not sure that I want to win.” But the House Agriculture chairman, who had $1.1 million in his reelection account on March 31, decided to seek a 16th term, offering Democrats a shot at holding on to the rural district. Peterson is something of a unicorn in his party, as an abortion opponent who voted against impeachment. The state’s former lieutenant governor, Michelle Fischbach, the most likely Republican to emerge from an August primary, reported $312,000 in the bank on March 31.

9. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa.

Perry remains on the list since he’s running in a relatively new district and faces a well-funded Democratic opponent. Democrats consider state Auditor Eugene DePasquale one of their top recruits. He narrowly carried the district in his 2016 auditor race. This is also just the second time Perry is running under the district’s current lines — Pennsylvania’s congressional map was redrawn in 2018. Democrats believe Perry, a member of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus, no longer fits his new district and sensed an opportunity here two years ago when he narrowly won reelection. Perry had $815,000 at the end of the first quarter; DePasquale had $657,000.

10. Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah

McAdams’ position has strengthened in recent months because of the GOP’s troubles with recruiting a candidate. National Republicans were excited about state Sen. Dan Hemmert until he dropped out in December. Trent Christensen, a regional director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, has generated some buzz, but he only launched his campaign in March. Democrats say McAdams’ local popularity — he was Salt Lake County mayor before winning his seat in 2018 — outweighs the district’s GOP tilt. And Utah Republicans, who voted Romney into the Senate in spite of his criticism of the president, aren’t necessarily loyal Trump supporters. Still, four Republicans are currently in the running to challenge McAdams. And the incumbent’s position could change based on how that primary develops.

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