10 most vulnerable House members: Garcia, Katko and Bacon join the list

Three months out, more Republicans look vulnerable

GOP Rep. Mike Garcia won a special election to a California seat Democrats flipped in 2018, but will have to fight to keep it. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
GOP Rep. Mike Garcia won a special election to a California seat Democrats flipped in 2018, but will have to fight to keep it. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 6, 2020 at 10:00am

Updated, 8 a.m. Aug. 8 | For the first time this election cycle, a Republican tops the list of the 10 most vulnerable House members.

California Rep. Mike Garcia takes the No. 1 spot after winning a May special election for a seat President Donald Trump lost in 2016. The list now features the same number of Republicans and Democrats, as Trump struggles in competitive districts across the country amid an ongoing pandemic and economic crisis.

Bolstered by massive campaign war chests, House Democrats are more bullish than ever that they will grow their majority by defeating vulnerable Republicans and winning a slew of open-seat races. Republicans acknowledge their path to the majority is shrinking. 

Two Republicans, New York’s John Katko and Nebraska’s Don Bacon, are also new to the list of vulnerable members. Katko holds a seat Trump lost, while Bacon’s district narrowly backed the president. Both Katko and Bacon face rematches against 2018 opponents, but Democrats argue 2020 may be shaping up to be an even better year for them than when they retook the House. 

To make room for the GOP entrants, a few Democrats have fallen off the list, including Utah freshman Ben McAdams and longtime Minnesota Rep. Collin C. Peterson, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee. Republicans still see both lawmakers as vulnerable. But Peterson, in particular, has proved he can woo his district’s Republicans to split their tickets and send him back to Washington. 

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.

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Garcia won a May 12 special election to replace former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill by 10 points, but the fall electorate in this district outside Los Angeles is expected to look much less Republican. Garcia once again faces state Assemblywoman Christy Smith. And even though he had $738,000 on hand as of June 30, to $403,000 for Smith, a surge in turnout in November compared to the special election could be a problem for him in a seat Trump lost in 2016. Garcia is also the only Republican incumbent running in a district where Hillary Clinton won more than 50 percent of the vote.

New Mexico’s 2nd District, in the arid and sparsely populated southern half of the state, is among the most rural of the Democratic-held seats Trump carried in 2016. That could make it harder for Torres Small, a water rights lawyer who has built a strong local profile, to hold on after her narrow 2018 victory. She faces a rematch with Republican former state Rep. Yvette Herrell, who has doubled down on her support for Trump. Like many vulnerable Democrats, Torres Small has amassed a formidable war chest, with $3.9 million in the bank on June 30, compared with the $379,000 Herrell had on hand after emerging from a bitter primary. 

Kendra Horn, D-Okla.

Horn has been a top Republican target since her surprise 2018 victory in an Oklahoma City-area district Republicans had held for more than 40 years. But her position has slightly strengthened in recent months, mainly because of Trump’s problems in suburbs. She will face a formidable opponent no matter who wins the Aug. 25 runoff for the Republican nomination. That race features businesswoman Terry Neese, who has run a standard pro-Trump campaign, against state Sen. Stephanie Bice, who has pitched herself as a moderate while also working to woo the Trump voters she needs to secure the GOP nod. Horn had $2.6 million on hand on June 30, which will go far in the region’s cheap advertising market. But outside groups will do their best to make sure voters see a fair share of anti-Horn attacks once the primary is over. 

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Joe Cunningham, D-S.C.

Cunningham has been stressing his moderate appeal since narrowly winning this longtime Republican seat in 2018. But Republicans argue the pitch falls flat in a district that backed Trump by double digits. His opposition to offshore drilling helped him win in 2018, but it might be harder to draw a contrast against Republican Nancy Mace on the issue. As a state lawmaker, she has sponsored legislation opposing it. And powerful Republicans in the state appear to be consolidating around Mace after a bruising GOP primary. Still, Democrats think the suburbs of Charleston and the affluent Hilton Head area will break their way in November, especially with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham facing a formidable challenge that could draw out Democrats already eager to express their opposition to Trump. Cunningham has a clear fundraising advantage, with $3 million in the bank on June 30 compared with Mace’s $745,000. He has been using it to hammer Mace on the airwaves. 

John Katko, R-N.Y.

Katko faces a rematch from his 2018 opponent, former college professor Dana Balter. Republicans believe the three-term lawmaker is one of their strongest battleground incumbents and he’s beaten Balter before. But the national political environment this year could overwhelm the race as the Syracuse-based district shifts even further away from Trump. Notably both House campaign committees have already started spending in the race. With $1.6 million in the bank at June 30, Katko has a sizable financial advantage over Balter, who had $253,000 after winning a contested primary.

Don Bacon, R-Neb.

Bacon, a two-term incumbent and retired Air Force brigadier general, narrowly fended off a challenge during the blue wave of 2018 from nonprofit executive Kara Eastman in this Omaha-anchored seat. The Democrat is back this year with a more professional campaign team that has recalibrated her presentation to appeal to the district’s more moderate voters. She will also have the support of outside groups that sat out the 2018 race but now see the potential to increase Democrats’ grip on the suburbs. But Eastman has not had the impressive campaign hauls of other Democrats in higher-profile races — she ended June with $404,000 on hand compared with Bacon’s $1 million. And her support for “Medicare for All” could be a liability in a district that depends heavily on the insurance industry. 

Scott Perry, R-Pa.

Even though Trump would have carried Perry’s south-central Pennsylvania seat had the current congressional map been in place in 2016, Democrats are anticipating a close House race in November. This is just the second time Perry is running under the district's present configuration, and his Democratic opponent, state Auditor Eugene DePasquale, narrowly carried the seat in his 2016 statewide race. Democrats believe they can make the case that Perry, a member of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus, doesn’t fit the relatively new district. Perry has stepped up his fundraising in recent quarters, but DePasquale has nearly matched him in cash on hand. 

Rodney Davis R-Ill.

Even though Davis managed to survive the blue wave of 2018 by a narrow margin, 2020 may pose an even tougher landscape for the affable incumbent as his Central Illinois district is becoming less friendly turf for Trump. Davis, who’s bidding for a fifth term, faces a rematch  against businesswoman Betsy Dirksen Londrigan. The Democrat reported a cash advantage over the incumbent as of June 30, with more than $2.2 million in the bank to almost $1.9 million for Davis. Like other Democrats nationally looking to flip GOP seats, Dirksen Londrigan is focusing on health care.  

Max Rose, D-N.Y.

As expected, state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis won the June Republican primary to take on Rose. While the seat is favorable to Trump, the straight-talking Rose is also described as a good fit for the district. He deployed with the National Guard in April to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans believe Rose’s decision to march with Black Lives Matter protesters could turn off police and firefighters in the district, which includes Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn. But Rose maintains a significant financial advantage in the expensive New York City media market, with $4.3 million on hand on June 30 to Malliotakis’ $957,000. 

Anthony Brindisi, D-N.Y.

Republicans are still confident Trump supporters who didn’t show up in 2018 will turn out in November and doom Brindisi’s reelection in this upstate New York district. But Democrats note that Brindisi has already defeated his GOP opponent, former Rep. Claudia Tenney, once, and he had an established brand as a state lawmaker before coming to Congress. Brindisi also maintained a financial advantage in the less expensive upstate media market, with $2.8 million on hand on June 30 to Tenney’s $599,000.

This report was updated to reflect new ratings in four races.