Ratings change: GOP chances drop in four House races, improve in two

Sen. Lindsey Graham reelection also no longer rated ‘likely’

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez's challenge to freshman Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell was upgraded from Tilt Democratic to Toss-up  by Inside Eletcions partly because of the attention he got directing the coronavirus pandemic response. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images file photo)
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez's challenge to freshman Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell was upgraded from Tilt Democratic to Toss-up by Inside Eletcions partly because of the attention he got directing the coronavirus pandemic response. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images file photo)
Posted September 21, 2020 at 10:30am

Even with winds favoring Democrats holding their House majority or even adding seats, House Republicans in the next Congress could see an increase in the number of members who represent districts carried by the Democratic presidential nominee. 

Right now, it’s a small club. Only three GOP incumbents in districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016 survived the Democratic wave two years later: Will Hurd of Texas, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and John Katko of New York. 

Their posse was going to be thinned by at least one when Hurd decided not to run for reelection. But then Mike Garcia won the May special election in California’s 25th District, where Clinton won by nearly 7 points in 2016.

All three congressmen face competitive races this fall, but have a decent chance of returning. Katko and Fitzpatrick’s reelections are rated Tilt Republican. And Garcia’s race is now rated a Toss-up (from Tilt Democratic) as President Donald Trump is running close to how he did four years ago and Democrats have yet to define the congressman as a Trump Republican, enough to pull him down. 

GOP prospects are also good in Florida’s 26th District, where the race rating changes from Tilt Democratic to Toss-up. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is mounting a strong challenge to Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Trump will lose the district again (he lost it by 16 points in 2016), but his performance with Cuban Americans and Gimenez’s local profile as the face of the coronavirus response gives him higher positive name identification than typical challengers.

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Outrunning the top of the ticket is not easy. In the last two presidential cycles, 92 percent and 94 percent of House districts voted for the same party for president and the House, according to “Vital Statistics on Congress.”

A few other Republicans could join the crossover club. Former Rep. David Valadao is running a strong race to avenge his 2018 loss in California’s 21st District, which Clinton won by more than 15 points in 2016. And Rep. Don Bacon could get reelected in Nebraska’s 2nd District, which Trump looks likely to lose.

Four Democrats’ ratings improve

On the flip side, there will likely be fewer Democratic members representing districts Trump carried, because the president is likely to win fewer districts than he did in 2016. 

For example, in Maine’s 2nd District, the rating shifts from Tilt Democratic to Lean Democratic, a reflection of improvement in Democratic Rep. Jared Golden’s chances. Trump carried the rural district by 10 points in 2016, but Joe Biden was ahead of the president by 9 points in the latest Quinnipiac survey

Trump’s underperformance is also boosting Democratic prospects in districts that were supposed to host competitive contests. The race in Kansas’ 3rd District, represented by Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids, is now rated Likely Democratic, a change from Lean Democratic. It’s a similar story (and rating change) with Rep. Colin Allred of Texas’ 32nd District. 

Democratic prospects are also improving in at least one takeover opportunity: Arkansas’ 2nd District. Trump carried the Little Rock-area seat by more than 10 points four years ago, but he’s struggling to carry it again. That’s helping Democrat Joyce Elliott’s chances of defeating GOP Rep. French Hill. The rating of that race changed from Likely Republican to Lean Republican.

Graham faces tough race

There’s also one big change in the Senate as the South Carolina race moves from Likely Republican to Lean Republican. Between Trump’s underperformance in the state and Democrat Jaime Harrison’s astounding fundraising, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham is going to face his toughest race in 18 years.

With nearly six weeks before Election Day, Democrats are positioned for a net gain of three to five Senate seats. Even the lower end of that range would be enough for control of the Senate if Biden wins the White House, because a Vice President Kamala Harris could break any 50-50 ties. Democrats are also poised to expand their majority in the House, where the current outlook is no net change to a Democratic gain of 11 seats.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst for CQ Roll Call.