Gonzales

Rating changes in four House races, but Flores’ seat isn’t one of them

Outlook shifts toward Democrats in Texas and Iowa races, and toward GOP in one California contest

Texas Rep. Bill Flores is not seeking a sixth term in 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

It’s not a question of if more House Members will retire; it’s a question of when and where.

On Wednesday, Rep. Bill Flores became the fifth Texas Republican to announce he will not seek reelection or another office in 2020. Of the 13 members retiring in 2020, 11 are Republicans and two are Democrats. And more exits are likely to come, considering that, on average, 23 members have retired each election cycle, going back to the 1970s.

It isn’t necessarily something in the water in the Lone Star State that’s inspiring the exodus. Texas has an early candidate filing deadline (Dec. 9) and early primaries (March 3), so members can’t wait until the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays to contemplate their political futures. And they want to give future candidates enough time to build their campaigns to give the party the best chance to hold their seats.

The sheer number of retirements isn’t as important as the partisanship of the districts being left behind.

Republicans shouldn’t have a problem holding Flores’ 17th District seat. President Donald Trump carried the district that covers College Station, Waco and suburban Austin 56 percent to 39 percent in 2016, according to Daily Kos Elections. Of course, the open-seat race is just getting started, so we don’t know who will run and what the national political environment will be next year.

But holding districts currently held by retiring Reps. Pete Olson, Kenny Marchant, and Will Hurd will be more difficult for the GOP. We changed our rating for Texas’ 23rd District from Toss-up to Leans Democratic when Hurd announced his retirement in early August.

More recently, we changed our rating in Olson’s 22nd and Marchant’s 24th districts from Lean Republican to Tilt Republican. Both seats contain significant suburban territory (the 22nd includes suburbs south of Houston  and the 24th is in suburban Dallas/Fort Worth), where Republicans have struggled, especially since Trump was elected president.

In North Carolina, Republicans are having difficulty holding the 9th District in the upcoming redo election Tuesday, in part because of the Charlotte suburbs. A recent bipartisan poll conducted for Inside Elections found Democrat Dan McCready leading Republican Dan Bishop 69 percent to 27 percent in Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte. Bishop was leading in the more rural areas, but not by the same margin.

One way Republicans looking to 2020 battles will dismiss a potential loss or close call in North Carolina is by pointing out that McCready, unlike incumbents up next year, cannot be tied to Washington and polarizing colleagues such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But that means Republicans could face similar challenges in open-seat races for the 22nd and 24th districts in Texas with the incumbents retiring. 

There’s more analysis on those races, and close to 100 others, in the most recent Aug. 30 issue of Inside Elections.

We also changed the rating of Iowa’s 4th District from Likely Republican to Leans Republican. A crowded field of primary challengers to GOP Rep. Steve King increases the likelihood that the nominating process goes to a convention, which could help the congressman’s chances. And if King is the nominee, he increases Democratic chances of winning the seat. This shouldn’t be a competitive race because of the normal GOP performance of the district, but the congressman’s 3-point victory last fall points to another closer-than-necessary contest.

We changed our rating in California’s 21st District, with former Republican Rep. David Valadao’s entry into the race, from Likely Democratic to Tilts Democratic. The southern Central Valley seat votes Democratic under most circumstances but Valadao routinely overperformed until he lost to Democrat TJ Cox last year by less than 1 point.

Next year’s rematch in California will determine whether it’s possible for Republicans to win back lost territory in the near future, now that the member of Congress aligns with the district’s partisan lean. For example, Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards represented the College Station, Texas, area for years, even though it trended Republican. But once he lost to Flores in 2010, the seat probably isn’t coming back to the Democrats anytime soon.

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