April marks the start of election 2020’s second quarter, an opportune time to take stock of the election cycle just as the tempo of campaign activity increases.
After a month where the Congress was consumed by the partial government shutdown and congressional hearings, the Democratic caucus has settled into their role as the majority party and presidential foil. The national media has put a spotlight on high-profile freshmen members and their comments, and dedicated plenty of headlines to the Democratic caucus’s divided responses to those new faces and ideas. Meanwhile, the legislative gears grind on and bills that the party ran on are being passed and sent to the Senate where they sit idle in Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s pocket.
Barring some national crisis or high-profile legislative battle (think Health Care repeal in 2017), the public does not pay a lot of attention to electoral jockeying this early on, and in a Presidential Election cycle even less so. Since voters hold Congress in low regard (according to opinion polls) and hyper-partisanship has reduced the persuadable center, it’s too early to know what effect the ongoing machinations will have on individual races or control of the House. External influences like the state of the economy and national political environment will play a large role in influencing those outcomes, and it is far too early to say with any confidence or accuracy what will happen 18 months prior to the election.
After the FEC filing deadline, we will begin to see if some of these vulnerable Democratic members can keep up their 2018 fundraising momentum or if the small donors who powered them to victory have turned to the wide field of Presidential Primary candidates and clues for which Republican is planning to retire or considering it.
Because it’s too early to know the macro influences for the election cycle here are some “micro” results that can help us gauge what competitive seats will be:
By now, “The Big Three” election race raters—The Cook Political Report, Larry Sabato’s Crystal being the other two—have issued their initial ratings, which, barring an incumbent’s retirement in a competitive district, won’t move much until early next year.
In total, 53 seats (33 Democrats and 20 Republicans) received a rating of lean or worse by at least two of the three forecasters. Of the seven seats rated a “pure” toss-up (i.e., all three forecasters have a toss-up rating) five are held by Democrats in some of the most ancestrally Republican areas of the country.
These five freshmen, Reps. Max Rose (NY-11), Andy Brindisi (NY-22), Kendra Horn (OK-05), Joe Cunningham (SC-01), and Ben McAdams (UT-04) are the most vulnerable right now and the top priorities of the National Republican Conference Committee. Come Election Day 2020, if Republicans are struggling in these races then it bodes poorly for their chances to recapture the House majority.
Of the two Republican seats, one (NC-09) is a special election held later this year. This comes after the North Carolina Board of Elections decision to not certify the 2018 election results, after finding significant voter fraud. The other is an open seat due to the retirement of Rep. Rob Woodall (GA-07).
The other 46 seats are a mix of the following:
Most of these seats are “in the middle” and competitive, where Trump or Clinton captured less than 55 percent in 2016, and the incumbent won by less than 10 percent in 2018.
There’s going to be a lot of sizzle and fizzle, and races will come off-and-on as candidates declare, incumbents retire, and the decisions made and actions taken by millions of voters, donors, and news media across this country fuel what is likely to be another intense election season.