Over the coming weeks, we’ll be shrinking the number of seats in our Tossup category. Following this week’s major update, we have just eight seats rated as Tossups. By election day, we hope to pick favorites in all of our remaining Tossup races. This update will go over all ten of our House ratings changes.
You can also catch a discussion of all our changes on tonight’s edition of The Report.
Maine-2 (D) Jared Golden (Tossup to Lean D)
Our first change comes in Maine’s 2nd district. We moved incumbent Democrat Jared Golden’s race for reelection from Tossup to Leans Democratic.
Golden, one of the House’s more conservative Democrats, was elected in 2018 over Republican Bruce Poliquin. The 36-year old ex-marine was the first member of Congress to be elected under a ranked-choice voting system.
This year Golden is facing Republican Dale Crafts, a member of the Maine House of Representatives. Crafts is a good candidate with an inspiring story about facing life from a wheelchair following a motorcycle accident, but it is unclear how that will translate into raw support this November. (Check out Joe Syzmanski’s interview with Crafts here)
Golden is also a good candidate. As a moderate, he fits perfectly into the traditional mold of prior Democrats from the 2nd like Mike Michaud (Mi-shoo). Golden is rated as a centrist Democrat by GovTrack.us and has backed up that brand by voting against Nancy Pelosi’s bid for the Speakership in 2019 and opposing Article II of the Impeachment proceedings against President Trump later that year. While some of these votes might be out of step with the views of most Democrats, they fall right in line with the average voter in this largely-rural Obama-Trump district.
In addition to Golden’s youth and moderate background, he is a decidedly strong fundraiser. According to the latest FEC data, Golden has nearly $2.2 million on hand compared to Dale Crafts’s meager $33,901. This disadvantage puts a good candidate like Crafts at a disadvantage against Golden, even with national money pouring in.
The Trump factor? One factor to address following our change is Trump’s influence on the race. Maine is one of two states to cast its electoral votes by Congressional district, and the 2nd is considered a Tossup by most forecasters, including Elections Daily. The seat voted for Obama twice before flipping to Trump by around ten points in 2016. While Trump could be considered a slim favorite to win this district again in 2020, we believe Golden will outrun Biden by enough to win. This, combined with his status as a strong moderate incumbent, justifies our change to Leans Democratic.
New York-2 (R) Open (Lean R to Tossup)
In New York’s Long Island-based 2nd district, we moved the race from Leans Republican to Tossup. This is the seat of long-time Congressman Pete King. King, a fading breed within the GOP, decided to retire this cycle. The race this time is between State Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino and councilwoman Jackie Gordon.
Despite this district’s Republican lean – it voted for Trump by 9 points and has easily reelected King in the past – we believe it will be one of the closest House races this cycle.
While we haven’t seen any polling in this district, Gordon’s strength as a candidate should not be underestimated. Gordon leads Garbarino by nearly a million dollars in cash on hand and it’s not clear how partial voters will be to Republicans this cycle without King as their candidate.
Another factor worth noting this fall is Joe Biden. If Biden can trim Trump’s margins in the 2nd this November, it has the potential to aid Gordon in her bid for Congress. This race, which we expect to be highly competitive, should be on every pundits’ radar.
Oklahoma-5 (D) Kendra Horn (Tossup to Lean R)
Our third change comes in Oklahoma-5, a district that yielded one of 2018’s biggest upsets. That year, underdog Democrat Kendra Horn defeated Republican incumbent Steve Russell by less than 1%. Now Horn is facing a tough re-election bid against a strong opponent: Republican State Senator Stephanie Bice.
Before the recent primary runoff, we viewed Horn’s re-election race as a Tossup. At that time, we did not know whether the nominee would be Terry Neese or Stephanie Bice. Neese, in our view, would’ve been a weaker candidate than Bice in a November matchup against Horn. To the relief of many Republicans, Bice ended up defeating the controversy-laden Neese by 6 points in the runoff, running up large margins in critical Oklahoma County.
Her victory prompted us to move the seat from Tossup to Leans Republican. While Kendra Horn is a strong fundraiser with a moderate record, we find it difficult to see her outrunning Joe Biden by enough to win re-election in a district that is likely to vote for President Trump again this November. (See Kraz Greinetz’s analysis of why Kendra Horn may not be capable of outrunning the top of the ticket here)
It is also important to remember that Bice is still a strong candidate against Horn. Despite burning significant amounts of money in a dirty runoff campaign against Neese, we can expect national Republicans to bail her out in a seat that remains one of their top targets.
Kendra Horn, along with Collin Peterson, is now the second incumbent Democrat that we consider a slight underdog this November. Both seats are currently rated as Leans Republican.
South Carolina-1 (D) Joe Cunningham (Tossup to Lean D)
Another one of the seats we moved out of our tossup category today is South Carolina-1. This is the Charleston-based seat along the South Carolina coast held by freshman Democrat Joe Cunningham. Much like Oklahoma’s 5th, South Carolina-1 was the scene of an impressive 2018 upset for the Democrats. That year, underdog Joe Cunningham narrowly bested favorite Katie Arrington to win a Trump seat that had been slowly trending toward the Democrats.
Since his election, Cunningham has created a moderate record for himself. He is ranked as a centrist Democrat by GovTrack.us and is currently a member of the House Blue Dogs Caucus. As a white Democrat in a suburban Trump seat, Cunningham has attempted to reach out to voters across the aisle with his uniquely appealing “brand” based around what he calls “low country values”. This brand, along with his charm and personal attractiveness, makes him a formidable candidate for re-election this cycle.
But Cunningham’s reelection won’t be a breeze. He’s in the middle of a hotly contested battle against Republican Nancy Mace, a member of the South Carolina State House and the first woman to graduate from The Citadel. Much like Bice in Oklahoma-5, Mace is a strong candidate that fits the non-controversial conservative mold very well. Yet she still shares a common weakness with Bice: fundraising. Both Mace and Bice trail their respective incumbents in overall fundraising and total cash on hand. But, like we mentioned in Oklahoma-5, we are already seeing national money pour into the district, reducing the significance of Cunningham’s fundraising advantage.
In addition to Cunningham’s well-run campaign and charming southern style, he has trends on his side. Trump may have won this district in 2016, but he underperformed the totals of previous Republican nominees like John McCain (2008) and Mitt Romney (2012). If Biden overperforms Clinton’s national margins around the country in November, it may reduce Trump’s lead in the district enough for Cunningham to win. 2020 yielded more positive news for Democrats when they flipped a Republican legislative seat in the Charleston-area by double digits. Even if Trump wins this district again, and we are of the opinion that he will, Cunningham’s unique brand should be enough to garner the crossover votes needed to win. For these reasons we are confident enough to move Cunningham’s race to Leans Democratic.
Florida-15 (R) Open (Lean R to Likely R)
2020 proved to be an extremely bad year for House incumbents in primary elections, and Florida’s 15th was no exception. Freshman Republican Ross Spano, who many Republicans considered a liability for re-election, lost his primary to Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin 51-49%. Though many election enthusiasts saw the possibility of a Franklin win before election day (largely due to poor incumbent primary performances earlier in the cycle), Spano’s loss was still somewhat surprising. In hindsight, though, his loss doesn’t seem as shocking as it once did. Franklin was a credible opponent with a strong base in Polk County and Spano was in the midst of an investigation into financial disclosures from his 2018 campaign.
One of the main reasons for our change here was Spano’s primary defeat. Like Steve King in Iowa-4 and Steve Watkins in Kansas-2, we considered Spano more of a liability for Congressional Republicans in this seat than a benefit. Franklin is not just scandal-free, he is also a stronger fundraiser than his Democratic opponent Alan Cohn. This should put some minds at the NRCC at ease this November.
One thing we are watching here is whether Franklin will outrun President Trump in the district. Trump carried the seat by ten points in 2016, and stands a chance of carrying it again in 2020 – albeit by a smaller margin. Either way, we expect Scott Franklin to hold the 15th for Republicans this fall.
Iowa-1 (D) Abby Finkenauer (Tossup to Lean D)
Iowa’s 1st district takes in the northeastern half of the state, including cities like Dubuque and Cedar Rapids. Like all four of Iowa’s Congressional districts, the 1st voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Trump only won it by around four points, though, and it had previously voted for Obama twice. This “swinginess” made it a top target for Iowa Democrats in 2018. Later that November, Incumbent Republican Rod Blum lost reelection by five points to Democrat Abby Finkenauer, an Iowa State Representative.
Though Finkenauer arguably had an easier race than colleague Cindy Axne (IA-3) did in 2018, her race this time around is generally considered to be Iowa’s most competitive. Despite that, we are moving the seat out of the Tossup column to Leans Democratic.
This cycle, Finkenauer is facing Iowa State Representative Ashley Hinson, one of the GOP’s top swing district recruits. In addition to her strength as a candidate, she is also a strong fundraiser and has managed to keep pace with Finkenauer for most of the cycle, something many other Republican challengers have been unable to do.
But things are beginning to look rosier for Finkenauer and the other Iowa Democrats. For one, Hinson’s credibility was slightly dented earlier this year when her campaign site was accused of plagiarism. While voters may have never heard, or possibly don’t care, about these reports, they certainly don’t work to Hinson’s advantage.
Finkenauer may also benefit from a potentially strong performance at the top of the ticket by Joe Biden. 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton only lost the 1st by about four points, even as she lost Iowa as a whole by nearly ten. If Biden wins the first, or at least trims Trump’s margin in it, it will be hard to see a Hinson path to victory. So while we’re not counting Hinson out, we believe there is enough evidence to consider Finkenauer a favorite for reelection at the present moment.
Illinois-13 (R) Rodney Davis (Tossup to Lean R)
Illinois’s 13th district was the site of one of 2018’s closest races: incumbent Republican Rodney Davis beat Democrat Betsy Dirksen-Londrigan by a mere 0.8%. It was Davis’s closest race since his initial election in 2012 when he beat Democrat David Gill by just 0.3%. In between those two elections, Davis had had little trouble winning reelection, even as President Trump only narrowly carried his district in 2016. 2018 was a shot over the bow, and Davis is taking his 2020 reelection bid seriously.
This year’s race is a classic rematch between Davis and Londrigan. All the dynamics here so far have pointed to a close race, but it appears that Davis has a slight edge. Both candidates are neck and neck in fundraising, but the seat still has a Republican lean. Trump carried it by just shy of six points in 2016, and it’s difficult to see Londrigan attracting a large sum of crossover support from Trump voters.
For these reasons, we decided to move Davis’s reelection race to Leans Republican, removing another key race from our Tossup category. It is important to note that this race is still expected to be very close, our ratings change was made simply to show that we view Davis as a slim favorite for reelection.
Colorado-3 (R) Open (Lean R to Likely R)
Colorado’s 3rd district might be the nation’s most tranquilly beautiful Congressional district, but its political movements have been nothing but raucous and unpredictable.
It all began when Congressman Scott Tipton lost his primary in an upset to Lauren Boebert, an anti-establishment conservative who owned and operated the pro-gun restaurant “Shooter’s Grill” in Rifle, Colorado. Tipton was completely broadsided. He did not advertise during the primary campaign, and simply failed to take Boebert’s challenge seriously. National anti-incumbent sentiment was another possible factor that played a role in Tipton’s defeat.
Shortly after Boebert’s election night victory, she was accused of supporting Qanon. However, unlike Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA14), Boebert quickly began to disavow Qanon, distancing herself from the allegations. This was a smart campaign strategy on her part, and it might have helped make her more appealing to populist conservatives in the district who support her policies but may not believe in the Qanon conspiracy theories.
Boebert’s only weakness so far has been fundraising (she trails 2018 Democratic nominee Diane Mitsch Bush by a significant amount in cash on hand). We are still waiting on new FEC numbers to come in, but we believe that the district’s Republican-edge should be enough for Boebert to win off of this November, even with a small war-chest.
Unlike other anti-establishment newcomers this cycle (such as Bob Good in VA-5), Boebert has managed to maintain a rather stable campaign. If she keeps it up, she should be able to use President Trump’s presence at the top of the ticket to her advantage. For these reasons, we’ve decided to move Colorado’s 3rd to Likely Republican from Leans Republican.
Texas-10 (R) Mike McCaul (Tossup to Lean R)
In the Austin-based 10th district, we are making an important change to our ratings. We are moving Congressman Mike McCaul’s reelection bid from Tossup to Leans Republican. Like many seats in Texas, this one is moving toward the Democrats. Despite the trends, we still believe McCaul is a slight favorite in his rematch against Mike Siegel, a progressive Democrat that he beat by around three points in 2018.
One of the main reasons for this change is fundraising. Siegel is a weak fundraiser and currently trails McCaul by around $1.2 million in the cash on hand section. Even if Joe Biden manages to come close to winning this district, it will still be tough for Siegel to defeat McCaul from such a disadvantage. Despite this change, Texas still has more Tossups, and more competitive races in general, than any other state in the county. (Elections Daily)
California-25 (R) Mike Garcia (Tossup to Lean R)
Our final change comes in one of the most-watched Congressional seats in the country: California-25. The seat is represented by Republican Mike Garcia, a first-time candidate who ran a strong campaign against a weak candidate, Christy Smith, in a May special election; Garcia won by nearly ten points, flipping a diverse Clinton seat.
Now Garcia is facing a rematch against Smith, who many Democrats fear will lose the seat in November even if Joe Biden carries it on the Presidential level.
Garcia ran on a strong message in the special election. By focusing on his military background and stressing his intentions to focus on the district, he was able to play down his support for President Trump – essentially making it a “non-issue” in the campaign. (Smith’s zoom gaffe in which she mocked Garcia’s military service also did not help her bid for the seat)
Garcia appears to be a fairly non-controversial incumbent and it seems like his strategy may be perfect for garnering crossover voters in a seat that will likely vote for Biden this November.
On top of his strength as a campaigner, Garcia is leading Smith in fundraising as well as in the polls. We view Garcia as a favorite to hold his seat. While this seat would typically be more favorable to Democrats, Garcia has proven to be a perfect example of the type of Republican needed to win a diverse seat like the 25th.
The State of the House?
As we’ve said before, the chances of the Republicans taking back the House this cycle are fairly low. As you can see from the chart below, the Republicans would need to win all the remaining Tossups, along with all of seats rated Leans Democratic, if they want to take back the House.
A common thread thru these changes is that Trump is going to win the districts he won last time and by the same or almost the same margin. I don’t see that happening in places like OK-5 and IL-13. I would keep those toss-ups.