House of Representatives

Too many tight races, factors to predict beyond GOP likely to keep House in key contests

Virginia lawmaker speaks out

 

“Everybody is wrong about everything, just about all the time” -- Chuck Klosterman, “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto”

There’s not a lot we can predict going into election night -- at the presidential level, in given states, the Electoral College vote count, House contests, Senate races or control of either body.

It is pedestrian to project that Republicans will likely hold control of the House and the Senate is likely to flip to Democratic control -- but it will be close.

We just don’t know. So we won’t try to guess. But when it comes to the House, we can provide some markers to decipher the evening’s nomenclature.

In New Hampshire, Rep. Frank Guinta, a Republican, is in a rematch with former Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.

The contest is like Alien vs. Predator. Each candidate keeps coming back, refusing to die. It’s a classic district in a swing state influenced by turnout in presidential years versus midterm years. This is the fourth consecutive election in which Guinta and Shea-Porter faced off.

Shea-Porter claimed the seat from former GOP Rep. Jeb Bradley in 2006. Voters re-elected Shea-Porter in 2008. But then things got interesting.

Guinta first defeated Shea-Porter in 2010. But she rallied to win in 2012. Guinta returned the favor in 2014. Shea-Porter appears to have the advantage in presidential years and Guinta in midterms. The Federal Election Commission ruled Guinta’s parents improperly donated $335,000 to his 2010 campaign.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., called on Guinta to resign. National Republicans not-so-secretly hoped Guinta would lose his primary so they would have a better shot of defeating Shea-Porter this year.

A win by either candidate could help portend in which direction the state and its four electoral votes go the presidential race.

Florida is another interesting battleground with several races in play. A rematch between GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo and former Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia is also on the docket in Florida’s 26th Congressional district.

This is a quintessential battleground district in a swing state. A heavy Latino presence permeates the district, which stretches from the Miami suburbs through the Florida Keys. Garcia flipped the seat to Democratic control in 2012. But Curbelo beat Garcia in 2014.

Curbelo is a moderate Republican and worked to distance himself from Trump. Curbelo was perhaps the most-endangered Republican House member going into this cycle.

Garcia faced a firestorm when he declared that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was “under no illusions that you want to have sex with her or that she’s going to seduce you.” Democrats are showing strength in other Florida House races. But this will be the real test of their strength in the state.

Democrats will be on their way to a good night if Democrat Stephanie Murphy topples longtime Rep. John Mica, R-Fla. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) identifies the district as “the most competitive” in Florida.

The district was virtually split for President Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012. Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott barely carried the district in his 2014 campaign against Democrat Charlie Crist. The best thing Democrats have going for them is that the redrawn district now favors their side.

Florida is an interesting place when it comes to House contests.

Democrats will probably lose at least one seat there. Rep. Gwen Graham, a conservative Democrat, decided to retire rather than face an uphill climb in a reworked district that is good for Republicans.

In fact, Fox News rates the Graham district as the most likely in the entire country to flip. Republican Neal Dunn is up against Democrat Walter Dartland.

Crist is running as a Democrat against Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla.  

Fox rates that seat as the fourth-most likely seat to change parties this cycle.

In Maine, watch the performance of Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin in a retread race from 2014 against Democrat Emily Cain.

Poliquin took the district from Democrats in 2014 when he defeated Cain. But Poliquin failed to crack 50 percent in a three-candidate race.

He is one of the most-endangered Republican candidates in the country.

Poliquin has declined to comment or endorse Donald Trump. This district is largely rural and stretches to the Canadian border. Democrats hold few rural districts, and it would be significant if Cain wins. Maine is one of two states that allocates its electoral votes proportionately. This could be one district that votes for Trump, even if the rest of Maine does not.

In Virginia, a contest between Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Republican, and Democrat LuAnn Bennett is a prime example of how Democrats now earn traction in exurban districts near major metropolitan areas.

Comstock’s northern Virginia district includes some rural areas. But its population is centered on the outer Washington, D.C. suburbs.

Comstock is a former Republican National Committee official and worked on the staff of her predecessor, former Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va.

Trump’s lack of popularity in suburban Washington could wound Comstock. She has gone out of her way to distance herself from Trump. Democrats hoped to knock off Wolf for years but never turned the corner.

Bennett is the ex-wife of former Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., who represented another suburban district in northern Virginia.

These are all races in the east that are among some of the most competitive. But keep an eye on the results in Virginia’s 5th Congressional district, vacated by retiring GOP Rep. Robert Hurt, and Pennsylvania’s 16th district, home to retiring GOP Rep. Joseph Pitts.

Both are off-the-radar seats in swing states. If Democrats are to have a shot at significant gains nationwide, surprise wins in either of those districts could reveal a lot. Democrat Jane Ditmar faces Republican Tom Garrett in Virginia. Democrat Christina Hartman is up against Republican Lloyd Smucker in Pennsylvania.

In Nebraska, freshman Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford entered the
2016 cycle as perhaps the most-endangered House Democrat. 

He’s one of only three sitting Democrats who are believed to be in danger of losing. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., campaigned for GOP nominee Don Bacon two weeks ago in this Omaha-centered district.

Mitt Romney carried the district in 2012 by seven points. Ashford unseated GOP Rep. Lee Terry in 2014 as Terry was prone to gaffes.

Republicans think Ashford’s victory was a fluke thanks to Terry’s missteps.

Like Maine, Nebraska allocates its electoral votes proportionately. Obama secured one of Nebraska’s five electoral votes in this district in 2008 but failed to repeat that feat in 2012.

Much like Florida in the south, Minnesota is also a battleground for House contests in the north.

Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., is in a rematch from 2014 against Republican Stewart Mills. Many thought Nolan was a goner in 2014. He returned to Capitol Hill in 2012 after a 32-year break from serving in Congress.

Nolan flipped the rural district in the Iron Range of Minnesota back to Democratic control after Republicans claimed it the upset of the 2010 cycle.

Democrats chided Nolan for his lackluster campaign fundraising efforts two years ago. Nolan edged out Mills by a point-and-a-half, but failed to crack 50 percent.

Democrats hope to win the seat of retiring Rep. John Kline, R-Minn.

Democrat Angie Craig faces Republican Jason Lewis. Minnesota Democrats are also attempting to topple GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen. Democrat Terri Bonoff is the challenger.

Several seats in California are in the mix.

This is notable because California is not Trump country, and high Democratic turnout could prove potent against Republicans.

In addition, two Democrats are on the ballot to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer: California Attorney General Kamala Harris faces Rep. Loretta Sanchez. That gives Republicans little reason to hustle to the polls in California.

There may be Republicans easier for California Democrats to defeat than GOP Rep. Darrell Issa.

But there is essential no Republican whom Democrats would relish unseating more than Issa. He led multiple inquiries into the Obama administration and openly sparred with Democrats when chairman of the House Oversight committee.

Ironically, Issa’s tried to associate himself positively with Obama in campaign literature. Doug Applegate is the Democratic challenger.

The Republican turnout issue could pose issues for GOP Reps. Steve Knight, Jeff Denham and David Valadao.

Rep. Ami Bera is also one of the vulnerable California Democratic “triplets,” as he faces Republican Scott Jones. Bera’s 83-year-old father just went to prison for illegally donating campaign cash to his son. The congressman was never implicated.

In Kansas, the district held by GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder wasn’t expected to be competitive this cycle. But Democrat Jay Sidie is giving the three-term congressman a run.

The district is in play because of Democratic inroads into exurban districts in which educated, professional Democrats now reside. Yoder stuck with supporting Trump and that’s hurt him.

The race in Pennsylvania’s 9th Congressional district is downright bizarre. The only thing for sure is that its voters will send a Republican to Washington after the election. On its face, it looks like Democrats have a shot to win, as GOP Rep. Bill Shuster faces “Democrat” Art Halvorson.

But here’s the rub: Halvorson is a conservative who unsuccessfully challenged the relatively moderate Shuster in the GOP primary.

Halvorson then managed to coax enough write-in signatures to worm his way onto the Democratic line on the ballot, though he’s a Republican. Halvorson says if elected, he’ll conference with the Republicans.

In Nevada, GOP Rep. Cresent Hardy was the upset winner of the 2014 cycle. Now Hardy finds himself on the board in a presidential year against Democrat Ruben Kihuen.

In the state’s Senate race, GOP Rep. Joe Heck campaigns against Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto to succeed retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat.

Democrats have tried to unseat Heck since he won in the Las Vegas suburbs in 2010. Obama narrowly carried the district in 2012, and Democrats hold a registration edge.

In the contest to fill Heck’s seat, Democrat Jacky Rosen is a political neophyte recruited personally by Reid. Rosen opposes Republican Danny Tarkanian, the son of legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian. The younger Tarkanian was the starting point guard on his father’s team in the early 1980s.

One would think the name “Tarkanian” would be a lock on the ballot in Nevada. But Tarkanian’s never won an election despite running for state Senate, secretary of State, Senate and Congress.

Tarkanian lost the GOP Senate nomination to Tea Party-favorite Sharron Angle in 2010 in an attempt to unseat Reid.

Every election cycle features a “wild card” race or two.

For this year, sources tell Fox News that the contest between freshman Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, and Democrat Denise Juneau is one of those races.

The other pits Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, against Democrat Steve Lindbeck. Fox is told both contests “are closer than they should be” for incumbent Republicans in GOP states.

So, no predictions here -- other than it’s a high hurdle for Democrats to get the House. The best thing to gauge is how significant the pickups could be for Democrats -- or if a GOP firewall holds. These races serve as signposts to watch for to understand how the night may unfold.