In our last post, we looked at the GOP’s path back to the majority. This week, we will look at Democratic pickup opportunities, and the cost of keeping the House. The GOP certainly looks to be on the front foot in the House in 2020. More than 30 Democrats hold seats won by President Trump in 2016. With the President back on the ballot, a good number of these freshmen members could be in trouble. However, there are several opportunities for Democrats to go on the offensive and offset their possible losses by ousting sitting Republicans. Cook rates 18 districts as Lean or Toss Up Republican. Four are in the Toss Up column, with another 14 in the Lean column. As the Democrats defend a large number of seats, going after Toss Up or Lean Republican districts could prove beneficial by forcing Republicans to divert resources away from vulnerable Democratic districts.
Of the four Toss Up districts, two will not have incumbents in 2020: GA-07, which is currently open, and NC-09, which is in the midst of a re-do election. Rep. Woodall of GA-07 did not raise much money and only held off challenger Carolyn Bourdeaux by 400 votes. Woodall has announced he will not be running for another term, and Bourdeaux has said she will run again. This district sits entirely in the extremely expensive Atlanta media market, and will almost certainly be one of the most expensive races in the country. The re-do in NC-09 is still underway, but it is safe to say that whoever prevails this year will face a tough re-election in 2020.
The other two Toss Up Districts are in increasingly purple Texas. TX-23 has been one of the closest seats in the country during the past few cycles, and this seems unlikely to change in 2020. It’s reasonable to assume Rep. Hurd is safe considering he held onto his seat in 2018, but TX-23 voted for Clinton in 2016. A strong Democrat at the top of the ticket might be enough to carry a challenger to victory over Hurd in 2020. In TX-24, Rep. Marchant defeated an underfunded Dem challenger with no outside help by only three points. This is one of the many suburban Texas districts in which rapidly changing demographics are pushing previously safe seats to the left.
These four Toss Up seats will likely see huge sums of money in 2020, due to both expensive media markets and close races. In total, it would cost an issue group about $3.1M to run one message across all four districts.
Of the 14 Republican Lean seats, there are several that may become quite competitive in 2020 for several reasons. Plenty of these seats are in districts with changing demographics in which underfunded Dems outperformed the district’s Partisan Voter Index in 2018. In two of these districts, CA-50 and NY-27, the incumbents would normally be safe but have been recently marred with scandal. Four of the districts are suburban districts in Texas that were tighter races than expected in 2018. Democratic over performance last cycle could be attributable to Beto sitting at the top of the ticket, but what if Texas is (finally) showing signs of becoming a genuine purple state? In Texas, and across the 14 Lean Republican seats, Democrats could have a number of pickup opportunities if they’re willing to spend enough money. Many of these races might come down to cash advantage. To run one message across these 14 districts, an issue group would have to spend approximately $8.8M. For Democrats, this is easier said than done given the amount of seats the party will be defending, but they will likely target a few vulnerable districts to keep GOP issue groups occupied and on the defensive.
For an issue group to run one ad in all 18 of these districts, it would take a cumulative $11.9M. As of now, it’s probable that the Democrats will be playing defense in the House and won’t have the resources to go after Toss Up and Republican Lean districts full bore. But they could still spend in competitive districts in an effort to pickup seats an offset other losses, and tie up GOP resources across the Congressional map. There is also the potential for an extremely popular Democrat at the top of the ticket who could carry Democrats to victory in suburban districts with changing demographics. As we edge closer to 2020, paying attention to spending trends in competitive districts could help shed light on Democratic strategy and the districts that will be central to keeping the House blue.