Keith Sonia

Naked Politics Blogger

For the better part of Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency, the opposition Democratic Party has held the lead in polls asking ‘which party do you think should control the U.S. House of Representatives?’. Despite carrying the popular vote nationwide, they are in the minority in both houses of Congress, in governorships, and across state legislatures.

To instil confidence in those that view Trump’s presidency with increased cynicism ahead of the 2020 presidential race, the Democrats really need to win the House. Recent byelection results, provide an indication that Democrats could be in a strong position to win the lion’s share of toss-up constituencies, while Republican campaign funds could be stretched by the need to defend traditionally safe seats.


The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato estimates that the Democrats have a 50-50 chance of picking up the 24 seats they need to take the chamber. To listen to many Democrats – bolstered by a slew of GOP members electing to retire rather than contest their seat again (often a sign that they don’t love their chances), a Pennsylvania court decision that forcibly shifted Congressional constituency boundaries in that state, and unexpected victories in Pennsylvania and the Alabama Senate byelection – a tsunami is forming.

24 seats? A cakewalk. Surely, 40 or 50 are in play? But, realistically, a lot will need to go right for the Democrats for the ‘blue wave’ to build as the party hopes. Should the Democrats fail, it will almost certainly mean a wholesale change at the top of the party leadership and increased pessimism about reigning in, and eventually defeating, Donald Trump.

So where does the party need to win if they are to make a wipeout of House Republicans a reality? Here are some races to keep an eye on…


California 49th District

Incumbent: Darrell Issa (R), not a candidate for re-election

Major Party Candidates: Diane Harkey (R); Mike Levin (D)


Rep. Darrell Issa, the divisive GOP incumbent that beat back a fierce Democratic challenge in 2016, has presumably seen the writing on the wall and elected not to run for re-election in a bid to save this Southern California seat for the Republicans. Based in Richard Nixon’s old stomping grounds of San Clemente and straddling the counties of San Diego and Orange, California’s 49th is one of a handful of seats in the Golden State that Democrats feel they must win to have a realistic chance of capturing the House.

In California’s ‘jungle primary system,’ Republican Diane Harkey, a former member of the California State Assembly, and Democratic activist and attorney Mike Levin earned the right to contest what is sure to be an exceedingly expensive race. The contest also serves as a reminder about the potential demise of the GOP’s old, coastal, more moderate wing.

Other Democratic MUST-Wins:
North Carolina 9th District (OPEN seat); Pennsylvania 6th District (OPEN seat); Pennsylvania 5th District (OPEN seat); New Jersey 2nd District (OPEN seat); New Jersey 11th District (OPEN seat); Florida 27th District (OPEN seat); Arizona 2nd District (OPEN seat); New York 22nd District (C. Tenney); New York 19th District (J. Faso); Colorado 6th District (M. Coffman); Iowa 1st District (R. Blum); California 39th District (OPEN seat); California 48th District (D. Rohrabacher).

The Seats That Put the Democrats Over the Top

Virginia 10th Congressional District

Incumbent: Barbara Comstock (R); Candidate for re-election

Major Party Opposition: Jennifer Wexton (D)


The Commonwealth of Virginia was a long-time bastion of Republican politics but now sends two Democrats to the U.S. Senate, a Democrat governor, and has fallen into the Democratic column in the last three presidential contests.

Despite that transition from ruby red to increasingly reliable blue state, moderate GOP Congresswoman Barbara Comstock has survived two arduous campaigns to hold the district for the Republicans. 2018 though, is looking like Comstock’s most difficult test to date.

The Democrats have nominated State Senator and attorney Jennifer Wexton, a pragmatic dealmaker during her time in in the state legislature. Should the Democrats retire Comstock, it will be a difficult task to win the seat back in the near term, as GOP primary voters would likely favour a more conservative option, which may turn off the electorate. This one will be a titanic struggle.

Other Potential Tipping-Point Seats:
Texas 7th District (J. Culberson); Texas 23rd District (W. Hurd); Florida 26th District (C. Curbelo); California 10th District (J. Denham); California 25th District (S. Knight); California 45th District (M. Walters); New Jersey 7th District (L. Lance); Minnesota 2nd District (J. Lewis); Minnesota 3rd District (E. Paulsen); Washington 8th District (OPEN seat); Pennsylvania 7th District (OPEN seat); Illinois 12th District (M. Bost); Maine 2nd District (B. Poliquin); New York 1st District (L. Zeldin); New York 11th District (D. Donovan); Kentucky 6th District (A. Barr); Montana At-Large (G. Gianforte); Virginia 2nd District (S. Taylor); Virginia 5th District (OPEN seat); Virginia 7th District (D. Brat); Kansas 2nd District (OPEN seat); Kansas 3rd District (K. Yoder); West Virginia 3rd District (OPEN seat); Nebraska 2nd District (D. Bacon).

The Blue Wave: Landslide Seats

Wisconsin 1st Congressional District

Incumbent: Paul Ryan; Not a candidate for re-election

Leading Major Party Candidates: Bryan Steil (R); Randy Bryce (D)


Former two-time losing candidate for the Wisconsin state legislature and ironworker, Randy “Iron Stache” Bryce, capitalised on his everyman image and social media presence when he declared his candidacy for Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District in a bid to oust the most powerful man in Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan. Bryce raised an impressive amount of cash in short order, but it was not until Ryan shocked the political establishment with his announcement that he would not seek re-election to Congress that ‘Congressman Bryce’ became fathomable.

Ryan has endorsed Bryan Steil, an attorney and Ryan’s former driver, helping direct campaign funds Steil’s way. The district itself has never been as deeply Republican as Ryan, but the power of incumbency and Ryan’s national profile helped keep him well-funded and largely free of any legitimate threat over the course of his Congressional career.

This could provide Democrats with the kind of victory that could serve as the cherry on top of the sundae.

Other Potential Landslide Seats:
Utah 4th District (M. Love); California 4th District (T. McClintock); California 21st District (D. Valadao); California 22nd District (D. Nunes); Arkansas 2nd District (F. Hill); Arizona 6th District (D. Schweikert); Florida 15th District (OPEN seat); Florida 16th District (V. Buchanan); Florida 18th District (B. Mast); Florida 25th District (M. Diaz-Balart); Alaska At-Large (D. Young); South Carolina 1st District (OPEN seat); New Mexico 2nd District (OPEN seat); Illinois 13th District (R. Davis); Iowa 4th District (S. King); New York 2nd District (P. King);  New York 24th District (J. Katko).

No list here is exhaustive – if Democrats do put it all together and turn the fervour of the anti-Trump movement into a coalition capable of delivering a landslide, there will undoubtedly be some Election Day shocks. Such is the nature of landslides.

Five months is an eternity in Trumpian times and there are a host of factors that could upend everything in either direction. For now, though, these seats represent those you should keep your eye on in the ongoing battle for control of the House of Representatives.

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Last Update: June 27, 2018