House Democrats' 7 silver-lining districts

Greg Nash

A week from Election Day, House Democrats are clinging to a few rays of hope as they try to limit GOP gains. 

Democrats have no chance of winning back the House on Election Day, thanks to President Obama’s down-ballot drag, last cycle’s GOP-favored redistricting that shrunk the playing field and recruitment misses. 

Despite that, there are seven races where Democrats have solid opportunities to unseat Republican incumbents or claim a GOP-held open seat. From a 20-count indictment to refusing to forgo pay during the government shutdown, a handful of Republican incumbents have stumbled badly.

Democrats originally hoped there could be more opportunities. Republican Reps. Mike Coffman (Colo.), David Valadao (Calif.) and Chris Gibson (N.Y.) once looked vulnerable, but now all three appear likely to win reelection. 

Here are seven races that could be silver linings for House Democrats next Tuesday:

1. California’s Open 31st District: Retiring Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.). This seat became Democrats' best pickup opportunity as soon as Miller announced his retirement earlier this year. In 2012, Democrats were poised to win this majority-Hispanic district, but a crowded field split the party's vote, allowing Miller and another Republican to advance to the general election in the state’s jungle primary. 

This year, Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar is in a strong position to defeat the GOP candidate, businessman and Iraq War veteran Paul Chabot, after placing third and missing the general election two years ago. 

2. Nebraska’s 2nd District: Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.). Terry is still facing the consequences of last year's 16-day government shutdown. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Terry's opponent, Nebraska state Sen. Brad Ashford (D), are pounding the eight-term incumbent for not forgoing his pay during the shutdown. "I’ve got a nice house and a kid in college, and I’ll tell you we cannot handle it. Giving our paycheck away when you still worked and earned it? That’s just not going to fly," Terry told the Omaha World-Herald in October 2013.  Terry's margin of victory has become smaller in the last few elections. He won by only 2 percentage points in 2012, even though he's held the seat since 1999 and previously won reelection by 30-point margins. 

3. Iowa’s Open 3rd District: Retiring Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa). Polls show former state Sen. Staci Appel (D) is neck-and-neck with Republican candidate David Young, a former chief of staff to Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyReport: Investor visa program mainly funds wealthy areas Cotton not ruling out 2020 White House bid Ben Stein revives ‘Ferris Bueller’ role for Grassley ad MORE (R-Iowa). Appel, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary, has maintained a significant financial advantage over Young, who had to devote resources to win the crowded GOP primary earlier this year. The National Republican Congressional Committee plans to spend $2.7 million through Election Day, while the DCCC has also poured in more than $2 million.

4. Florida’s 2nd District: Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.). Southerland has stumbled often in his campaign against attorney Gwen Graham, the daughter of former Democratic Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham. The Florida Republican has come under fire for hosting a men-only fundraiser and for his comparison of the event to women attending a "lingerie shower." Democrats have further charged Southerland with sexism for his vote against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act last year. Southerland told the editorial board of the Tallahassee Democrat this month that he voted against the measure because he felt blindsided by the "political" scheduling of the vote.

Graham, meanwhile, has presented herself as a centrist and indicated in a recent debate that she wouldn't support House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to lead her party. 

5. New York’s 11th District: Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.). The GOP congressman’s legal situation practically writes its own campaign ad: indicted on 20 counts, including employing illegal immigrants at a Manhattan restaurant he owned and under-reporting revenue from the restaurant to the IRS. Still, he’s not done yet, and operatives on both sides say his campaign for a third term against former New York City Councilman Domenic Recchia is a toss-up. The NRCC has not spent any money on Grimm's behalf, while Democratic groups including the DCCC and House Majority PAC have spent more than $4 million. Even so, Grimm has still held on tight given the incumbent's name recognition in the district, missteps by Recchia, and Staten Island voters' tolerance of scandals and skepticism of the challenger’s Brooklyn roots. This race would be one of Democrats' biggest, and perhaps most embarrassing, missed opportunities if Grimm somehow manages to win reelection.

6. Arkansas’s Open 2nd District: Retiring Rep. Tim GriffinTim GriffinTea Party class reassesses record Huckabee's daughter to run '16 campaign Lawmakers seek Purple Heart for victims of Little Rock shooting MORE (R-Ark.): Democrats gambled early by reserving TV time in this open seat in the urban areas surrounding Little Rock, and it’s paying off. Such an environment, despite the overall challenging picture for Democrats, provides former North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Henry Hays (D) with more solid ground. Recent polling has shown Hays with a narrow lead over  businessman and former White House aide French Hill (R). The DCCC has launched ads calling Hill a "millionaire banker" and has spent more than $1.4 million on the race. GOP Super PAC American Crossroads has spent a similar amount on Hill's behalf but got far less bang for their buck once rates skyrocketed. 

7. West Virginia’s Open 2nd District: Rep. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Moore CapitoGOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election A dozen senators call for crackdown on Chinese steel Overnight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security MORE (R-W.Va.), running for Senate. While Capito essentially has the sleepy West Virginia Senate race locked up, the race for the seat she's vacating is much more competitive. Former West Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey has presented himself in a district where President Obama fares poorly, as someone who could work with both parties. Democrats also hope voters will be skeptical about Republican Alex Mooney, who served in the Maryland state Senate from 1999-2011 and chaired the Maryland Republican Party before moving to West Virginia to run for Congress. He was briefly poised to run for the House in Maryland.