5 themes to watch for in 2020 fight for House

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGiuliani says he is unaware of reported federal investigation Louisiana's Democratic governor forced into runoff Lawmakers focus their ire on NBA, not China MORE wasn’t on the ballot in 2018, but the midterm elections revolved around his controversial and unconventional presidency — and it hurt GOP candidates in the House badly.

Democrats swept back to power in the lower chamber, flipping nearly 40 seats, and are hoping to build on their gains in 2020 when Trump is actually on the ballot.

ADVERTISEMENT

Republicans, for their part, will be hoping to go back on offense and retake the House majority, returning to Trump a Congress led fully by Republicans.

Here are five things to watch very early in the next race for the House:

Will having Trump on the ballot help or hurt the GOP?

Throughout 2018, Trump repeatedly rebuffed the suggestion that the midterm elections were a referendum on his presidency.

But in 2020, his name will be back on the ticket, raising the question of whether he’ll boost Republicans down-ballot or exacerbate the political backlash seen in 2018.

Democrats will hold more than 30 House districts previously won by Trump when the 116th Congress begins early next year. Republicans are hoping that having Trump’s name on the ballot will energize their conservative base in those districts and allow them to recapture some of the seats they lost in 2018.

But the president’s name is also likely to energize liberals and many moderates who have grown frustrated with Trump, giving Democrats an opportunity to cement — or even expand — their current House holdings.

Also a crucial factor is whether the eventual Democratic presidential nominee can turn out the party’s voters enough to overcome Trump’s base of support.

To be sure, presidential elections don’t always have an outsize effect on down-ballot races. In 2012, then-President Obama defeated Republican nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyMcConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows The Memo: Bad polls for Trump shake GOP Romney brushes off Trump criticism: 'I don't follow the president on Twitter' MORE in his bid for a second term in the White House — but Democrats gained only eight seats in the House.

Will the battle be fought in the suburbs again?

Democrats’ much-touted blue wave was largely built on suburban and exurban districts across the country in 2018, delivering massive gains for the party in areas once seen as Republican-leaning.

Those suburban gains were due to a confluence of factors — dissatisfaction with Trump and shifting demographics, for example — that could make it difficult for the GOP to recapture such districts.

One district Republicans are hoping to target is Oklahoma’s 5th District, which includes Oklahoma City and many of its suburbs. Trump won the district in 2016 by double digits.

Election handicappers initially projected that Rep. Steve RussellSteven (Steve) Dane RussellThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority 5 themes to watch for in 2020 fight for House Oklahoma New Members 2019 MORE (R-Okla.) would secure a third term in 2018. But in an unexpected outcome, he was edged out by Democrat Kendra HornKendra Suzanne HornLiberals keep foot on the gas on impeachment Here are the House Democrats who aren't backing Trump impeachment inquiry Centrist Democrats fret over impeachment gamble MORE by little more than 1 point.

Likewise, Republicans see an opportunity in South Carolina’s 1st District, which includes Charleston and sparse suburban areas.

Democrat Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamDemocratic lawmaker fires back after NRCC mocks him for getting marriage counseling Here are the House Democrats who aren't backing Trump impeachment inquiry Here are the Democrats who aren't co-sponsoring an assault weapons ban MORE narrowly beat his GOP opponent, Katie Arrington, in the Republican-leaning district in 2018. But the district went for Trump by double digits two years earlier, giving Republicans hope of reclaiming it when he’s on the ballot again in 2020.

Can Democrats hold their gains in Orange County?

Orange County, Calif., handed Democrats some of their most remarkable victories in 2018.

Democrats held only two of the county’s six House seats prior to the midterms. On Election Day, voters delivered the party all six, a blow to Republicans in a county that has for decades been a GOP stronghold.

While many of the gains in Orange County have been attributed to highly educated and increasingly diverse populations, some Republicans have blamed the party’s defeats there on outsized spending from Democratic groups and wealthy donors like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Fred Whitaker, the chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, noted in a post-election analysis of the GOP defeats that a “significant numbers of Republicans we turned out, look to have voted Democrat.”

But he also wrote that, in 2020, Democrats “can’t afford to bankroll these candidates to the extent they did” in 2018, predicting that Republicans will have an opportunity to regain seats in Orange County.

“They will be focused on Florida, Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania and other states they need to win the White House,” he wrote in a newsletter to party members. “We will have a window to fight back.”

Will 2020 cement New England’s solid-blue status?

With Rep. Bruce PoliquinBruce Lee PoliquinThe Hill's Morning Report - Mass shootings put spotlight on Trump, Congress Ex-GOP lawmaker from Maine says he won't run for his old seat in 2020 Making the case for ranked-choice voting MORE’s (R) defeat in the closely contested race for Maine’s vast 2nd District, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows Congress set for showdown with Trump over Kurds Trump seeks to distance himself from Turkish invasion of Syria MORE (R-Maine) will remain the only Republican in Washington from New England.

Only two New England House races made it on to the Cook Political Report’s list of competitive races in 2018: Poliquin’s race and the race for New Hampshire’s 1st District between Democrat Chris PappasChristopher (Chris) Charles PappasPelosi-backed group funding ads for vulnerable Democrats amid impeachment inquiry Lawmakers beat reporters in annual spelling bee competition The Hill's Morning Report - US coastline readies for Hurricane Dorian to make landfall MORE and Republican Eddie Edwards.

With Poliquin gone and New Hampshire’s 1st District firmly in Democrats’ corner, the 2020 races could pull New England further from the reach of Republicans.

The region was once home to a unique kind of moderate Republicanism that embraced center-right economic agendas and liberal social policies. But as the national GOP has moved toward more socially conservative positions in recent decades, the Republican ranks in New England have dwindled.

That said, voters in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts did reelect Republican incumbent governors this year.

But those governors largely sought to distance themselves from Trump. And in Massachusetts and Vermont, Democratic supermajorities in the state legislatures can override gubernatorial vetoes. Democrats also took control of the state legislature in New Hampshire this year.

Can Democrats keep their blue wall in the Midwest?

Trump’s victory in three crucial states — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — in 2016 breached the “blue wall” that Democrats had depended on for years.

But in the midterm elections, Democrats made gains throughout suburban and exurban districts in the upper Midwest and Pennsylvania, fueling hopes in the party that the blue wall is back.

In Michigan’s 8th District, for example, Democrat Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinHouse Dems introduce bill to fight social media disinformation Polls flash warning signs for Trump on impeachment Pelosi-backed group funding ads for vulnerable Democrats amid impeachment inquiry MORE defeated incumbent Rep. Mike Bishop (R) by nearly 4 points, despite Trump’s roughly 7-point victory there in 2016.

What’s more, Trump’s approval ratings in many Midwestern states remain underwater, and Democrats have repeatedly hit Republicans over the president’s trade war with China, which has affected the region’s agriculture industries.

Democrats believe that if those trends continue it could help the party expand its gains in the Midwest in 2020, especially because Trump himself will be on the ballot.

Still, Republicans largely cemented their grip on rural communities in 2018, and it remains to be seen if Trump’s presence on the ballot will bring out supporters in more suburban areas that may have stayed home in the midterm elections.