On the Trail: Five House results illustrate a politically divided America

On the Trail: Five House results illustrate a politically divided America
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Voters delivered a decidedly mixed result up and down the ballot on Tuesday in closely fought battles for the White House and House and Senate seats in critical suburban precincts across the country. The results, still being sussed out, will illustrate the deep and abiding political divide that has riven the nation.

That divide, illustrated in red and blue county-level maps, breaks along partisan lines that are increasingly defined by race, education and socioeconomic status in a realignment that is still shaking out.

Here are five U.S. House races that illustrate the future coalitions that will decide election cycles to come:

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Minnesota’s 7th District

Rep. Collin PetersonCollin Clark Peterson Progressives fight for leverage amid ever-slimming majority Six ways to visualize a divided America On The Trail: The political losers of 2020 MORE (D) is a survivor. He won his seat along rural Minnesota’s western border with the Dakotas in 1990, on his fourth try. He survived Republican wave elections in 1994, 2010 and 2014, and he won new terms at the same time George W. Bush, John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain to produce 'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff' Lifetime movie starring Heather Locklear An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Meghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' MORE, Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate finalizes .2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill Senators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session MORE and even Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE carried his district.

But on Tuesday, he could not overcome former Minnesota Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach (R), who drubbed Peterson by 13 points.

Peterson holds what was once a potent recipe for success in American politics: centrist credentials and a powerful committee chairmanship — the House Agriculture Committee — relevant to his district. 

But those titles matter less in a hyper-partisan age. Peterson held on in the Red River Valley, settled first by the Norwegians who flocked there in the 1800s, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Fischbach ran up her biggest margins in exurban Twin Cities counties where she won more than 60 percent of the vote — a reminder that the Democrats’ problems outside the suburbs extend beyond rural areas and into fast-growing exurbs.

Oregon’s 4th District

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Like Peterson, Rep. Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioUp next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge MORE (D) ranks among the more conservative members of the Democratic caucus. He holds pro-gun views that would be anathema to a member of the Democratic Party anywhere except his blue-collar, culturally conservative southwest Oregon district.

DeFazio’s district has fallen on hard times, in part because of the struggles the timber industry has faced in the quarter century since the spotted owl landed on the Endangered Species List. 

But DeFazio, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has what Peterson does not: a massive reservoir of Democratic votes in Lane County, home of the University of Oregon.

On Tuesday, DeFazio won an 18th term in office against Alek Skarlatos, a former National Guardsman who stopped an attack by a gunman on a French train in 2015, an incident captured in the film “The 15:17 to Paris.”

Skarlatos carried five of the district’s seven counties, by a collective margin of 47,000 votes. DeFazio survived thanks to a 52,000-vote margin in Lane, and another 18,000-vote margin out of Benton County, a hub of Oregon’s wine country.

If DeFazio, 73, decides to retire in the coming years, Republicans will make a strong play for a district that has remained tantalizingly out of reach since he came to Washington in 1987.

Wisconsin’s 3rd District

The Mississippi River Valley is the fulcrum point in modern American politics. Of the 206 counties in America that voted twice for President Obama and then for Trump in 2016, about a quarter straddle the river’s edge along the borders of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.

Rep. Ron KindRonald (Ron) James KindBiden's midterm strategies start to come into focus Cotton heads to Iowa to launch 'Veterans to Victory' program Exclusive: Conservative group targets vulnerable Democrats over abortion MORE (D) has seen his political position become progressively more tenuous as those counties — heavy with blue-collar workers with middle-class jobs in manufacturing plants — realign.

Kind’s vote share, once reliably in the mid-60s, declined to just 50 percent in the GOP wave of 2010. He scored in the high 50s in 2014 and 2018. And this year he took just 51.5 percent of the vote, with some precincts left to report, against retired Navy SEAL Derrick Van Orden.

Kind’s margin of victory, about 12,000 votes so far, came from La Crosse County, his district’s largest. He carried smaller Crawford and Vernon counties, too — counties where Trump beat Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries FDA aims to give full approval to Pfizer vaccine by Labor Day: report Overnight Defense: Police officer killed in violence outside Pentagon | Biden officials back repeal of Iraq War authorization | NSC pushed to oversee 'Havana Syndrome' response MORE.

Crucially, Kind kept his rural losses low. He won at least 41 percent of the vote in 13 smaller counties that Van Orden carried, a reminder to both Democrats and Republicans that there is value in showing up in an opponent’s territory.

Nebraska’s 1st District

In the heat of an election night, as the results pour in, some anomaly will stand out: A county that breaks in an unexpected way, a demographic group that behaves differently than it had in polls, a candidate who soars or collapses.

On Tuesday, an early surprise seemed to be developing in Nebraska, where state Sen. Kate Bolz (D) led Rep. Jeff FortenberryJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FortenberryOvernight Defense: Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill | House panel looks to help military sexual assault survivors | US increases airstrikes to help Afghan forces fight Taliban US delegation departs Haiti after reports of gunshots at ex-president's funeral Biden announces delegation to attend Haitian president's funeral MORE (R) — in a race no one expected to be competitive.

In the end, it wasn’t; Fortenberry took almost 60 percent of the vote on his way to a ninth term in office. As it turned out, Bolz built a big lead among absentee voters, among whom she led by 18 points, and a smaller edge in the city of Lincoln, which reported results first.

Fortenberry claimed more than 70 percent of the vote in 11 rural counties and more than 60 percent in another three, more than enough to put his opponent away.

But as Democrats move to embrace absentee and early voting in increasing numbers, a process accelerated during the pandemic, Republicans may experience a few tense moments that initially show them trailing even in districts they should win easily. Fortenberry’s district is safe, but it hints that Democrats are making the smallest inroads in ordinarily conservative mid-size Midwestern cities.

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Georgia’s 7th District

Just as rural America moves to the right, suburban America — especially around the mega-metros that are driving the nation’s economy — are turning more blue. Nowhere was that more evident than in Georgia’s 7th District, where Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux appears as one of the few bright spots for House Democrats.

Election results that have yet to be finalized show Bourdeaux leading Rich McCormick, a practicing physician, by about 8,300 votes, or 2.4 percentage points.

Bourdeaux was making her second run for office after falling just 500 votes short of ousting Rep. Rob WoodallWilliam (Rob) Robert WoodallThe tale of the last bipartisan unicorns McCarthy guarantees GOP will take back House in 2022 Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day MORE (R) in the 2018 midterm elections. She trailed far behind McCormick in Forsyth County, an Atlanta exurb that remains in Republican hands, but she made up the gap by taking a net of 35,000 votes out of Gwinnett County, a suburban area closer to the city.

Over two election cycles, Democrats have virtually maxed out their potential to make gains in the suburbs. But more voters live in the suburbs than in any other type of district, and Bourdeaux’s tenure — and her party’s — will be closely tied to how well they tend to those suburban constituents.