10 bellwether House races to watch on election night

Bonnie Cash/Greg Nash

House Democrats are expected to expand their majority on Tuesday, with strategists watching a handful of competitive races that will indicate whether Republicans are in for a wipeout or if they can hold on to most of their seats.

Both parties are keeping a close eye on several races that are seen as bellwethers of further Democratic expansion in the suburbs and whether voter backlash against President Trump is likely to turn once deep-red places like Texas blue.

The general consensus is that Democrats are expected to gain between five and 15 seats, with Republicans fighting to keep those gains to single digits. Democrats currently hold 232 seats in the 435-member House.

The outcome of some competitive races may be clear on election night, but it may take longer for other jurisdictions to count mail-in ballots, especially if it’s a close contest.

Here are 10 key House races to watch Tuesday evening.

Indiana’s 5th District

The race for an open seat, currently held by retiring Rep. Susan Brooks (R), is a quintessential GOP-leaning suburban district that is now within Democrats’ reach.

Democrat Christina Hale and Republican Victoria Spartz are facing off in a suburban Indianapolis district that Trump carried by 12 points in 2016. Brooks, who has branded herself as a moderate, easily won reelection in 2018 by 14 points.

The district’s demographics have trended wealthier and more college-educated — two groups of voters that have been largely moving away from Trump and the GOP. Trump is likely to win Indiana, but the outcome of the 5th District’s House race will be telling for the GOP’s fortunes.

Virginia’s 5th District

This race is another open seat, but not by the incumbent’s choice. First-term lawmaker Rep. Denver Riggleman (R) lost his primary to former Liberty University athletics official Bob Good, due in large part to conservative backlash over news of Riggleman officiating a same-sex marriage.

Democrats, meanwhile, have one of their top recruits this cycle in Cameron Webb, a physician who has been treating COVID-19 patients and would be the first Black doctor to be a voting member of Congress if elected. Webb has vastly outpaced Good in campaign contributions, raising about $4.6 million to Good’s $1.1 million.

The district spans from Northern Virginia all the way to the North Carolina border and includes the city of Charlottesville as well as more rural areas. It has been represented by a Republican since 2011, and Trump won the district by 11 points in 2016.

If Democrats can pull off a win here, it’s a sign they’re expanding a blue wave that flipped three other House seats in the state two years ago.

Minnesota’s 7th District

Rep. Collin Peterson (D) is in the race of his life against former Minnesota Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach (R).

Peterson has served in the House since 1991, carving an independent profile as a Democrat who’s broken with his party on gun control, abortion, the 2010 health care law and Trump’s impeachment. His role as the House Agriculture Committee chairman — and as the ranking Democrat while his party was in the minority — has also served him well in a rural, farm-rich district.

But Trump won the western Minnesota district by 30 points in 2016, while Peterson narrowly defeated his GOP challenger in 2016 and the subsequent midterms by about 5 percentage points each time. This year’s race will be a test of the power of incumbency as well as how willing voters are to keep splitting their ballots in highly polarized times.

South Carolina’s 1st District

Rep. Joe Cunningham (D) is running for a second term in a district that Trump carried by 13 points in 2016. Two years ago, Cunningham became the first Democrat in 40 years to represent the district, which includes South Carolina’s coast from Charleston to Hilton Head.

Cunningham is up against state Rep. Nancy Mace, who would be the first Republican woman to hold the seat if elected.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report considers the race “leaning” Democratic after previously rating it a “toss-up.” A Cunningham victory would signal Democrats and his personal brand have staying power in a historically GOP district. But a defeat would indicate that 2018 was a fluke after the incumbent at the time, former Rep. Mark Sanford (R), lost the GOP primary over his criticism of Trump.

Oklahoma’s 5th District

Rep. Kendra Horn is another first-term Democrat who flipped a GOP-held seat in 2018 and is now running for reelection in an overwhelmingly red state.

Horn pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the midterms by unseating a GOP lawmaker by just over 1 point in an Oklahoma City-based district that Trump carried by 13 points two years earlier. Tuesday’s election will be a test of Democrats’ staying power in what had long been a GOP stronghold.

While Horn has raised $2 million more than her GOP challenger, state Sen. Stephanie Bice, polls indicate it’s a tight race. The Cook Political Report rates it as a “toss-up.”

Arizona’s 6th District

Rep. David Schweikert (R) is attempting to fend off a challenge in the Phoenix suburbs from Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, a former physician who previously came within 5 points of defeating Rep. Debbie Lesko (R) in a 2018 special election.

Schweikert is facing his toughest reelection yet after the House voted to sanction him over the summer for violating campaign finance rules and improperly using official resources for his reelection efforts. He admitted to all 11 counts of misconduct outlined by the House Ethics Committee and was hit with a $50,000 fine.

The race is considered a toss-up and will serve as an indicator of whether Democrats are making gains in Arizona that could translate to a state win for the Electoral College.

Texas’s 22nd District

This open seat, vacated by retiring Rep. Pete Olson (R), is one of the most contested battlegrounds and is considered a toss-up. Republican Troy Nehls and Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni are facing off in the suburban Houston district at a time when Texas as a whole has become increasingly competitive.

Kulkarni has raised almost $3.5 million more than Nehls, part of a pattern nationally of Democrats raising massive sums over GOP candidates.

Olson has been in office since 2009, but won reelection in 2018 by only 5 points against Kulkarni.

Florida’s 15th District

Republicans are favored to win this open-seat race between Republican Scott Franklin and Democrat Alan Cohn in the central Florida district.

Incumbent first-term Rep. Ross Spano (R), who faced allegations of campaign finance violations, lost the GOP primary to Franklin earlier this year.

Recent polls indicate a close contest. A Democratic win here would indicate a blue wave and a victory in the all-important battleground state of Florida.

Iowa’s 1st District

Rep. Abby Finkenauer became one of the youngest women elected to Congress in 2018 when she flipped this northeastern Iowa district from red to blue. She’s now locked in a tight race against GOP state Rep. Ashley Hinson in a district that Trump carried by about 3.5 points in 2016.

A GOP win would signal a strong performance with rural white voters, whom Democrats like Finkenauer are trying to court to maintain their remaining seats in the Midwest.

Iowa also features a competitive Senate race on the ballot between Sen. Joni Ernst (R) and Democrat Theresa Greenfield. If Finkenauer pulls through, that could be a good sign for Greenfield.

Texas’s 10th District

Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is in a tough race against Democrat Mike Siegel in a district that stretches between Houston and Austin.

The Cook Political Report shifted the race from leaning in McCaul’s favor to a toss-up on the eve of the election.

McCaul has served in the House since 2005 but narrowly won reelection two years ago, by about 4 points against Siegel. If Democrats can knock off an incumbent like McCaul, who previously chaired the House Homeland Security Committee, it’s a good sign they’re in for a blue wave.

Tags 2020 election Abby Finkenauer Bellwether Collin Peterson David Schweikert Denver Riggleman Donald Trump House majority Joe Cunningham Joni Ernst Kendra Horn Mark Sanford Michael McCaul Pete Olson Ross Spano Susan Brooks

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