Kate Schroder is a nightmare for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyDemocrats livid over GOP's COVID-19 attacks on Biden GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level McCarthy laments distractions from far-right members MORE (R-Calif.): She's a 43-year-old political newcomer who has a real chance to knock off an entrenched Republican congressman in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Schroder is one of the stars of a surprisingly strong collection of Democratic challengers in Republican-held seats. Republican hopes of recapturing control of the House are fading fast.
Schroder began to run last year for the seat held by 12-term, 67-year-old incumbent, Steve ChabotSteven (Steve) Joseph ChabotFraming our future beyond the climate crisis Liberal group launches campaign urging Republicans to support Biden's agenda Blinken grilled in first hearing since Afghanistan withdrawal MORE, in a Republican gerrymandered district. A public health expert and cancer survivor, she focused on expanding health care coverage and keeping Obamacare protections for people with pre-existing conditions, which the Trump administration and her opponent have opposed.
The pandemic has elevated her profile and passion: “I don't have to explain the importance of public health,” she told me.
With the huge focus on the presidential election and closely contested battle for the Senate majority, House races have received scant attention.
The Democrats gained 41 seats in 2018; Republicans a year ago thought they could win over a net of 17 seats to retake the majority. They reasoned that their most endangered incumbents lost last time and that many of the freshmen Democrats would be vulnerable this time. It's not working out that way. When House Republican leader McCarthy this month set forth the agenda for when Republicans take charge of the House next year, it looked more like a reservation on the next voyage of the Titanic. There already are four or five open Republican-held seats the Democrats will almost certainly capture. Then, it's generally agreed, each side has about a dozen competitive races. Democrats in very difficult districts like Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamMace chief of staff steps down during turbulent week Pediatrician unveils challenge to GOP's Mace in South Carolina 'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection MORE in South Carolina or Kendra HornKendra Suzanne HornHow will Biden's Afghanistan debacle impact NASA's Artemis return to the moon? Why does Rep. Johnson oppose NASA's commercial human landing system? The US's investment in AI is lagging, we have a chance to double it MORE in Oklahoma, two freshmen, or veteran 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, who represents Minnesota's pro-Trump Iron Range, are struggling to hold on. But some of the most natural Republicans targets — freshmen representing suburban districts in states like New Jersey, Michigan, Texas and Pennsylvania — are in strong shape. Trump is a drag on the whole ticket in a number of suburbs.
There are a few districts — like Gwinnett County in suburban Atlanta, Ga., and San Antonio, Texas — where Republican incumbents had such a close scare last time they retired. Democrats are expected to win those seats.
The party has attracted a diverse group of candidates — almost all mainstream progressives not left-wing liberals — with backgrounds tailor made for the districts and the year. Last time several former women military officers, like Mike Sherrill in New Jersey and Elaine LuriaElaine Goodman LuriaAbortion rights group endorsing 12 House Democrats Group aligned with House GOP leadership targeting nine Democrats on spending vote The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Rising prices undercut Biden agenda MORE in Virginia, won Republican held seats, and there are similarly strong aspirants in 2020: Jackie Gordon, an Army battle captain in the Iraq war running for an open Long Island seat, and Gina Ortiz Jones, an Air Force veteran in that war, running in San Antonio.
There are also Democratic challengers with strong political credentials: Jill Schupp, running in a St. Louis suburban district, was elected five times — in a swing district — to the Missouri House and the state Senate, where she defeated the son of a former governor; and Eugene DePasquale, the Pennsylvania state auditor general, trying to unseat a right-wing Republican incumbent in central Pennsylvania. DePasquale was the first person from York County, the eighth largest, to win a state office in more than a half century.
In addition to Kate Schroder, there are several heath care professionals running in a year where that expertise is at a premium: Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, an emergency room physician running for a suburban Phoenix, Ariz., seat, and Cameron Webb, an internist and COVID-19 doctor, with a chance in Virginia’s 5th — a sprawling, predominately Republican district extending from the D.C. exurbs to the North Carolina border.
In Cincinnati, Schroder is outraising incumbent Chabot, who faced a serious challenge two years ago until a largely bogus issue was raised against the Democrat. This time the ethics issue may be working against Chabot, whose former campaign chairman is under FBI investigation for fraud; there are missing campaign funds. The polls show a toss-up.
Schroder, a member of the Cincinnati board of health, is a good fit in a district that leans Republican but is trending moderate.
It's a hard sell to paint her as a left winger. If elected, she wants to join the bi-partisan “problem solvers” caucus to work across the aisle on issues like infrastructure, gun safety — “you can be for gun ownership as well as gun safety” — as well as expanding the Affordable Health Care Act and investing more in public health.
Asked about the familiar Republican refrain that she'd be part of a socialist surge, Schroder simply notes: “I've got an MBA from Wharton.”
NOTE: This post has been updated from the original to correct Schroder's age.
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.