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Can Republicans Hold Onto These Key Seats?

The polls have closed. Election 2018 has begun. And now we’ll see if the Left’s anti-Trump hysteria was enough to clinch them enough House seats to retake the lower chamber. There are some 40 competitive districts that will decide this contest—and all of these races aren’t hinged on the generic ballot advantage. A lot of these races are in GOP districts, where no more than a point or two separates the Democratic and Republican candidates. It’s a toss-up. And yes, it doesn’t feel like a typical wave year, though many are saying that the Democrats will pick up seats.


The road to the majority goes through California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and parts of New Jersey. 

In New Jersey’s third congressional district, Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur was the sole congressman from the Garden State to vote for the Trump tax cuts that provided the foundation for the economic boom we’re experiencing right now. Business Insider noted that the district was won by Obama twice, but broke for Trump by six points in 2016. Democrat Andy Kim is the challenger:

Ben Dworkin, director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy & Citizenship at Rowan University told WYNC in August that the sudden influx of cash into the race from the Congressional Leadership Fund, a conservative PAC, signals that MacArthur is in trouble.

"What's significant here is the Republicans have to spend money from a super PAC on a race that should have been not even competitive in the first place," Dworkin said.

And the South Jersey Record reports that Patrick Murray, the Monmouth pollster who conducted the July poll, believes the "findings follow the same pattern of other highly contested special elections this year, in which Democrats outperformed expectations in two staunch Republican districts that Trump carried in large numbers."

The publication also included Virginia’s seventh congressional race, where Republican incumbent Dave Brat is fighting for his political life against Democrat Abigail Spanberger, where both sides have amassed war chests and solid grassroots bases of support:

Alex Keena, an assistant professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University, told Virginia's WRIC Spanberger was posing an unusually tough challenge to an establishment incumbent.

"She's raised a lot of money. She has a lot of grassroots support -- but so does Brat," said Keena. "You don't really see that too often where the incumbent candidate and the challenger both have strong grassroots bases of support."

The bloc of voters to watch here would be suburbanites, who aren’t all that receptive to President Trump’s brand of politics. It’s one of the races that will decide how the night will go for either the Democrats or Republicans.


The New York Times had a tempered analysis, noting that Democrats are poised to make huge gains, but late momentum isn’t necessarily an accurate gauge for determining victory—and that the GOP candidates in the toss-up columns still have structural advantages that could prevent them from getting picked off (via NYT):

All of the conditions remain in place for a so-called wave election, like those that last flipped control of the House in 1994, 2006 and 2010. Democrats hold a commanding lead on the generic congressional ballot (which asks voters whether they intend to vote for Democrats or Republicans for Congress), including an eight-point lead in an ABC/Washington Post poll in Sunday.

But the Republicans have considerable structural advantages in the House that the president’s party didn’t have to the same extent in previous wave elections. They are generally defending districts that voted for the president, a result of partisan gerrymandering and the tendency for Democrats to post lopsided and inefficient victories in urban areas.

The Republican geographic advantage is even more significant in the Senate, where Republicans are all but assured to retain control if they win just three of seven competitive seats where Mr. Trump won by at least nine points in 2016.

The Democrats are poised to defy those structural disadvantages in the House because they’ve put so many Republican-leaning districts into play with a deep and exceptionally well-funded class of candidates.

But Republicans can hope that partisan polarization is just enough to keep even strong Democrats from going over the top. The president has emphasized immigration and other hot-button issues down the final stretch, perhaps in an intentional effort to divide the electorate along the lines of the 2016 election.

If Republicans succeed in polarizing the electorate, they could take advantage of their underlying geographic advantages and hold down their losses in the House and gain seats in the Senate.


Here is the rest of the Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania races that the Times analyzed that could flip this cycle:   

New Jersey seventh congressional district pits Republican Leonard Lance and Democrat Tom Malinowski. In the NYT breakdown, Malinowski led Lance 47/39, with 12 percent undecided. Yet, they did say that only 503 people were polled and it was only one survey:

Lance, who said the tax bill could hurt voters in this high-tax state, has also tried to distance himself from the president’s tone, saying, “My personality is vastly different than Donald Trump's.” He voted against both the Republican tax bill and the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. Malinowski, who immigrated from Poland when he was 6, was assistant secretary of state for human rights in the Obama administration. He has harshly criticized the president's coziness with Russia, as well as Mr. Lance’s ties to the Koch brothers and efforts to “bust public employee unions.” He has been outraising his opponent. 

Roll Call reported toward the end of October that Lance was feeling good about his re-election chances:

Lance likes his chances in the race. Two months ago, he conceded, Democratic energy exceeded GOP energy, but as Election Day approaches, he’s seeing equal enthusiasm on both sides. He suspects having Hugin at the top of the ticket will help him, too. 

But Lance is also resorting to another argument — one that hints at possible doubts that his policy positions alone will win him re-election.

“My opponent is a complete and total carpetbagger,” he said.

Malinowski moved to the district in 2017 after spending his career in Washington, D.C. He grew up in Princeton, but that’s not currently part of the 7th District. 

“So, no, emphatically, he did NOT grow up in the district,” Lance said, leaning over to enunciate the word “not” into this reporter’s recorder. “I live where I’ve always lived. In Hunterdon County, in Clinton Township, where my family has lived since 1740,” he said, before making an attempt at humor. “So I look pretty good for my age.”  


New Jersey’s 11th congressional district is a bit of a depressing one for me. It’s the district where I grew up—and it was reliably Republican. Incumbent Republican Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen decided to retire—and it looks like Mikie Sherrill will pick up the seat for Democrats. She’s leading Republican Jay Webber 49/38, with 11 percent undecided. Again, it was based on one survey, but it looks grim:

A Democrat has not held this seat since the mid-1980s, but the retirement of a long-serving Republican, Rodney Frelinghuysen, created an opening for a Democrat in this political environment. The district is home to many of the kind of educated, affluent suburban voters who are wary of the president, and the change in tax law is likely to be particularly unpopular here.

Ms. Sherrill, a Naval Academy graduate, has gained notice as one of several Democratic female House recruits with military backgrounds. She says she’s running for Congress to fight back against Donald Trump.

Mr. Webber claims Ronald Reagan as his political hero, and he has emphasized his conservative credentials on issues like abortion, border security and the Second Amendment.

Ms. Sherrill enjoys a lopsided fund-raising advantage: $4.2 million vs. about $475,000 in the most recent reporting period.

Across the river, Pennsylvania’s seventh congressional contest has Democrat Susan Wild leading Republican Marty Nothstein 50-42, with eight percent undecided. The Times added that the district was redrawn and it got bluer as a result. In PA-17, the district was redrawn, which led to Rep. Conor Lamb, who won a special election this year to fill the vacancy left by former Rep. Tim Murphy, coming into a collision course with incumbent Republican Keith Rothfus. Lamb is leading Rothfus by a double-digit lead.

Down towards the Mason-Dixon line, incumbent Virginia Republican Barbara Comstock is again facing a tough re-election battle in the 10th congressional district in Northern Virginia that is becoming reliably blue:


The district “has one of the highest concentrations of college graduates in a Republican-held seat and is teeming with a vibrant, successful immigrant presence,” a recent Times article said. Still, the Republican Party continues to direct dollars to Ms. Comstock, even as it has given up on some other candidates who have trailed in polls.

Although Ms. Comstock is a generally popular presence in her district, President Trump is not well liked. She is also walking a tricky line on women’s issues. She is a longtime friend of Justice Kavanaugh (she worked with him on the Clinton impeachment in the 1990s), but she has also sponsored bipartisan legislation to end using taxpayer money to settle sexual misconduct cases involving lawmakers.

Ms. Wexton prevailed in a crowded primary field. Ideologically she is something of a centrist, seemingly a good fit for the district, and she has emphasized health care as an issue and gun violence prevention.

Her opponent, Jennifer Wexton, looked like she had Comstock dead to rights but new polling in the waning days of the 2018 cycle showed Comstock and Wexton in a dead heat

And lastly, we have Virginia’s fifth congressional race, where incumbent Republican Congressman Tom Garrett resigned due to his problems with alcohol. It’s an open seat pitting Democrat Leslie Cockburn, mother of actress Olivia Wilde, and Republican Denver Riggleman in a tight contest. This has become the “bigfoot” race, as Cockburn has attacked Riggleman for being a lover of Sasquatch porn…no, I’m not kidding:

This Republican-leaning, mostly rural district stretches from the Washington exurbs to the North Carolina border, and the unexpected retirement of the Republican incumbent leaves the seat open. It’s the home of Charlottesville, the college town that found itself in an unwanted spotlight last year after a right-wing rally turned violent.

Ms. Cockburn has tried to tie her opponent to elements of the far right, including Corey Stewart, the Republican nominee for United States Senate in Virginia. And in one bizarre campaign moment, she accused Mr. Riggleman of being a fan of “Bigfoot erotica.”

Mr. Riggleman has acknowledged an interest in Bigfoot — he is co-author of a book on the subject — but rejected the erotica part.


Look at the Stewart effect as well. Corey Stewart is Virginia’s GOP Senate candidate, who has aligned with controversial figures tied to white nationalism. It could drag the ticket down across the state. And because of these ties, incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine is expected to win re-election handily. We’ll be updating with results as they come in. 


VA-05- Republican Denver Riggleman has defeated Democrat Leslie Cockburn, GOP Hold.

VA-10: Incumbent Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock has been beaten by Democrat Jennifer Wexton.

PA-17: Democrats knock off incumbent Rep. Keith Rothfus.

NJ-11: GOP district flips for the Democrats.

VA-02, PA-07, NJ-07 have all flipped to the Democrats.


VA-07- GOP Rep. Dave Brat has lost.

NJ-03 Incumbent Republican Congressman Tom MacArthur is hanging by a threat against Democrat Andy Kim 49/48.

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