Our House Ratings: A Quick Look

Introduction
Split Ticket is excited to announce the release of our initial House ratings. This installment covers states that have enacted maps, or are expected to adopt recent proposals. As with all of our ratings, we will be using the Likely-Lean-Tossup system. Let’s take a look at the seven tossup races.

Tossups

Of our seven, five voted for President Biden. Two of the seats are held by retiring Democrats. One is brand new, a result of the reapportionment cycle. Two more have unconfirmed lines, but will probably resemble the final products anyway. Four are being contested by Democrats who won in the 2018 wave and pulled off hard fought reelection victories last year.

CO-08 New

Reapportionment bestowed a treasure upon Colorado: a truly competitive House seat. The new 8th voted for Biden by a little under five points, but would probably be evenly-split in a red wave. Its boundaries create a county dichotomy between Democratic Adams in the south and Republican Weld to the north. (Slivers of Larimer were also included)

The Adams portion accounts for 63% of the 8th’s population, and would’ve backed Biden by 16. Weld’s portion, at Trump +15, offsets its neighbor by just enough to make the seat competitive. At 35% VaP, the seat’s strong Hispanic base forms an electoral contingent that neither party can ignore. Most of the Hispanic vote comes from communities in the district’s southern half like Thornton and Adams City, though Weld’s Greeley also contributes.

Candidate-wise, the 8th is already proving quite interesting. The Democratic frontrunner seems to be Thornton state Representative Yadira Caraveo. Adams County Commissioner Chaz Tedesco is also running, notably receiving the endorsement of ex-state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. 

Republican state Senator Barbara Kirkmeyer, a former Weld County Commissioner, would be the party’s strongest nominee. Current Weld Commissioner Lori Saine is challenging Kirkmeyer from the right, and seems to be Kirkmeyer’s only formidable primary threat.

A Biden +4.6 seat will probably be more of a median seat if the environment is strong for Republicans, so tossup seems to be a valid starter rating. For the GOP to win, a candidate like Kirkmeyer would need to crack 60% in the Weld portion while trimming the Democratic margin in Adams to about ten points. This is a perfectly reasonable possibility, especially if Democratic turnout is low. If Caraveo proves exceptional at bringing low-propensity Hispanic voters to the polls, though, Democrats will stay in contention.

IL-17 (D) Bustos*

Given it was a Trump seat twice, the old 17th would have been an easy Republican target. Redistricting in Illinois certainly helped Democrats, but the party could’ve made the 17th even safer if it had included more of the Democratic-trending Rockford suburbs. The new district is only Biden +8, making it favorable for Democrats but keeping it within reach for the GOP. After a closer-than-expected reelection race under the old lines, incumbent Democrat Cheri Bustos is retiring.

Shedding much of its Republican-leaning rural territory, the sprawling northwestern Illinois seat winds through the Democratic communities of Rockford, Davenport, Peoria, Galesburg, and Bloomington. 40% of the district’s population resides in Rock Island and Winnebago counties; adding in Peoria and McLean boosts that figure to 67%. Those county portions alone would’ve backed Biden by nearly 20 points! Adding the sinewy connections makes the seat ten points redder, bringing it into the realm of competitivity. 

Let’s move on to candidate discussion. The Republican shoo-in is Esther Joy King, the party’s surprisingly-effective 2020 nominee. It is unlikely she’ll face significant primary opposition after picking up endorsements from Kevin McCarthy and Elise Stefanik. 

Things are expected to get more interesting on the Democratic side. The party’s eventual nominee will either run and lose narrowly or win and hold the seat for the remainder of the decade. Understandably, countless credible candidates are weighing their options. Rockford state Senator Steve Stadelman still seems like the Democrat everyone else is waiting to hear from. (The district was drawn suspiciously to include his home)

IA-03 (D) Axne

Redistricting has kept Iowa’s 3rd district Trump-won, albeit narrowly. The Des Moines-based seat is one of the most competitive in the nation at Trump +0.4, and could very well be won by Democrats in a normal year. But 2022 continues to look favorable for Republicans, putting that handful of Trump-district Democrats on the frontlines of their party’s battle to maintain the House majority.

At its core, the 3rd is mostly unchanged. It is still centered around Democratic-trending Polk and Dallas counties. The seat no longer borders Nebraska, notably shedding Council Bluffs in Pottawattamie county. To make up for that territorial loss, the 3rd swings east to Ottumwa in Wapello county. Lots of blood red rural echelons are scooped up along the way, but these counties are not significant population-wise. 75% of the new 3rd’s residents call Polk or Dallas county home. With both removed, the remainder of the district would’ve given Trump 68% of the vote.

The incumbent Democrat is Cindy Axne. First elected in 2018, she is the only member of her party left in the Hawkeye State Congressional delegation. She pulled off a tough reelection victory last year, but seems unlikely to have the same success next fall if the environment isn’t on her side. Republican state Senator Zach Nunn isn’t unopposed in his primary, but currently seems like the frontrunner. To definitively hold her seat, she would probably have to get close to 60% in Polk while eking out a win in swingy Dallas. We’re not classifying her as an underdog this early, so tossup seems fair.

ME-02 (D) Golden

We previously wrote about Maine’s 2nd and Nebraska’s 2nd as vestiges of classic ticket-splitting. If it weren’t for moderate incumbent Jared Golden, a veteran perfectly branded for his district, Democrats probably wouldn’t have fared well in this Trump seat last year. That said, if any Trump-district Democrat survives next year there’s a strong possibility it will be Golden. 

The current 2nd is the second most rural Congressional district in the nation, and easily the most rural seat held by a Democrat. (Collin Peterson’s Minnesota-7 came close before his defeat last year) After redistricting, the 2nd is actually slightly more Democratic than its predecessor but remains Trump +6. Under the newly-approved lines, the seat sheds Augusta while retaining Lewiston and Bangor. Last year, Golden pulled the bulk of his support from his home county of Androscoggin. Waldo, Hancock, and Penobscot were also critical to his coalition.

Assuming he wins the primary, former Congressman Bruce Poliquin will be facing Golden next year. Poliquin lost in 2018 after the implementation of Maine’s RCV system, which allowed Golden to overcome the original Republican plurality. That was a sweeping blue wave, though, so Poliquin is probably more optimistic about his chances next year. But Republicans cannot take Golden for granted, even with an environmental boon. Any other Democrat would not have much a chance here, but the incumbent keeps it a pure tossup to start. 

NC-02 (D) Butterfield*

Long-time Democrat GK Butterfield, a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, is not seeking reelection next year. He faced a closer-than-expected reelection last year, and redistricting cut his new seat down to just Biden +2. The vacancy makes the renumbered 2nd one of the top Republican targets next year, but plenty of well-established Democrats are also trying to hold the minority opportunity seat.

The 2nd still keeps most of its majority black counties, making roughly 40% of the seat’s VaP black. Virginia’s tidewater 4th district (just north) is a good comparison under the current lines. Besides becoming more Republican, the 2nd has also gotten whiter. The new lines remove most of Democratic Pitt county while adding Franklin, Person, and Caswell. Regardless of next fall’s winner, we expect racial polarization to define the returns once again.

Judging by the current state of the race, 2020 nominee Sandy Adams will probably be the GOP standard-bearer next year. She doesn’t face any palpable primary opposition, and there really isn’t a traditional Republican organization/bench in this district. 

The Democratic primary is, predictably, more interesting. Next year’s election will be tough, but a hypothetical Democratic victor would probably reap the benefits of easier reelections in more neutral environments down the line. Four Democrats are taking the plunge so far: ex-state Senator Erica Smith, state Senator Donald Davis, state Representative James Gailliard, and councilman Jason Spriggs. It’s too early to handicap this primary, but two-time Senate candidate Erica Smith seems like a potential frontrunner. Given all the uncertainty surrounding the seat, tossup is a safe bet.

WA-08 (D) Schrier

Washington’s new lines have not been adopted, but it seems like the Commission’s final attempt will resemble the eventual map. The only competitive Democratic district in the state under the hypothetical lines is still the 8th, clocking in at about Biden +7. While it would normally favor Democrats on paper, the relatively small change in overall partisanship keeps the district on the board for Republicans next year. 

The new 8th’s Republican roots can still be traced to Chelan and Kittitas counties out east, with boundary changes primarily affecting the western half of the seat. Under the new proposal, the 8th takes in more of King county and all of Snohomish. Despite the size expansion, the actual dynamics of the centrally-oriented seat haven’t changed that much.

Democratic incumbent Kim Schrier won the open seat in 2018, and pulled off a surprisingly-competitive reelection two years later. 2020 challenger Jesse Jensen is running again on the Republican side, but will probably finish behind King County Councilman Reagan Dunn in the jungle primary. Schrier was clearly overestimated in 2020, with the 48% of the combined vote cast for Democrats in the jungle primary ending up a better performance benchmark than many pundits expected. The race would be a clear tossup under the proposed map. (This time we won’t ignore the first round of voting)

VA-02 (D) Luria

The final member of our tossup column, assuming the latest proposal is adopted, is Virginia’s 2nd district. Under the new lines, the coastal seat is would be the most competitive in the state. (That honor is currently bestowed on the 7th district) Virginia Beach remains the seat’s foundation, but alterations have reduced it to around Biden +2. 

About 41% of the new district’s population resides in Virginia Beach, the coastal bastion that backed Biden last year before powering Glenn Youngkin’s victory last month. The most fascinating change comes inland, with the seat swinging west all the way up to Isle of Wight county. In exchange, the 2nd sheds its current portions of Hampton and Norfolk.

The incumbent is Democrat Elaine Luria, first elected in 2018. She had a pretty stable reelection last year, but the changes to the 2nd’s partisan lean could work with the national environment to create a perfect storm come next November. Her most formidable Republican challenger is state Senator Jen Kiggans.

If you have a question about any other ratings, feel free to DM me at @HWLavelleMaps

My name is Harrison Lavelle and I am a political analyst studying at the College of New Jersey. As a co-founder and partner at Split Ticket, I coordinate our House coverage. I write about a variety of electoral topics and produce political maps. Besides elections, my hobbies include music, history, language, and fitness.

Contact me at @HWLavelleMaps or harrisonwlavelle1@gmail.com

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