5/17 Primary Watchlist: House

Introduction

As primary season continues to heat up, more and more states come onto the political radar. There are 45 House primaries this week alone. And while a mere handful of those matchups are actually competitive enough to cover, the sheer number of contests merits a single article devoted solely to the nation’s lower chamber.

From here on, Split Ticket’s watchlists will be published separately to ensure quality coverage and analysis of races for House, Senate, and Governor. Check out the updated House watchlist here.

North Carolina

The 1st is a Biden +7 seat being vacated by veteran Democrat G.K. Butterfield. This northeastern piedmont/coastal plain district is majority white (VAP), but has a significant black population. Given Butterfield’s closer-than-expected 2020 reelection, the national environment, and Virginia Republicans’ 2021 successes in similar territory across the Tar Heel State’s northern border, it is no surprise that competitive primaries have emerged on both sides of this Leans Democratic race.

The Democratic contest pits state Senator Don Davis against his former colleague Erica Smith. Smith, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2020, dropped out of this year’s Senate race to support Cheri Beasley. She is now running for the House with the support of Congressional Progressives. Davis, endorsed by the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressman Butterfield, is running to Smith’s right. Both contenders have matched each other in the fundraising game.

In May, a GQR research poll showed Davis ahead of Smith 44-31. Even though Smith has more statewide name recognition from her last Senate bid, Davis seems to be in a better position territorially. He represents Pitt County (Greenville), the seat’s most populous. That base probably also moves Nash (Rocky Mount), Edgecombe (Rocky Mount), and Wilson (Wilson) counties into his camp. Smith’s base is generally concentrated in the rural, majority-black counties making up her old northern legislative district. The biggest of these is Vance County (Henderson), but Smith could make a play for the critical Halifax portion of the 1st too.

Ultimately, Butterfield’s endorsement could go a particularly long way in broadening Davis’s appeal in a seat that political analyst J. Miles Coleman of Sabato’s Crystal Ball described as dominated by small towns and parochial interests. Split Ticket is rating this primary Tossup – Tilt Davis.

The field is much more crowded on the Republican side, where five serious candidates are running. Of those hopefuls, the two frontrunners seem to be 2020 nominee Sandy Smith and Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson. Besides heavily outraising their challengers, Smith and Roberson have both attracted lots of local media attention for their attacks on each other. Roberson’s campaign recently released opposition research accusing Smith of spousal abuse against two ex-husbands, claims that she has since denied.

Smith lives in Winterville, a suburb of Greenville, giving her a strong foothold in Pitt County. Roberson probably takes Nash and Edgecombe because of his connections to Rocky Mount, but it might not be enough to secure the nomination if Smith’s residual name recognition allows her to run well elsewhere in the seat. Split Ticket is rating this primary Tossup – Tilt Smith.

In the Safe Democratic 4th district, three prominent Democrats have emerged in the fight for the nomination to succeed long-time incumbent David Price. About 43% of the seat’s population, and a majority of its Democratic voters, call Durham County (Durham) home. Neighboring Orange County (Chapel Hill) is the other significant part of the primary electorate, though it is much whiter than Durham.

The candidate of the CBC is Orange County state Senator Valerie Foushee. She led Durham-based opponents Nida Allam and Clay Aiken with 35% in the only publicly-released poll of the race. Allam, the Durham County Commissioner, is supported by prominent figures on the left like Bernie Sanders. Aiken will probably split Allam’s white progressive vote in Durham, leaving Foushee to win the black electorate in the city proper. Leans Foushee.

At Biden +12, the 6th district should be favored to stay in the Democratic column, but Republicans are planing on contesting it this fall. Based primarily in Guilford County (Greensboro), the seat is currently represented by Kathy Manning. The frontrunning GOP candidates are 2020 nominee Lee Haywood and Christian Castelli. Castelli has outraised Haywood, but lives in outside of the district in Asheboro. Haywood’s residual name recognition and Guilford County residence should help his candidacy. Leans Haywood.

In the Safe Republican 7th district, Robeson County state Representative Charles Graham is expected to secure the Democratic nomination. Cumberland County Commissioner Charles Evans’s Fayetteville base probably is not enough to compete with the rest of the district. Another candidate, retired chemist Steve Miller, could perform better than average in New Hanover. Likely Graham.

The Trump-won 11th district, home to Asheville, is represented by freshman Republican Madison Cawthorn – arguably the House’s most controversial member. Anyone who follows politics already knows about his ever-growing list of off-color scandals, so there is no reason to touch on that aspect of the race in detail. Our readers would not be surprised to hear that the incumbent has drawn multiple credible primary challengers, but they would probably be shocked to hear that we consider Cawthorn the favorite for two reasons.

Most importantly, North Carolina’s incredibly-low 30% runoff threshold makes it very easy for incumbents to survive. Despite his shortcomings, all public polling has showed Cawthorn above this baseline. The other factor that could be helping the incumbent is disorganized opposition. State Senator Chuck Edwards is certainly Cawthorn’s top opponent, but his 6 fellow challengers have collectively drawn 15-20% of the anti-Cawthorn vote away from him in the polls. It is also unclear if Edwards will have broad appeal outside of Henderson County, the heart of his legislative district. In other words, Edwards would be favored in a one vs. one, but seems destined for a loss if Cawthorn receives at least 30.1% of the vote. Leans Cawthorn.

The last key Republican House primary in North Carolina also happens to be a test of Trump’s endorsement might. At Biden +2, the new 13th district could be the state’s most competitive seat in the fall – though the Republican position is generally perceived as being stronger down ballot. About half of the seat’s population lives in Democratic-trending southern Wake County, but the GOP base mostly exists in neighboring Johnston County. There are multiple credible Republican candidates here, two of whom live well outside the district’s boundaries.

Trump’s horse is former college football player Bo Hines, a candidate who has recently been compared to Cawthorn. North Carolina’s redistricting woes forced Hines in and out of numerous districts before he ultimately chose the 13th, almost 200 miles east of his home in Rowan County (Salisbury). Given the success of Trump-backed candidates in recent House primaries, though, Hines should not be discredited.

The only candidate who has outraised Hines so far is Kelly Daughtry, an attorney and daughter of a long-time State Representative. Other candidates include former Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, businessman Kent Keirsey (another district outsider), businessman Chad Slotta, and DeVan Barbour. Perhaps Ellmers’s former stint in the House will give her the name recognition necessary to make up for her fundraising problems, but she might be a paper tiger. Split Ticket is sticking with the Trump endorsement’s power in crowded fields and rating the primary Tossup – Tilt Hines.

Assuming he wins his primary, the eventual nominee will face Democratic state Senator Wiley Nickel in a race that we consider a Tossup.

A Biden +16 district like the Mecklenburg-Gaston 14th would normally not be anywhere near the competitive board. The national environment has pushed the district a tad out of the Democratic comfort zone, but we still consider Jeff Jackson a favorite to flip the seat into his party’s column. Businessman Pat Harrigan and Jonathan Simpson are seeking the GOP nomination here. Harrigan has raised the most money despite not living in the district. Simpson, meanwhile, seems too removed from the national Republican message to appeal to the entire primary electorate. Leans Harrigan.

Pennsylvania

The Biden-won 1st district is an outlier in our Safe Republican category. Its rating has everything to do with incumbent Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, a moderate, historically pro-union lawmaker perfectly-cut out to represent Bucks County – a part of the Philadelphia collar mixed with suburban and working-class communities.

As one might expect, Fitzpatrick’s independence has not pleased the right-wing elements of the GOP. Alex Entin is challenging the incumbent in tomorrow’s primary, but we expect Fitzpatrick to prevail much like Don Bacon did in Omaha last week. Safe Fitzpatrick.

Perhaps tommorrow’s strangest race is the Democratic primary in the majority-black 3rd district. This Philadelphia seat is currently held by Congressman Dwight Evans, a traditional lawmaker focused on parochial concerns since he defeated his ethically-challenged predecessor Chaka Fattah in the 2016 primary.

He is being challenged by a white progressive named Alexandra Hunt, but her campaign seems to be a waste of time in a district where a hefty black majority will back the incumbent. Although she is a public health researcher with two degrees, Hunt has been criticized for her previous work as a stripper. Safe Evans.

At Biden +15, the Chester-Berks (Reading) 6th district is only on this year’s board because of the national environment. It is currently represented by Democrat Chrissy Houlahan, against whom a surprisingly-robust Republican field has materialized. The top choice of the Chester County GOP seems to be Township Supervisor Guy Ciarrocchi, a former Chief of Staff to ex-Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley. Challengers include self-funding businessman Steve Fanelli and realtor Ron Vogel. Leans Ciarrocchi.

Northeastern districts 7 and 8, both Tossups, are set for rematches this fall. The primary in the former is Safe Scheller and the primary in the latter is Safe Bognet. Bognet does have Trump’s endorsement, so he should beat Teddy Daniels-endorsed ex-Hazleton Mayor Mike Marsicano easily.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry is favored to win the 10th district comfortably this fall. Split Ticket currently rates this Harrisburg/Carlisle/York Trump +4 seat Likely Republican, though it is actually probably closer to Safe. The Democratic primary is being contested between Cumberland and Dauphin counties, with the latter expected to prevail. That should bode well for Harrisburg Councilwoman Shamaine Daniels. Leans Daniels.

Pittsburgh’s new 12th district is open this year following the retirement of Democrat Mike Doyle, the Dean of the Commonwealth’s House delegation. The choice of the Allegheny County Democratic organization is attorney Steve Irwin, the biggest spender in the race. He represents the traditional wing of the party against progressive state Representative Summer Lee and law professor Jerry Dickinson.

Lee should win her legislative district, but it is unclear if she will be able to beat Irwin in the mostly-white city proper. Perhaps more importantly, since Pittsburgh does not compose a majority of the seat’s population, it is hard to see Irwin losing the outlying suburbs in southeastern Allegheny and Westmoreland counties. Leans Irwin.

The third Tossup seat is the 17th, a marginal Biden seat located in Allegheny and Beaver counties being vacated by Congressman Conor Lamb. On the Democratic side, Attorney Chris Deluzio is expected to secure the nomination with the county organization’s support. Likely Deluzio. For Republicans, businessman Jeremy Shaffer appears to have the nod. He has outraised his opponents and attracted endorsements from the likes of G.T. Thompson, Elise Stefanik, and Keith Rothfus. Likely Shaffer.

Oregon

The 4th district runs along the southernmost extent of Oregon’s coastline. If it were under its current Biden +4 form this fall, Republicans would have great chances of flipping it. But the GOP was dealt a poor hand in redistricting, allowing Democrats to remove redder outlying portions of the seat, replace Linn County with Lincoln, and increase the voting power of Lane County (Eugene). The result is a Biden +13 district that will be difficult for Republicans to compete for, even in a red-leaning year.

Alek Skarlatos, a stellar GOP recruit who stopped a terrorist attack in France, kept his race against long-time Congressman Pete DeFazio close in 2020. The Transportation Committee Chair’s brush with political death, along with the prospect of being in the minority caucus, probably contributed to his decision to retire. Skarlatos is running again this year, but starts as a heavier underdog than he should be because of the district lean. Likely Democratic.

The obvious replacement on the Democratic side is Val Hoyle, the Oregon Commissioner of Labor. She has raised the most cash, received the endorsements of establishment figures like Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and probably has the strongest political base in Eugene. Hoyle’s leading opponent on the left appears to be environmental activist Doyle Canning, but previous polling from PPP showed her comfortably ahead. Likely Hoyle.

At just Biden +8, the Leans Democratic 5th district is the most compelling target for Oregon Republicans this year. It is currently represented by Kurt Schrader, a moderate Democrat who has drawn fire from his party’s left for being insufficiently liberal. He faces a primary challenge from Jamie McLeod-Skinner, but recently secured President Biden’s endorsement. McLeod-Skinner is a known element with liberal whites in Deschutes County (Bend), but has fewer connections than Schrader in the 5th’s populated Clackamas and Marion portions. (The district is still relatively new to Schrader too, however) Despite losing the support of local Democratic organizations, Schrader has outraised his challenger. Lean Schrader.

Republicans have certainly not given Schrader any passes for being moderate either. The frontrunner for the GOP nomination is Lori Chavez-DeRemer, a former Mayor of Happy Valley. She faces credible opposition in Jimmy Crumpacker and John Di Paola. Crumpacker’s Bend base probably will not be enough to outvote the Portland suburbs in Clackamas. Leans Chavez-DeRemer.

The 6th district is Oregon’s newest seat. Much like the Biden +13 4th, the Likely Democratic 6th is on the edge of the board this year because of the national environment. This seat is primarily based around Marion County (Salem), but stretches north to Portland suburbs in Washington County as well. Both party primaries here are utter chaos because the 6th does not have an incumbent.

On the Democratic side, the field is rife with big-spenders from both the political and business worlds. The leading elected official seeking the nomination is state Representative Andrea Salinas. She has Governor Kate Brown’s support, but actually lives outside the district. Private sector candidates Matt West, Cody Reynolds, and Carrick Flynn have all self-funded into contention. PPP showed Salinas with a narrow lead over Flynn, the candidate of the Democratic establishment, in early may. Tossup – Tilt Salinas.

There are a handful of candidates worth watching on the Republican side too. The frontrunner appears to be self-funder Mike Erickson, a former Congressional nominee and consultant from the northern half of the 6th. His closest competition is McMinnville state Representative Ron Noble. Other contenders include Amy Ryan Courser, David Russ, Angela Plowhead, former Congressman Jim Bunn, and Nathan Sandvig. Plowhead and Courser could neutralize each other in the Salem area, making it easier for Erickson to form a winning coalition. Tossup – Tilt Erickson.

Kentucky

Louisville will soon have a new representative. Incumbent Democrat and Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth announced his departure from Washington earlier this year, opening the way for his shoo-in replacement Morgan McGarvey. A young Democrat with high hopes, McGarvey is the state Senate Minority Leader and currently represents Mitch McConnell in the legislature. He faces opposition from progressive state Representative Attica Scott, but should be able to win comfortably. Likely McGarvey.

Idaho

A historic rematch is brewing in Idaho’s easternmost district. In this territory, succeeding in the Republican primary is tantamount to general election victory. Veteran incumbent Mike Simpson (Blackfoot) is hoping to do just that against his 2014 opponent attorney Bryan Smith (Idaho Falls). He won 61-38 last time around, and there is little reason to suspect he is more vulnerable this time. Out of an abundance of caution, Split Ticket is rating this primary Likely Simpson.

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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