6/7 House Watchlist

Intro & CA Note

Primaries will be occurring in seven different states today. Split Ticket covered California in a separate piece last week, so this write-up will be solely devoted to House contests in New Jersey and a handful of other states.

Compared to past dates on the electoral calendar, June 7th is also noticeably free of attention-grabbing statewide primaries. That absence brings the nomination battles for the nation’s lower chamber to the coverage fore for the first time this cycle.

NJ

NJ-02

The 2nd is a Trump +5 seat that spans across the Garden State’s southernmost-extent. It is represented by Jeff Van Drew, an ex-state Senator who won the open seat as a Democrat in 2018 before joining the Republicans. Democrats could not take out Van Drew in 2020 despite a spirited challenge from Amy Kennedy, so it seems next to impossible for this right-trending seat to evade the Republicans in the upcoming Biden midterm.

Tim Alexander has the Democratic line in Atlantic County, making him the overwhelming favorite for the nomination in this Safe Republican race.

NJ-03

Congressman Andy Kim got a boost in redistricting after the 3rd district exchanged its Republican Ocean County portion for bluer territory in Mercer County like Hamilton Township; the redrawn seat is Biden +14. This district is one of two Likely Democratic reach seats that Garden State Republicans expect the national environment to bring into play this year.

Frontrunning Republicans Bob Healey and Ian Smith perfectly encapsulate the establishment/anti-establishment divide that has been ubiquitous to recent GOP primaries nationwide despite being ostensibly muted in New Jersey. Healey, who inherited a Yacht manufacturing company, is favored to win his party’s nod because he has the line in Burlington County. A victory by the controversial Smith would be quite a blow to the state and local party organizations, perhaps representing a shift in the status quo.

NJ-04

The most prominent battle between the differing rhetorical wings of the GOP is playing out in the Ocean County-based 4th district, the most Republican seat in New Jersey. Incumbent Chris Smith was elected at 27 in 1980 after a rematch with embattled Democrat Frank Thompson. Forty years later, Smith is second in line to become the next Dean of the House.

Compared to former colleagues like Rodney Frelinghuysen, Frank LoBiondo, and Leonard Lance, Smith has crafted a non-traditional brand of Garden State Republicanism that balances social conservatism with fiscal centrism. Despite ardent pro-life stances and reserved cultural values, Smith’s “establishment” image has drawn the complete reprehension of the GOP’s national populist wing.

Political commentator Mike Crispi and retired FBI agent Steve Gray are Smith’s only remaining opponents. The other five initial challengers have since dropped out or been disqualified. Crispi is the most serious opposition contender, but even he is garnering more attention than his campaign deserves.

A hypothetical loss by an incumbent with an excellent record of constituent service like Chris Smith would possibly be the biggest primary upset in New Jersey’s history. The county organizations are also on Smith’s side, so it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which this matchup is even close. If this race is in fact competitive, it would be further evidence of the unprecedented nationalization of Congressional politics in the state. Safe Republican

NJ-05

The 5th is the most competitive of the three swing seats fortified for the Democrats in redistricting. It is Biden +12, but Bergen County ticket-splitting will probably reduce the Democratic advantage in this seat assuming the national environment continues to favor Republicans.

Democratic incumbent Josh Gottheimer is a fundraising machine whose ideology is tailor-made for his affluent suburban constituents, but his warchest advantage will lose significance if it grows too large (i.e., Katie Porter 2020 & Law of Diminishing Returns). Leans Democratic

National Republicans are also expecting a competitive race in the 5th, where the frontrunner is combat veteran Nick DeGregorio. His opponent is Frank Pallotta, a candidate of significant personal wealth who has been reluctant to deploy it in his year’s race. Combine that reticence with DeGregorio’s reception of the Bergen County line and its difficult to see a scenario in which he loses the nomination.

NJ-06

Frank Pallone’s 6th district was made more Democratic in redistricting. It was inelastic to begin with, so there is little reason to suspect that Republicans will gain visible ground here unless the environment works catastrophically against the Democrats in the fall. (The ’02 iteration was competitive in 2010)

Despite her party’s bleak electoral track-record in the 6th, GOP frontrunner Sue Kiley is an excellent recruit. With the backing of the organizational lines, the Monmouth County Commissioner should defeat former Senate nominee Rik Mehta and businessman Tom Toomey. Safe Democratic

NJ-07

Only in New Jersey would a Biden +4 district be one of the Democrats’ best nationwide pickup opportunities. Beleaguered 7th district incumbent Tom Malinowski was given the short end of the stick in redistricting, greatly endangering his reelection prospects against ex-state Senator Tom Kean Jr. Malinowski came just one point from losing the Biden +11 version of the 7th district in 2020, now he must fight an uphill battle amid Republican national conditions in a redrawn seat that 2021 Gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli won comfortably.

Despite favorable trends for the Democrats district-wide, there is little evidence to suggest that Kean’s traditional appeal to ticket-splitting Democrats in Somerset and Union counties has diminished. Kean has shifted rightward to respond to primary challengers Erik Peterson and Phil Rizzo, but he is still expected to win the nomination comfortably because the line is unified behind him across the district and the opposition vote is split multiple ways. Expect Kean’s primary vote to fall in the 50-60% range. Likely Republican (flip)

NJ-08 & NJ-10

Progressive challengers have historically suffered in New Jersey because of the line’s potency in backing incumbents and favored replacement candidates (i.e., Arati Kreibich’s in NJ-05). This cycle, Democrats from the party’s left-wing will be running against Rob Menendez, the son of Sen. Bob Menendez & favorite to succeed incumbent Albio Sires, and Don Payne Jr., the son of an ex-Congressman himself. While it is highly unlikely that David Ocampo Grajales (08) and Imani Oakley (10) will even come close to victory, Split Ticket is still interested in seeing just how robust progressive margins are in a machine state like New Jersey.

NJ-11

Mikie Sherrill received the biggest redistricting boost of all of the vulnerable Garden State Democrats, moving from a marginal Biden seat to one that the President carried by roughly 17 points. Still straddling Morris and Essex counties despite design changes, Split Ticket rates the new 11th Likely Democratic because its partisan lean is softer down the ballot and this year’s election is a Biden midterm.

The Republican most likely to win the nomination and enter the general election campaign as a visible underdog is Tayfun Selen, a County Commissioner with the line in both Morris and Essex counties. His nearest competitor is Paul DeGroot, a judge who only has the line in the seat’s Passaic portion.

Other States

IA-03

District 3 is based around Des Moines and its suburbs, along with the outlying rural communities of Southwestern Iowa. Most of the Democratic base in this Trump +0.2 seat comes from Polk County, but moderate incumbent Cindy Axne only really outran Biden in the hinterlands.

The frontrunning Republican for tonight’s nomination, state Senator Zach Nunn, has the added benefit of being based in Polk, so it would not be unreasonable to expect some crossover voting from down ballot Republican & Democratic voters. This race is still a Tossup, but even the redrawn seat may be too much for Axne to overcome assuming the fall environment is inhospitable.

MS-04

Split Ticket has kept an eye on the primary in the Safe Republican 4th district, where incumbent Steven Palazzo could be forced into a runoff. This Gulf Coast (Biloxi) territory has historically been the reddest part of Mississippi, though it was represented in Congress for decades by conservative Democrat Gene Taylor. Palazzo unseated him by 4 points in a McCain +30 seat, with Taylor advertizing his vote against Obama throughout the 2010 campaign.

Palazzo has since been the subject of numerous personal and ethical quandaries. A weak primary performance by him would certainly not be without precedent, given he was almost forced into a runoff against a *Republican-turned* Taylor in 2014. Some of his visible 2022 challengers in no particular order are banker Clay Wagner, businessman Carl Boyanton, Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell, and st. Sen. Brice Wiggins.

MT, NM, SD

Montana will elect two House members this year for the first time since 1990. The primaries in the western 1st district, the most marginal of the two, are worth watching. Ex-Congressman Ryan Zinke is the favorite on the Republican side, though not prohibitively so. The Democratic primary is being fought between Cora Neumann and Monica Tranel, an Olympian who seems like a favorite despite having been outraised by her opponent. Safe Republican

In New Mexico & South Dakota, all of the primary nominations have essentially been decided because the separate races have commanding favorites. All three seats in the Land of Enchantment will be watched this year. For more information on nominees, check out Split Ticket’s continuously-updated House watchlist.

NH Ratings Introduction

After months of wrangling between the Granite State’s Republican legislature and its Republican Governor Chris Sununu, a Congressional map has finally been enacted. It is more or less a status quo proposal, meaning both districts will be competitive this year. The legislature’s first draft shored up Ann Kuster (NH-02) while drawing Chris Pappas (NH-01) into a Trump-won seat.

Under the newly-codified plan, the districts are Biden +6 (NH-01) and +9 (NH-02) respectively. Split Ticket will be starting NH-01 at Tossup and NH-02 at Leans Democratic. While Republicans certainly have a shot at temporarily flipping both seats, as they did in 2010, the new map should bode better for Democrats in less sanguine environments later in the decade.

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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