House Watchlist 6/14

Introduction

This Tuesday, a series of hotly-contested House primaries will be occurring in Nevada and South Carolina. In addition to the latest nomination news, Split Ticket will provide updates on the House special elections in AK-AL and TX-34. To find out more about this year’s primary cycle, check out our watchlist and 2022 ratings courtesy of 270towin.

AK-AL

In 2020, Alaska voters passed a referendum creating a new system in which the top four non-partisan primary candidates advance to a general election decided by ranked-choice voting. The death of legendary Congressman Don Young earlier this year yielded the first opportunity for a House special election to be held under the new conditions. Since Young had been in office since 1973, and the Last Frontier uses one At-Large district, there was a natural free-for-all to make the ballot.

Last night, three of the top four contenders for the special general election were determined. All results are up to date at the time of this writing. Former Governor and 2008 GOP VP nominee Sarah Palin finished first with roughly 30%. Fellow Republican Nick Begich came second with 19%, performing well southeast of Anchorage. Independent Al Gross, a 2020 Senate candidate, took third with 13%. Democrat Mary Peltola, a former Assemblywoman, is currently in fourth place despite not having secured the spot officially. Safe Republican

Check out a great results live map by Cynic, a contributor to RRH Elections & Alaska enthusiast.

TX-34

Tomorrow night’s marquee race will undoubtedly be the special election to replace Democrat Filemon Vela in Texas’s 34th Congressional district. Historically, Democratic advantages up and down the ballot in South Texas would have precluded this district from being competitive. But former President Trump’s impressive 2020 gains among conservative Hispanics in the region, many of whom hadn’t previously voted, permanently changed discourse along the Rio Grande.

Held under the old lines (Clinton +22, Biden +4) the non-partisan first round of voting in the 34th will be the first electoral evidence available to prove or disprove Split Ticket’s previous analysis regarding the likelihood of a Democratic wipe-out in South Texas. In other words, the outcome of this race will be more indicative of lower-than-average Democratic support in one region among a specific demographic than it will be of growing Republican hopes nationwide. If the GOP wins comfortably here, though, it would certainly still bode well for them big-picture.

The leading candidates for both parties are (R) Mayra Flores and (D) Dan Sanchez. Two minor candidates, one from each party, will also be on the ballot – a circumstance that could lead to a runoff. But Split Ticket currently considers it more likely that Flores wins outright, an outcome supported by our Leans Republican (flip) rating. Democrats – through the DCCC – have more or less abandoned Sanchez, suggesting that recent trends may be enough to finally overturn decades of down ballot Democratic lean.

The key counties to watch in this “fajita seat” by population are Cameron and Hidalgo in the south. A Republican victory will depend on solid margins in red areas like San Patricio and Bee up north. Lesser-populated Hispanic counties that have recently trended Republican, like Jim Wells, will also be crucial to the Flores coalition.

Either way, national Democrats are more interested in protecting the redrawn 34th district – a bluer seat. If Flores wins tomorrow or in a runoff, she would face off against Democratic incumbent Vicente Gonzalez in a seat we rate Leans Democratic. In the unlikely event of a Sanchez victory, Democrats would simply have a placeholder until next January.

Maine

On a brief note, primaries are also happening in Maine’s 2nd district. This rural, Trump-won seat stretching across vast swathes of the Pine Tree State is currently represented by moderate Democrat Jared Golden. The leading Republican contender for this district is Bruce Poliquin, Golden’s predecessor. Since his victory in 2018, Golden has established the perfect ideological brand to promote ticket splitting on conservative turf. His new Trump +6 seat is similar to the one that he currently represents, but will nevertheless be tough to defend in a red wave even with a proven record of winning crossover support. GOP gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage’s margin of victory in the 2nd will ultimately be crucial in determining whether Golden survives. Split Ticket rates this contest Tossup.

Nevada

Nevada’s new redistricting plan creates three marginal Biden seats. All of these districts would be favored to vote against Republicans in a neutral year, but the dilution and distribution of the Democratic vote this cycle could lead the map to temporarily backfire by going 4-0 R. While that may not be the most likely scenario, it is still one worth considering depending on how bad the environment gets for President Biden’s party.

The 1st district used to be concisely-drawn around Las Vegas, a heavily-Democratic constituency equipped with a rich Hispanic population. But Sin City is split three ways under the new lines, pushing the 1st southeast toward Henderson. In a mere Biden +9 seat, Democrat Dina Titus finds herself on the general election board for the first time since 2010. She lost a marginal seat that year to future Senate candidate Joe Heck before winning Shelley Berkeley’s open Vegas seat in 2012.

This year the incumbent faces a primary challenge from Amy Vilela, an activist endorsed by progressive luminaries like Bernie Sanders and Nina Turner. Assuming Titus holds onto her seat, she will enter a Leans Democratic race against the eventual Republican nominee. Split Ticket rates the Democratic primary contest Likely Titus.

Republican competition for this seat is even more spirited. The leading candidate seems like Carolina Serrano, a former member of the Trump campaign in the Silver State. She leads the pack in fundraising and has collected important endorsements from Elise Stefanik and Adam Laxalt. Her most formidable opponent is David Brog, a political organizer supported by Mike Pompeo. Other candidates include former Congressman Crescent Hardy (NV-04), veteran Mark Robertson, retired judge Cynthia Steel, and businessman Morgun Sholty. Leans Serrano

In the Safe Republican 2nd district, long-time Congressman Mark Amodei is facing a right-wing primary challenge from Douglas County Commissioner Danny Tarkanian. Tarkanian is essentially a perennial candidate, so Split Ticket doesn’t expect him to take out the Dean of Nevada’s Congressional delegation. Trump has not waded into this primary, but both candidates have certainly attempted to claim his mantle. In doing so, Amodei has trodden down the path of mainstream conservatism. Likely Amodei

The 3rd district, held by Democrat Susie Lee, is the easiest Republican pick-up opportunity in the state. Spanning western Las Vegas from Summerlin down to Enterprise, this Biden +7 district is a firm addition to the Tossup column in Republican environment. Much of that has to do with the leading Republican candidate: attorney & former state Senate candidate April Becker. She has easily outraised opponents John Kovacs and Noah Malgeri, both of whom are challenging her on the right. Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican campaign arm, and the NV GOP have all endorsed Becker. Leans Becker

In the 4th district, also rated Leans Democratic, incumbent Steven Horsford appears to be the most secure of the three Nevada House Democrats seeking reelection. This Biden +8 seat is similar in partisanship to the 1st and takes in the remaining northern half of Vegas. Republicans certainly have a viable path to victory in the 4th regardless of the primary outcome, though it appears national Republicans have a preferred candidate: Assemblywoman Annie Black. But fundraising data and an old WPA Intelligence Poll suggest Air Force Veteran Sam Peters, the candidate of the state party, is in fact the favorite. Leans Peters

South Carolina

President Trump has staked the success of his House endorsement record on two GOP primaries in the Palmetto State against incumbents Nancy Mace (SC-01) and Tom Rice (SC-07). The former President’s lower chamber victory record is still up in the air. While he has had definite wins with candidates like Alex Mooney (WV-02), other endorsees like Jake Evans (GA-06) and Vernon Jones (GA-10) must compete in runoffs that they are unsure to win.

After a statewide implosion by Trump’s candidates for Georgia’s Governorship and Secretary of State’s office, a dual set of House victories would certainly anneal the former President’s spirit. But a duo of losses, also a possibility, would simply damage the credibility of the Trump brand even further. Between the two incumbents, Tom Rice currently seems like the most vulnerable. Let’s briefly break down the districts.

The 1st was redrawn into a Trump +9 seat in redistricting, taking it off this year’s general election board. Much of its county composition remains similar though, so the primary is somewhat predictable. Mace, a freshman who defeated Democratic incumbent Joe Cunningham in 2020, faces Katie Arrington this year. Arrington defeated then-incumbent Mark Sanford in the 2018 GOP primary before losing the general election. Mace has the support of House Republican leadership.

With no minor candidates threatening to force Mace and Arrington into a runoff, polling suggests that the incumbent is a favorite as long as the undecided vote breaks in her favor. The key to a Mace victory would be winning Charleston County by enough to offset Arrington’s presumed strength in Beaufort, Berkeley, and Dorchester counties – the supplements to her 2018 coalition. Former President Trump has also been hesitant to visit his challenger as of late, suggesting he fears a direct loss by Arrington to the incumbent. Leans Mace

Tom Rice has been on Trump’s hitlist since he joined a handful of his Republican colleagues in backing the ex-President’s second impeachment following the January 6th incident. He represents the 7th district, a Safe Republican seat covering South Carolina’s northeast; Horry County is the foundation of the GOP coalition in this district.

Unlike Mace, who seems to be a favorite in a two-woman race, Rice could very well be forced into a difficult runoff election against Trump-backed state Representative Russell Fry because credible minor candidates Ken Richardson, Mark McBride, and Barbara Arthur remain on the ballot. In that runoff, Rice would likely be hard pressed to win. Leans Runoff Rice and Fry

Another primary to keep on the radar in the Palmetto State is taking place in the 4th district, where incumbent Republican William Timmons could be forced into a runoff against pastor Mark Burns or businessman Michael LaPierre. This Greenvile-based seat is not at any risk for the GOP in the general election, but it does have a history of throwing out incumbents. In 2010, climate conscious incumbent Bob Inglis lost his runoff to Trey Gowdy by 40 points after coming out in support of Cap and Trade legislation.

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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