6/21 House Watchlist: VA, GA, & AL

Introduction

This week, six important Republican House primaries will be occurring in the south. Three of these races are runoffs happening in Georgia, with two of them (GA-06 & GA-10) acting as referendums on former President Trump’s endorsement power. Two more, in Virginia, will determine challengers to incumbent Democrats in marginal Biden seats (VA-02 & VA-07). And one, in Alabama, will determine the successor to Senate candidate Mo Brooks.

Today’s only prominent statewide race is the Alabama Senate runoff, in which Katie Britt is the favorite, so most attention tonight will be devoted to the nation’s lower chamber. Consider this Tuesday a calm before next week’s crowded, seven-state primary storm.

GA-02

Georgia’s southwestern 2nd district is an outstate, black-majority seat that connects the cities of Columbus, Macon, and Albany with the rural hinterlands in between them. Tonight’s runoff there will determine Democrat Sanford Bishop’s Republican opponent. The frontrunner in terms of fundraising and national attention is definitely Jeremy Hunt, one of many black Republican candidates running in swing seats this year. His challenger is Chris West, a white attorney.

Recently successful primary campaigns by candidates like Byron Donalds and Jennifer-Ruth Green suggest that conservative white electorates are more open to minority candidates now than they have traditionally been, although historical exceptions like J.C. Watts still stand out. If malleability among certain white conservatives applies in the 2nd, it would bode well for Hunt.

Hunt led 37-31 in the initial vote count, so his base in Muscogee (Columbus) should put him over the line in a head-to-head with West. West’s base in Thomas (Thomasville) – recently added to the district – also packs a significant punch, especially with whites in a Republican primary, but probably wouldn’t be enough to win assuming Hunt takes Dougherty (Albany) and Bibb (Macon) in addition to Muscogee. Hunt can also be expected to perform well in the 2nd’s black-majority rural counties, many of which he carried handily in the first round. Leans Hunt

Because half of the inelastic 2nd’s voting population is black, it tends to fall into the Democratic column. But competitive races are not unprecedented here; Republican Mike Keown nearly flipped the old version of this seat in 2010. With the environment once again at its back, the GOP is targeting the Biden +10 2nd in earnest. Part of that national interest stems from redistricting, which added Thomasville, thereby making the seat whiter and less Democratic.

Congressman Sanford Bishop might have a history of turning out blacks and generating white crossover support, but Split Ticket’s evidence suggests that a narrow 2010-style victory is much more likely than a comfortable win. Likely Democratic

GA-06

The first of two Georgia primary tests for ex-President Trump is occurring in the 6th district, a gerrymandered Republican-leaning seat stretching north from Fulton and Cobb counties into Atlanta’s redder exurbs like Forsyth and Cherokee. This seat is trending Democratic long-term but remains safely in the GOP column for now. Its political dynamics make the Republican runoff tantamount to victory this cycle.

That race is being contested by 2020 Congressional candidate Rich McCormick and Trump-endorsed former Georgia Ethics Board chairman Jake Evans. Besides having a much larger warchest than Evans, McCormick led the first round of primary balloting 43-23%. Much like Texas Democrat Jasmine Crockett, who took 49% before sweeping her runoff, the evidence suggests McCormick would have the easiest path to forming a winning coalition because he wouldn’t have to acquire much new support.

If McCormick wins easily, it would indicate that suburban districts like this one (similar to TX-08 or SC-01) value mainstream conservatism more than Trump’s endorsement. Most of the 6th’s primary vote is expected to come from Cobb, Fulton, and Forsyth counties. McCormick, despite living in Gwinnett, led in all of them during the first round, even taking a majority of the vote in Forsyth. Likely McCormick

GA-10

The safe Republican 10th district, located in north-central Georgia, opened up earlier this year when Jody Hice began his ill-fated run for Secretary of State. Since then, it has been the scene of one of Trump’s riskiest House endorsements: that of ex-Democrat Vernon Jones. Jones is a start-up candidate who unexpectedly made it into the runoff against frontrunner Mike Collins after a bitterly-contested first round. It is widely believed that Trump only endorsed him in the first place to clear the gubernatorial field against Brian Kemp in order for David Perdue to run.

Collins, the son of a former Congressman and runner-up for this seat in 2014, remains the favorite ahead of today’s primary race. His political connections and successful trucking company have helped him outraise Jones, giving his campaign the capital it needed to inundate the airwaves with negative ads against his big-city challenger. The question now is whether this seat will opt for an atypical candidate, whose single bona fide is the former President’s endorsement, over a standard conservative like WV-02 and SC-07 did.

Although the 10th includes Athens and significant swathes of rural turf, most of its voters live closer to Atlanta in counties like Henry, Butts, Newton and Walton. While winning the initial vote 27-22, Collins finished ahead of Jones in all four. Jones performed better in the district’s rural counties, though he did not monopolize them.

When it comes to the rurals, ex-Congressman Paul Broun’s Athens area base (surroundings of Clarke County) will probably decide the runoff. In the Atlanta exurbs, competition will focus on initial supporters of state Rep. Timothy Barr. If Collins somehow loses in an upset, the controversial Jones will still be a lock for this blood red seat. For better or for worse, the primary is the only true scene of competition. Likely Collins

AL-05

The 5th district is a safe Republican seat stretching across Alabama’s northern border. Most of its vote is concentrated in Madison County, home to Huntsville and its famous space program. This turf is currently represented by Republican Mo Brooks, the underdog in tonight’s Senate runoff. The runoff for the open House seat pits Madison County Commission chair Dale Strong against Casey Wardynski, a former Assistant Secretary of the Army who has accused Strong of being an insufficiently-conservative career politician.

Both candidates live in Madison County, but Strong, like McCormick in Georgia, has the stronger foothold from the first round of voting. His 45-23 plurality in the initial vote accompanied a 49-20 lead in Madison, meaning he must only slightly expand what was already a winning coalition. A recent Cygnal poll also showed Strong ahead 46-31, suggesting an easy victory tonight. Likely Strong

VA-02

Virginia’s 2nd district is a Biden +2 seat located in the Tidewater region, stretching from Accomack County southwest to Isle of Wight. Most of the population, as well as the Republican and Democratic vote, is centered in Virginia Beach County. Chesapeake, to the west, packs a punch that could make the difference for the GOP in a close race. Norfolk was notably removed from the 2nd in redistricting, making it redder than the current seat.

Much of this territory has trended Democratic since 2016, evidenced by the fact that the 2nd is a Trump-Biden seat. At the same time, Governor Glenn Youngkin paid respects to this district’s Republican heritage by winning it 55-44 in 2021. This is the type of House seat that the GOP must, and probably will, flip to take back the chamber in November.

Tonight’s primary will determine the Republican challenger to Democratic incumbent Elaine Luria in what is currently a Tossup race, though it could move to Leans Republican soon depending on the candidate that GOP voters pick. The frontrunner, ideal NRCC nominee, and fundraising champion is state Senator Jen Kiggans from Virginia Beach County. She faces three underdog challengers: Jarome Bell, Tommy Altman, and Andy Baan. The most formidable of the three appears to be Bell, a 2020 candidate for the seat whom Split Ticket expects Kiggans to beat comfortably. Likely Kiggans

VA-07

Because Virginia’s 5th and 10th districts determined nominees through the convention process before today’s primary, the 7th district is the only other seat on our board. This Biden +7 seat cuts a wide band across northern Virginia, rising from the Shenandoah National Park through Spotsylvania up into Stafford and Prince William counties, where more than half of the seat’s population lives.

Like the 2nd district, this marginal Biden seat has trended leftward since 2016 despite voting for Youngkin in 2021. The crowded Republican primary taking place this evening will choose Democratic incumbent Abigail Spanberger’s opponent in what we consider to be a Tossup race. Regardless of the nominee, the 7th will be a much harder target than the 2nd for the GOP. This is the type of seat that Republicans would normally be underdogs in, but a combination of favorable environmental conditions and down-ballot advantages has given them an uphill path to victory.

The nomination contest occurring here is expected to be today’s most competitive. There are three main candidates, each of whom has a regional base: state Senator Bryce Reeves, Prince William County Supervisor Yesli Vega, and Stafford County Board of Supervisors Chair Crystal Vanuch. Another candidate to watch is ex-Army Green Beret Derrick Anderson, though he does not live in the district.

Reeves, from Fredericksburg, has the largest warchest and should sweep the district’s southern rurals, most of which are in his Senate seat, along with Spotsylvania, the 7th’s third most populated county. Vega and Vanuch can be expected to take pluralities in their home counties, but their leads would have to be fairly sizeable for either of them to win outright. This race will be close, but should be winnable for Reeves as long as he maintains his own coalition and doesn’t get destroyed in Stafford and Prince William. Tossup – Leans Reeves

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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