6/28 House Watchlist

Colorado

For more detailed analysis by Colorado expert Armin Thomas and Lakshya Jain, check out the Centennial State preview here.

The 3rd district takes in much of western and south-central Colorado. It is composed of a diverse set of political constituencies: conservative bastions like Grand Junction, liberal extensions of ‘Ski Country’ like Aspen or Gunnison, traditionally-Democratic ‘Hispano’ counties like Las Animas, and evenly-split Pueblo in the east. This district is only Trump +8 following redistricting, but remains in the Safe Republican column this cycle due to the environment.

As such Split Ticket is primarily focused on the GOP primary, where Congresswoman Lauren Boebert faces state Senator Don Coram. Boebert upset Republican incumbent Scott Tipton in his 2020 primary after he was caught asleep at the wheel (not literally). Coram is a credible challenger, but fundraising and electoral coalitions suggest that the Trump-endorsed incumbent will avoid the fate of her predecessor. Even in loss, expect Coram to do well in his Montrose County base as well as in the rest of the district’s southwestern corner. Likely Boebert

Colorado’s 4th district stretches along its sanguinely-conservative eastern plains upward into Weld County, its traditional population base. Redistricting necessitated the new 8th district, forcing the commission to remove populated communities in Weld (like Greeley) from the 4th. The solidly-Republican seat’s new population base is Douglas County, home to traditionally-red suburbs and exurbs south of Denver.

Incumbent Congressman Ken Buck has one of the House’s most conservative records, but he faces a primary challenge from the *right* by outsider Bob Lewis from Elbert County. Buck should be fine, but this race remains on the backburner. Likely Buck

The Colorado Springs-based 5th district has long been represented by conservative Republican Doug Lamborn, first elected in 2006. Despite his stellar general election records, Lamborn has historically posted underwhelming margins in contested primaries. 2014 stands out as an example of a particularly-unimpressive performance. That year, Lamborn defeated challenger Bentley Rayburn by a mere 53-47% margin.

Lamborn faces another contested primary this cycle, which, like his colleague Buck, fundamentals suggest he is the favorite to win. But historical evidence suggests it is also worthwhile to keep an eye on Dave Williams, a former state Representative and Vice Chair of the El Paso County GOP aiming to take down the tenured incumbent. Williams has criticized Lamborn on ethical and political grounds. Redistricting removed the 5th’s extraneous counties, limiting it solely to El Paso – historically the seat’s population center. Likely Lamborn

Geographically-speaking, the 7th might have been the seat most affected by Colorado’s redistricting cycle. The majority of the Biden +14 district’s population is still based in the Jefferson County, home to many of Denver’s formerly-Republican suburbs. But the *actual boundaries* of the 7th now stretch south all the way to Fremont County (Canon City) – conservative turf in the Arkansas Valley.

Incumbent Democrat Ed Perlmutter, elected in 2006, is retiring this year. Democrats quickly coalesced around state Senator Brittany Pettersen following his announcement, but the Republican nomination remains undecided ahead of a three-way matchup between veteran Erik Aadland, businesswoman Laurel Imer, and centrist self-funder Timothy Reichert.

Aadland is favored to win the nomination against Imer, the candidate of the vocal right, because his brand is expected to resonate best in the Denver suburbs. Leans Aadland JeffCo is typically redder down-ballot, but the 7th, at Biden +14, will still be an uphill battle for the GOP regardless of the environment. Likely Democratic

The best Republican opportunity in Colorado lies in the newly-created 8th district. Roughly a 60-40 population split between Republican Weld (Greeley) and Democratic Adams counties (Thornton), this seat is just Biden +5. Besides its swing seat status, it’s also important to note that the 8th is 35% Hispanic (CVAP2020) owing to its Adams portion. Democratic nominee Yadira Caraveo, a state Representative from Thornton, perfectly fits that electoral base.

Unlike the Democrats, Republicans do not have an assured nominee. Of the four candidate field, two stand out: Weld County state Senator Barbara Kirkmeyer and former Weld County Commissioner Lori Saine. Other candidates include Thornton Mayor Jan Kulmann, the Republican executive of a Democratic community, and self-funder Tyler Allcorn.

The majority of the primary vote will be cast in Weld, where both major candidates are from. That electoral reality should limit Kulmann’s ceiling, making this primary a Kirkmeyer vs. Saine battle. While either candidate could feasibly win that matchup, Split Ticket considers Saine, the more right-wing of the candidates, the most appealing to the primary electorate. Leans Saine

A Kirkmeyer or Kulmann vs. Caraveo matchup would be Leans Republican instead of the current Tossup. If Saine secures the nomination, as we expect, the status quo will be upheld for the foreseeable future.

NE-01 Special

In March, Republican Congressman Jeff Fortenberry resigned his seat in the House after being indicted by the FBI on campaign finance-related charges. Pursuant to Nebraska law, Governor Pete Ricketts scheduled the special election for June 28th – within 90 days of the vacancy. Party executive committees selected nominees (R) Mike Flood and (D) Patty Pansing Brooks in April.

While the ensuing campaign has been straight-forward, the parameters of the election itself have stood out. In redistricting years, specials normally take place under the previous decade’s district-boundaries. That is not the case in the Cornhusker State, where 538 analyst Nathaniel Rakich has noted that the election will be held under the new Trump +11 lines (per SoS).

The new borders make the 1st *a bit* more competitive, but not enough to risk leaving the Republican column. Bigger concerns, also mentioned by Rakich, have revolved around representation issues. Because the winner will represent the old seat despite being chosen under the 2022 lines, not every special election voter will be represented by the victor.

That possibly-illegal oddity aside, this district would be Safe Republican regardless of the boundaries in use. Former state Senator & Legislature Speaker Mike Flood should therefore win comfortably, though Democrats could viably target his new seat in a blue wave. The general election primary has already been held, meaning Flood and Pansing Brooks will face off again in November in another Safe Republican race.

Illinois

The solidly-Democratic 1st district takes in swathes of majority-black territory located in Chicago’s southern section. For decades, this seat has been represented by the aging Congressman Bobby Rush. Despite receiving specific concessions in the redrawing of his seat that basically forced fellow Democrats Marie Newman and Sean Casten into a redistricting primary, Rush opted to retire this year.

An open contest has since ensued, exciting the passions of the center and progressive wings of the Democratic party while highlighting the generational divide among Chicago’s up-and-coming black leaders. This primary is a Tossup, but there are a few candidates worth bringing attention to.

The first, and perhaps most formidable, is Jonathan Jackson – son of Jesse Jackson. He is a strong fundraiser (in large part due to pecuniary support from the crypto industry) with union connections and progressive endorsements that could give him a pivotal electoral foothold.

Right on his tail is Pat Dowell, formerly a candidate for Secretary of State, who currently serves on Chicago’s City Council. Dowell has outraised most of the other contenders.

The final top-three candidate is state Senator Jacqueline Collins, a politician who has monopolized legislative endorsements despite weaker fundraising. Also keep an eye on Congressman Rush’s pick, attorney Karin Norington-Reaves, and outsider businessman Jonathan Swain, who enjoys the largest warchest.

If we had to pick a winner here, the fundamentals would narrowly suggest Jackson. The only public poll of the race, conducted back in May, showed him leading the field with 19%. Both Dowell and Collins were tied at 14%. Whoever the eventual winner is, he or she will have a lock on the 1st district for the foreseeable future.

The new 3rd district was created in redistricting to give Hispanics a second opportunity seat in the Chicago metro. As is common in modern Democratic primaries, this race is being contested between a mainstream liberal, Alderman Gilbert Villegas, and a progressive, state Representative Delia Ramirez. Although Villegas has a larger warchest, Ramirez’s bigger set of state and local endorsements implies that she has stronger local connections than her opponent. Besides that, Ramirez has led Villegas in all publicly-released polling during the campaign. Leans Ramirez

District 6 will be home to the second Democratic double-bunking of the cycle, pitting two de facto progressives against each other in a battle that has revolved more around coalitions than rhetoric. At first glance, a purely territorial analysis of the 6th would favor freshman Democrat Marie Newman (IL-03) against two-term Congressman Sean Casten (IL-06) because she currently represents 41% of the new district compared to her opponent’s 23%.

But that type of analysis misses the bigger picture: Newman’s portions of the 3rd voted against her in the 2020 primary that saw moderate Democrat Dan Lipinski lose renomination. That suggests that her territorial advantage may be practically non-existent under the hood, a potentially-damning reality in a race against the better-funded Casten.

Both contenders have more or less kept the gloves on during the contentious primary, but Newman has still managed to damage herself, as evidenced by a relatively-recent bribery scandal in which she purportedly had a paid contract with a prospective opponent drawn up to keep him out of the race. Polling has been scarce here, but Casten’s modest leads in his own internals suggest that he is the favorite to win a close race. Leans Casten

This Biden +11 seat, connecting DuPage and Cook, is red enough down-ballot to be rated Leans Democratic. In other words, it is a feasible target for the GOP in a good environment. The Republican nomination is also being decided in a close primary, where Village President Keith Pekau and Mayor Gary Grasso stand out from the rest of the field. (Rob Cruz and Scott Kaspar have also raised decent sums of money)

Districts 7 and 8 will witness progressive challenges to well-established incumbents. The first is a rematch between Kina Collins and Danny Davis in one of Chicago’s three black-opportunity districts. Davis beat Collins 60-16% in 2020, but could face a closer race this time around because his opponent outraised him. Perhaps Collins will be lucky enough to follow in the footsteps of Cori Bush, who narrowly beat long-time incumbent Lacy Clay in Missouri’s 1st district after losing comfortably two years before, though her 37% starting position was much higher than Collins’s would be. The 7th is also less black than the 1st and 2nd districts, so we could see progressive whites making a difference for Collins as they did for Bush – another similarity to MO-01. Leans Davis

Less vulnerable is Raja Krishnamoorthi, who faces a well-funded challenge from left-wing businessman Junaid Ahmed in the suburban 8th district. National progressive groups so far seem less enthusiastic about his candidacy, though, suggesting a comfortable victory for the incumbent is imminent. Safe Krishnamoorthi The general election in this Biden +15 seat is rated Likely Democratic as a precaution, but is much closer to safe because the GOP has not prioritized recruitment here.

Districts 11 and 14 are both double-digit Biden seats that Republicans are hoping to compete for in a good environment. The 11th, a Biden +15 seat rated Likely Democratic, will likely see a matchup between long-time Democrat Bill Foster and Republican Catalina Lauf. District 14th, only Biden +11, is the more competitive of the two on paper despite redistricters’ attempts to make it bluer. Lauren Underwood, previously the Representative of the median House seat under the old lines, finds herself in a safer Leans Democratic race this year.

The best Democratic pickup opportunity in Illinois is the 13th district, a redrawn version of Rodney Davis’s centrally-located seat that clocks in at Biden +11. This open district is currently rated Leans Democratic (flip) but could realistically be held by Republicans under ideal conditions. Democrats have a lot going for them with nominee Nikki Budzinski, a well-funded mainstream candidate who is likely to win the primary. Safe Budzinski On the Republican side former federal prosecutor Jesse Reising is the frontrunner for the nomination, but faces credible competition from Regan Deering. Leans Reising

District 17, a Biden +8 seat located in rightward-trending northwestern Illinois, remains the best turnover opportunity for state Republicans, most of whom have unified behind 2020 nominee Esther Joy King. The redrawn version of the 17th is much bluer than the Trump-won iteration of the seat represented by retiring Democrat Cheri Bustos, but it belongs in the Tossup column this year given political directionality and strong recruitment.

Democrats have engaged in a free-for-all primary here since Bustos announced her long-expected retirement. Polling suggests a tight race between meteorologist Eric Sorenson and progressive state Representative Litesa Wallace. Regardless of the winner, Split Ticket expects a heavily-regionalized primary with a completely-fractured Rockford-area vote. Leans Sorenson

The most interesting primary in the Land of Lincoln is occurring in the newly-drawn 15th, a safe Republican district winding its way through central and western Illinois. Against a scenic agricultural backdrop, two conservative Republicans, Rodney Davis (IL-13) and Mary Miller (IL-15), have been double-bunked in a battle between the establishment and the anti-establishment factions that have warred over many GOP House primaries this year. Adding to that fervor is former President Trump, who previously endorsed the controversial Miller. Davis, ranking member of House Administration, is the more senior candidate backed by House GOP leadership and the Farm Bureau.

In terms of geography, the new 15th is new to both candidates. Broken down by rough population estimates using DRA, Davis currently represents 28% of this seat compared to Miller’s 31%. The decisive portion of the 15th will be its northwestern tendril, which is primarily represented by Davis-supporting Republican Darin LaHood.

If this primary is close and regionalized, expect Davis and Miller to win easily on familiar turf while splitting the seat’s upper half. Should Miller walk away with the nomination easily, expect her to win convincingly all around the seat like Alex Mooney did against the territorially-advantaged David McKinley in WV-02 earlier this year.

There are some similarities and some differences when it comes to that race. McKinley was a senior incumbent who was outvoted within his own territory by a weaker colleague who outraised him and had the Trump endorsement. If Davis goes down in a similar fashion, it will be because Miller checked off both of Mooney’s boxes.

But this district is not as black and white as WV-02, so Split Ticket does not expect either candidate to run away with it. Polling, including a recent internal from the Miller campaign, suggests that the outcome of this primary is within the margin of error. That said, Trump’s dynamic appears to hold decisive power in districts with electorates like WV-02 and SC-07. Because we feel entitled to pick someone for our readers, we’re going Leans Miller.

Mississippi Runoffs

For the first time in living memory, two Mississippi Congressmen have been forced into runoffs that will decide their political fates. These men are Republicans Michael Guest (MS-03) and Steven Palazzo (MS-04). Both members have different backgrounds and varying tenures despite generally-similar records. Perhaps the biggest differences between them lie in the specific vulnerabilities that pushed them into tenuous electoral situations.

The 3rd district cuts a downward-sloping, diagonal line across central Mississippi. It is a solidly-Republican seat split on an east/west divide between two counties and their geographic surroundings: Rankin (Brandon) and Lauderdale (Meridien).

A strong margin in the former county, home to conservative suburbs and exurbs of Jackson, is the key to primary victory here on paper. No one knows this better than two-term incumbent Michael Guest, a Rankin native who won a 2018 runoff for the open seat by pulling 83% of the vote in his home county.

But the incumbent arguably made a fatal error in voting for the bipartisan Jan. 6th Commission, a decision that cost him valuable support in the first round of the primary – which he led by a 0.5% plurality. Guest ran well in and around his native Rankin, but challenger Michael Cassidy countered him by winning the southern and eastern parts of the seat radiating out from Meridien. The reason Guest was unable to win outright, and perhaps an ominous sign ahead of the next vote, was his weak 55-41 margin in Rankin County.

Guest has positioned himself as a mainstream conservative over the course of the short runoff campaign, a stand that has drawn further accusations of “RINO behavior” from Cassidy. But the incumbent has also attempted to reverse that label, branding Cassidy as out of touch with the GOP electorate because many of his fiscal policy proposals are unorthodox.

This race is ultimately a pure Tossup, though we would call Guest a slight underdog if pressured. Leans Cassidy is contingent on a modest or mediocre Guest performance in Rankin County and a comfortable lead for Cassidy in Lauderdale. The remaining rural counties will likely break down pursuant to the east/west dichotomy of the first round.

District 4 lies right below the 3rd, running along the Gulf Coast within the state’s southernmost half. Along its way, it takes in cities like Gulfport, Biloxi, and Hattiesburg. This district is home to Steve Palazzo, an incumbent who is, in Split Ticket’s view, more vulnerable than Guest. Palazzo was first elected in 2010 against conservative Democrat Gene Taylor, an institutional politician who nearly forced him into a runoff in 2014 after becoming a Republican. As an incumbent, Palazzo’s most impactful scandal popped up in 2020 after he was accused of diverting campaign funds to private businesses.

Palazzo’s weak footing also extends to his relationship with the state’s GOP establishment, which pollster and Louisiana political expert John Couvillon surmised stemmed from the fact that he was the only candidate willing to challenge Taylor in 2010 and never built up much institutional credibility with the higher-ups.

Either way, a bevy of credible contenders challenged him this cycle. He finished with just 31.5% of the vote, atrocious for a 12 year incumbent. Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell finished second with 25%. Clay Wagner, widely seen as Palazzo’s leading opponent, unexpectedly finished third but endorsed Ezell shortly after his defeat.

Anyone can see that a 68-32% deficit is not a good place to start heading into a runoff campaign. Obviously, not every single opposition voter from the first round who turns out to vote in the second will oppose Palazzo. That said, there is a case to be made that the majority of Wagner supporters will back Ezell over the incumbent, which would be more than enough to defeat him.

In terms of a coalition, Palazzo will probably run best in Forrest County (Hattiesburg) and the surrounding rurals. Though he is from Harrison County (Gulfport) he barely won it in the initial vote, suggesting impending doom against combined opposition. For that same reason, but reversed, we can expect Ezell to handily win Jackson County (Pascagoula) and Wagner’s base in Hancock County. Leans Ezell

Utah

In Utah, two Republican supporters of the Jan. 6th Committee face credible right-wing challengers. These Congressmen are Blake Moore (UT-01) and John Curtis (UT-03). Both members showed vulnerability in the recent primary-eligibility convention votes, but the delegates to these meetings are usually more anti-establishment than actual voters (see Romney 2018 Senate). Moore and Curtis should win renomination, but they remain points of interest given some of the other Jan. 6th-related surprises (i.e., SD, MS-03, AR-02) Likely Moore & Curtis

A more interesting ideological race has developed in the Salt Lake County-based 4th district, where conservative incumbent Burgess Owens faces a challenge from his left by Kinzinger-endorsed technology executive Jake Hunsaker. Owens has outraised his opponent significantly and is expected to win the primary comfortably. It will be interesting to see how well Hunsaker does since these types of reverse-discourse challenges are uncommon. A similar bid by Jennifer Strahan failed in GA-14 earlier this year. Safe Owens

Oklahoma

Once Democratic, now among the most Republican sections of the country, ‘Little Dixie’ has been the scene of some unusual political action this cycle. It all started when 2nd district Congressman Markwayne Mullin announced his retirement earlier this year to run for the Senate seat of retiring Republican Jim Inhofe, opening the floodgates for a potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent southeastern Oklahoma in the House.

There are now more than a dozen candidates running here, leaving us uncertain as to which ones are the favorites in the Tossup – Safe Runoff primary. Credible hopefuls include: OK GOP Chair John Bennett, state Senator Marty Quinn, state Representative Avery Frix, Muskogee Police Chief Johnny Teehee, Quapaw Nation secretary-treasurer Guy Barker, Economy Pharmacy CEO Chris Schiller, and a handful of others.

Because the primary is extremely-crowded, an August 23rd runoff is almost certain. This is ultimately a district of medium-sized communities like Muskogee and McAlester, meaning the initial vote can be expected to break down on a regional basis. The sheer number of officeholders, former and current, seeking this seat should yield a colorful map. There is also a significant Native American presence in this part of the country, a fact that has been a source of both derision and division over the course of the primary campaign.

The last race worth keeping an eye on in Oklahoma is the 5th district (Oklahoma City) Republican primary. In that contest, freshman Congresswoman Stephanie Bice faces a challenger from the right, Subrina Banks, over her vote in favor of the preliminary Jan. 6th committee. Bice is expected to win comfortably over her poorly-funded opponent. No runoff is possible in this district because there are only two GOP candidates. Safe Bice

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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