With the election less than two weeks away, Split Ticket is releasing the first of three House updates meant to prepare our board of competitive seats for the eventual elimination of Tossups and to identify seats that *could* be competitive in November.
Before delving into the details, readers should remember that the Likely classification exists only out of an abundance of caution. A LIKELY DEMOCRATIC rating primarily suggests that a Democrat could win by less-than-expected and that an upset is possible, not that he or she has a sizable chance of losing. In other words, one party is advantaged, but not as clearly as in a SAFE race.
Because the national environment is shifting rightward as the number of undecided voters declines, it’s reasonable to say that the GOP should have a successful night in the House even though Democrats expect to match their rivals in terms of enthusiasm and turnout. Mirroring those underlying conditions, most of our changes come at the expense of Democrats. Split Ticket’s House objective is simple: to avoid SAFE ratings in seats that flip or end up being somewhat competitive. Overestimating a losing candidate’s upset potential is better than underestimating it greatly.
Alaska At-Large (D) Peltola (TOSSUP to LEANS DEMOCRATIC)
Split Ticket now feels comfortable giving Democrats the edge in Alaska’s At-Large district thanks to the state’s popular congresswoman: Mary Peltola, who won the instant runoff of a ranked choice special election in August. Peltola’s fish, family, freedom messaging sums up the foundations of her personal appeal: political independence on issues like gun rights and abiding concern for parochial issues.
Public polling shows Peltola defeating Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III in hypothetical instant-runoffs, or even winning with only Libertarian Chris Bye’s votes reallocated. The incumbent, who has cordial relationships with Don Young’s former staff and Palin, proves that candidate quality matters more in the Last Frontier than it does nationally. That’s why Democrats are set to hold onto a Trump +10 seat even if Republicans end up with a large House majority.
Arizona’s 4th (D) Stanton (LIKELY to LEANS DEMOCRATIC)
In Arizona’s 4th, a Biden +10 seat in the Phoenix suburbs, incumbent Democrat Greg Stanton is favored to beat Republican Kelly Cooper. Stanton has outspent his opponent and national Republicans have neglected the seat. The national environment and redistricting, however, could allow the GOP to compete for the inelastic, Democratic-trending 4th. Redistricting made Stanton’s seat redder by replacing Democratic parts of Phoenix with Republican precincts in Mesa.
Arizona’s 6th (D) Open (LEANS to LIKELY REPUBLICAN)
Arizona’s 6th district, an open Biden +0.1 seat in the Tucson area, is a top Republican target. Juan Ciscomani, a senior advisor to Governor Doug Ducey, has long been favored over ex-state senator Kirsten Engel, the candidate of retiring Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick. National Democrats’ triage suggests that they consider this seat “gone,” though Engel has kept pace with Ciscomani when it comes to her own campaign’s fundraising.
California’s 25th and 26th (D) Ruiz & (D) Brownley (SAFE to LIKELY DEMOCRATIC)
In California, where Democrats usually gain ground between primaries and general elections, districts 25 (Biden +15) and 26 (Biden +20) will be returning to the edge of the board.
If Democrats underperform in the Riverside County-based 25th, the seat itself will probably be to blame. Though redistricting made the 25th bluer, Trump’s 2020 inroads with its Hispanic majority remain salient. If overall Hispanic turnout drops or GOP appeal among the demographic rises, the Democrats’ edge could shrink. Contrary to the status quo, the old 25th actually shifted rightward between the primary and general in 2020. If a similar shift affects to the 2022 composition (D+13), the November result would fall within the LIKELY threshold. That said, Ruiz is still a capable incumbent who overperformed in 2020 and should not lose his race against outmatched Republican Brian Hawkins.
The 26th, located in Ventura County, is less hostile to Republicans down ballot despite strong Democratic trends. Like Ruiz’s seat, it also shifted rightward between the primary and general elections last cycle. The 2022 primary makeup was only D+11. Unlike in the 25th, Republicans actually have a good candidate who fundraised credibly here: attorney Matt Jacobs. In terms of the district, Republicans will probably benefit from the addition of the city of Simi Valley, which bailed out Mike Garcia in 2020. While it is reasonable to expect Brownley to hold on, she might win by less-than-expected.
Florida’s 23rd (D) Open (SAFE to LIKELY DEMOCRATIC)
Florida’s 23rd, a Biden +13 district stretching between Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, is being vacated by Democrat Ted Deutch. His shoo-in replacement is Jared Moskowitz, a Broward County Commissioner and ex-DeSantis appointee. Democrats are clear favorites in the Republican-trending 23rd, but its partisanship is soft enough to allow for a competitive race this year. Large statewide victories by Governor DeSantis and Senator Rubio also stand to help GOP nominee Joe Budd, who has few resources.
Illinois’s 11th (D) Foster (SAFE to LIKELY DEMOCRATIC)
Illinois’s 11th district, a Biden +15 seat in the Chicago suburbs, is held by Democrat Bill Foster. National Republicans have largely ignored challenger Catalina Lauf, focusing instead on the state’s 17th district. Despite these disadvantages, Lauf could run a competitive race on 11/8. How? For one, lag makes the 11th more Republican down ballot. Some white suburbanites in communities like Naperville, for example, are still willing to split their tickets. Split Ticket’s WAR research also shows that Democratic incumbents representing the Chicago suburbs underperformed in 2020. Foster is clearly favored to win, but he should be on notice.
Montana’s 1st (New) Open (LIKELY to LEANS REPUBLICAN)
Montana’s 1st, a new Trump +7 seat located in the state’s western half, is more competitive than the national environment would suggest. Republican Ryan Zinke hasn’t yet locked down his race against Monica Tranel, a former Olympic athlete. The frontrunner’s internal polling supposedly shows a competitive race. Given Zinke’s controversial exit from the Trump Administration, bad numbers would not be surprising. The Republican, who barely won his primary, hasn’t been electorally impressive either. Tranel is a clear underdog, but this seat does have a record of ticket-splitting for the appropriate Democrats.
North Carolina’s 14th (New) Open (SAFE to LIKELY DEMOCRATIC)
North Carolina’s newly-apportioned 14th (Biden +16) is a Democratic-trending seat connecting Gaston and Mecklenburg counties, including part of Charlotte. The city’s southern suburbs, bordering Union County, have quickly moved leftward but still harbor moderates willing to cross over for some Republicans. In 2020, Senator Thom Tillis lost this seat just 53-43%. Slowing the bleeding in Mecklenburg will be crucial if entrepreneur Pat Harrigan wants to hold state senator Jeff Jackson to a modest victory.
New York’s 1st, 4th, 17th
In New York, Split Ticket recently moved the gubernatorial race to LIKELY DEMOCRATIC, acknowledging a potentially-close race between Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin and Governor Kathy Hochul. If there really is Republican momentum, it could reverberate into the Empire State’s competitive congressional races. This, the GOP’s improvements in generic ballot polling, and upstate ticket splitting lead us to move three of New York’s competitive seats one notch rightward.
On Long Island, Zeldin’s home base, it’s hard to see Democrats having much congressional success even if Hochul wins easily. Both the 1st (Biden +0) and 2nd (Trump +1.5) districts, located primarily in Suffolk, have attracted little national interest. Republican Nick LaLota, in particular, seems poised to comfortably succeed Zeldin despite being financially outmatched by his opponent Bridget Fleming. LEANS to LIKELY REPUBLICAN
Further west, Republicans have played up their chances in the Nassau-based 3rd (Biden +8.1) and 4th (Biden +14.5) districts. In the former, Republican George Santos hasn’t gotten help from national Republicans despite outraising Democrat Robert Zimmerman. Public polling has been scarce, but we feel like keeping a LEANS DEMOCRATIC rating unless we get a clearer picture of Zeldin’s position in the gubernatorial race that compels us to predict a Santos win. In the open 4th district, Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen is favored to hold the seat for the Democrats thanks to its partisan lean, but Republican Anthony D’Esposito’s fundraising numbers paint a picture of a more competitive race that would line up with results from 2010 and 2014. LIKELY to LEANS DEMOCRATIC
Moving upstate, the Westchester/Rockland-based 17th (Biden +10) district moves from LEANS DEMOCRATIC to TOSSUP. DCCC Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney is locked in a close race against assemblyman Mike Lawler. An October McLaughlin poll showed the Republican ahead by six points, his largest lead among the firm’s three surveys. While those data probably overestimate Lawler, Democratic actions speak louder than words. Maloney’s campaign has refused to release internals purportedly showing him ahead and the DCCC recently shifted funding from New Jersey’s 7th district (Malinowski) to the 17th. Maloney would be the first DCCC Chairman to lose reelection since James Corman (D-CA) in 1980.
New Jersey’s 11th (Sherrill) (SAFE DEMOCRATIC to LIKELY DEMOCRATIC)
New Jersey’s 11th district (Biden +17), the bluest of the Garden State’s competitive seats, got more Democratic in redistricting after picking up more of Essex County. Those changes are good news for Democratic incumbent Mikie Sherrill. The 11th is still more Republican down ballot, though, with Governor Murphy carrying it by just 4.5 points last fall. Republican Paul DeGroot’s path to a closer-than-expected race is therefore not impossible, merely improbable. Sherrill’s strengths as an incumbent and fundraiser should pay dividends as she mulls a 2025 gubernatorial run.
New Mexico’s 1st (Stansbury) (SAFE DEMOCRATIC to LIKELY DEMOCRATIC)
New Mexico’s 1st district (Biden +14) is a Democratic-trending seat primarily-based in Bernalillo County. The Republican floor in that part of the seat has gradually fallen due to Democratic inroads in Albuquerque’s eastern suburbs. A close race is contingent on Michelle Garcia Holmes clawing back crossover support from those precincts to trim the Democratic advantage in the Biden +24 Bernalillo portion. Incumbent Melanie Stansbury is ultimately favored to win because the diverse, highly-Democratic parts of central Albuquerque offer little room for Republicans to grow, even if they gain ground with Hispanics.
Oregon’s 4th (Open) (LIKELY DEMOCRATIC to LEANS DEMOCRATIC)
For a state with strong Democratic traditions like Oregon, 2022 could be an anomaly. Due to independent candidate Betsy Johnson, Republican Christine Drazan has a serious shot at overcoming the state’s partisan lean and winning the gubernatorial race. If that happens, it could give Republicans boosts in all three of the Beaver State’s competitive congressional districts. The GOP is most likely to win the Tossup race in OR-05 (Biden +9) and could feasibly also take OR-06 (Biden +13) an unexpectedly-competitive national money trap.
The 4th district is another seat Republicans could theoretically upset. It runs along Oregon’s Pacific coast, taking in Eugene. This seat’s partisanship is Biden +12.7, slightly redder than the 6th. Republican Alek Skarlatos is running again after losing a competitive race to retiring Democrat Pete DeFazio last cycle. Redistricting worked against him, and the 4th has attracted less outside spending than its counterparts this cycle as a result. Out of an abundance of caution given the uncertain state of Oregon’s gubernatorial race, this seat will be moving from LIKELY to LEANS DEMOCRATIC.
Pennsylvania’s 6th, 12th
In Pennsylvania, Republicans could come closer than expected in two comfortably-Democratic seats: the 12th (Biden +20) and the 6th (Biden +15).
The 12th connects Pittsburgh proper with marginal southeastern Allegheny County suburbs and Republican territory in Westmoreland County. Democratic woes in this seat stem partly from the party’s progressive nominee, Summer Lee, who could very well be held to a single digit win if her appeal collapses outside of Pittsburgh. Another factor is Republican nominee Mike Doyle, who shares a name with the retiring Democratic incumbent. Ads against Chris DeLuzio, the Democratic nominee in the nearby 17th district, have also discreetly attacked Lee. Republicans are not expected to win this seat, but a competitive race would not surprise us at all given the aforementioned race dynamics and Lee’s purportedly-weak internal polling. SAFE to LIKELY DEMOCRATIC
Down ballot lag in ancestrally-Republican Chester County could help Republican Guy Ciarrocchi exceed expectations against 6th district Democrat Chrissy Houlahan. While the national GOP has ignored this district, one can assume that suburbanites in Democratic-trending parts of the Philly Collar who are prepared to split their statewide tickets for Oz and Shapiro might also consider backing Republican congressional candidates like Ciarrocchi. SAFE to LIKELY DEMOCRATIC
VA’s 10th (Wexton) (SAFE DEMOCRATIC to LIKELY DEMOCRATIC)
Much like California’s 26th, Virginia’s 10th (Biden +18) is a reliably-Democratic seat with a long Republican heritage. Just two decades ago, Fauquier County would have supplemented Loudoun and Prince William to make the 10th a Republican seat epitomized by the likes of Frank Wolf and Barbara Comstock. Those times have come and gone, but this territory can still be competitive once in a blue moon, as Glenn Youngkin proved by coming within two of Terry McAuliffe here in last year’s gubernatorial race. We don’t expect 2022’s federal-level race to be that close, but Republican Hung Cao has been running an effective campaign against incumbent Democrat Jennifer Wexton given the lack of a Republican political bench in NOVA. Democrats aren’t at serious risk here, but the final margin will probably be closer to McAuliffe’s than to Wexton’s.
This update is meant to rearrange our board of competitive seats one last time before we begin picking Tossups in earnest. Generally, Split Ticket prefers to move races to Tossup when there is a very good chance that the other side could win (i.e., Republicans in NY-17). That said, we cannot yet guarantee that Republicans won’t be picked in some of our Leans Democratic seats (i.e., OR-06, WA-08, VA-07) only that Democrats seem slightly favored to win them if the election were today. Our new ratings keep the GOP at the 218 seat majority threshold, foreshadowing sizable future gains if Republicans win 2/3rds of the outstanding Tossups.