By Dan M. Berger
The House of Representatives hangs in the balance on Election Day. The Democrats currently have a 221-212 lead in Congress, with two vacancies, but Republicans appeared poised to take the chamber this year.
RealClearPolitics gauges 228 seats leaning, likely, or solidly Republican, 174 similarly poised to go Democratic, and 33 as toss-ups. Most of the toss-up seats currently belong to Democrats. If Republicans win the night, as generally predicted, the big question will be how big the “red wave” will be and the size of the GOP’s majority.
Analysts differ on the key races. This list includes some seen as bellwethers, or areas where outcomes tend to mirror broader trends. The list also includes some races where veteran lawmakers are in a tight race to defend their seats.
Here’s a list of 10 House races to watch on Election Night on Nov. 8.
North Carolina District 13
Because it’s in the East and the polls close at 7:30 p.m., this race between Democratic State Sen. Wiley Nickel and young Trump-backed Republican newcomer Bo Hines will yield results early. And its demographics, split between North Carolina’s rural counties and Raleigh’s suburbs, make it useful in analyzing other races in similar districts.
With rural areas across the country colored red and big cities colored blue, the battle nowadays is in the purple suburbs. During the Trump presidency, suburban voters drifted away from the Republicans. A question to be answered on Tuesday is whether Democrats, helped by issues like abortion, can keep suburbanites in their column or whether Republicans, aided by a bad economy they’ve tied to Biden administration policies, can draw them back.
Nickel, a veteran Democratic Party politico, served as an advance man for Al Gore in the 1990s and for the White House during Barack Obama’s presidency. He ran for office unsuccessfully in his native California before moving to North Carolina and going to work as a criminal defense attorney.
Hines, who at 25 would, if elected, become one of the youngest members of Congress, grew up in the Charlotte area. He played football for a year at North Carolina State before transferring to Yale and playing there too.
Each candidate epitomizes what his party’s voters in North Carolina seek right now, Nickel as relatively moderate and Hines as a Trump-backed conservative.
“It’s like two districts rolled into one,” Democratic strategist Morgan Jackson of Raleigh said of CD 13 to The Epoch Times. “It’s the closest, most swing race in North Carolina. It’s truly a jump ball.”
Iowa’s District 3
This district stretches from Des Moines south and southwest toward Omaha, including Des Moines suburbs, fast-growing exurbs, and rural areas. Democratic incumbent Cindy Axne has won the seat twice without yet reaching 50 percent of the vote. Following redistricting, the area voted narrowly for Donald Trump over Joe Biden in 2020.
It’s the second most likely tipping point after North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District, analyst Nathaniel Rakich said in a FiveThirtyEight podcast. Rakich said it’s a good seat to watch because it has two reasonably strong candidates, the incumbent Axne and Republican state Senator Zach Nunn. Campaign ads mostly feature national issues, like abortion and crime, rather than local ones.
“It’s the epitome of an everyday-American, average-Joe Congressional district,” Rakich said on a podcast at his website. “Republicans will have to beat some tough Democratic incumbents to have a majority or at least a sizeable majority.”
With the addition of Republican-trending rural counties, the district became easier for Republicans than in two previous races against Axne.
New York’s 17th Congressional District
This race features the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Sean Patrick Maloney, one of the most influential members of his party and not someone who would be expected to be in a close race in this Hudson Valley district.
But the GOP is making a late surge in the blue state, led by gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin. His anti-crime message has resonated as New York City residents deal with a wave of sensational crimes in the streets and subways.
Maloney is a ten-year incumbent in the neighboring 18th District but chose to run in the 17th after redistricting. He has seen his lead against Republican Michael Lawler shrink. The Cook Political Report and Real Clear Politics reclassified the race as a toss-up.
The Democrats have had to spend more and campaign harder for what was supposed to have been a safe seat. The DCCC spent $605,000 on an ad for Maloney last month, and former President Bill Clinton came to campaign for him.
Political science professor Shawn Donahue of the University at Buffalo told The Epoch Times this was the race he watched most closely in the state. “Maloney looks particularly vulnerable. The Republicans are throwing money” at a race in a district Joe Biden won by 10 points over Donald Trump in 2020.
“If Maloney were to lose, he would be the biggest person to lose since Cantor.”
Eric Cantor of Virginia’s 7th District, the House Majority Leader from 2011 to 2014, lost a primary to economics professor Dave Brat in 2014 and resigned first his leadership position and then his seat.
“As head of the party’s campaign committee, you’d think you’d have your own race in the bag so you could concentrate on other cases around the country,” Donahue said of Maloney.
Ohio’s 9th Congressional District
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) is the longest-serving woman in House history. If she wins this election over Republican J.R. Majewski, she’ll pass the late Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) as the longest-serving woman in Congress.
But this district in northwest Ohio, centered on Democratic stronghold Toledo, has, with redistricting, become more challenging for the party. It once stretched along the Lake Erie shoreline to include Democratic parts of the Cleveland area but has lost them while adding Republican-leaning rural areas west of Toledo. The DCCC has identified Kaptur’s seat as vulnerable.
The Cook Political Report has it leaning Democratic. But Real Clear Politics, which calls it a toss-up, notes that in the 2020 presidential race, voters here favored Donald Trump by almost 3 points over Joe Biden. FiveThirtyEight gives Kaptur a 76 percent chance of winning. Kaptur, 76 and a close Biden ally, was first elected in 1982. Majewski, 42, is an Air Force veteran and nuclear power plant manager.
Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District
Republican Rep. Peter Meijer lost his seat in a primary upset to John Gibbs. Gibbs had been a Trump appointee to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, although not confirmed, while Meijer, whose family owns a Michigan-based supercenter chain, was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in the final days of his administration.
The upset raised the chances this seat might flip to the Democrats, represented by Grand Rapids attorney Hillary Scholten. Real Clear Politics rates this race, in a district Biden carried by 11 points, as a toss-up. Cook’s has it leaning Democratic, and FiveThirtyEight gives Scholten a 57 percent chance of victory.
Gibbs was one of the Republican candidates supported in the primaries by Democrats who pegged them as extremists and thus easier to beat in November. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $435,000 promoting Gibbs over Meijer.
“We thought (Gibbs) was an easier candidate, and he has proven to be because he’s a nut and he’s too conservative for Western Michigan,” DCCC Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney told CNN’s Jake Tapper, defending the party’s tactics.
Texas’ 15th Congressional District
This race in a South Texas district traditionally voting blue is seen as a stark clash of ideology between two Hispanic women, Democrat Michelle Vallejo and Republican Monica De La Cruz.
The district has been represented by Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat. But after redistricting, he left it open to run in the neighboring 34th district against Republican Rep. Mayra Flores. She made history in June by winning a special election to become the first Republican to represent the area in more than a hundred years.
Vallejo, a Columbia grad supported by progressives like Elizabeth Warren, wants to make the district more “equitable,” supports abortion, “Medicare for all,” “green energy,” and wants to offer “rights and opportunities” to illegal immigrants.
De La Cruz, raised by a single mother, put herself through the University of Texas. She is pro-life, favors faith and family, ties Democratic policies to soaring inflation, and supports resuming President Donald Trump’s tough border policies. She’s endorsed by Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. De La Cruz ran well against Gonzalez in 2020, losing by 6,588 votes.
Hispanics have begun moving toward Republicans recently, upsetting Democratic dependence upon them as part of their base. FiveThirtyEight analyst Galen Druke said in a podcast he’d be watching this race in an 80 percent Hispanic district to see how this trend, with national implications, is evolving.
Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District
Sanford Bishop has held this seat in southwest Georgia for 30 years since it was drawn as a black majority district. He’s stood out as a moderate who can cross the party aisle and a Democrat who can appeal to white farmers and other rural voters.
But redistricting has helped the Republicans here, and newcomer Chris West is still in the race. Republicans hope a red wave on Election Night will help the young lawyer and real estate developer upset the Congressional veteran Bishop, the longest-serving member of the Georgia delegation. Bishop’s long record and deep roots in the district could help him hang on to win.
Real Clear Politics rates the district a toss-up. Two most recent polls of likely voters, one by Insider Advantage and the other by Trafalgar Group, show Bishop up by 3 and 4 points, respectively, both within the margin of error. West’s campaign website says it’s the only competitive race in the Deep South.
The district includes Columbus and Macon, small towns, farmland, and military bases like Fort Benning. Bishop’s House committee positions in agriculture, military, and veteran affairs have positioned him to serve constituents in those areas.
Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor, told The Epoch Times that Bishop had won reelection in the past when the district’s black population dropped as low as 39 percent. It stands after redistricting at 49 percent.
Marci McCarthy, chairman of the DeKalb County Republican Party in the Atlanta metro area, said lst week that black voters in the state’s rural areas had not had a strong turnout in early voting up to that point.
Oregon’s 5th Congressional District
For a redrawn district stretching from Portland’s southern suburbs further south and inland, this race might serve as a referendum on the Portland metro area’s progressive politics.
It’s now an open seat after a moderate Democrat incumbent, Kurt Schrader, lost the primary to progressive candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner. While Schrader was endorsed by Joe Biden, the very progressive Elizabeth Warren endorsed McLeod-Skinner. The civil servant faces Lori Chavez-Deremer, a Republican and former mayor of the Portland suburb Happy Valley.
RealClearPolitics rates the race a toss-up. The Cook Political Report classifies it as leaning Republican. Joe Biden won the district by 9 points in 2020.
Redistricting eliminated coastal areas that favored Schrader. It hasn’t necessarily made the district easier for a Republican, one of Chavez-Deremer’s campaign leaders, Ben Roche, told The Epoch Times. But the political climate on crime, energy, and education may favor Republicans.
Chavez-Deremer has campaigned as a moderate, someone who, as mayor, worked with both parties to fix civic problems. Roche said that Portland’s suburbs like Happy Valley have seen growing crime attributed to homeless drug addicts from Portland, a trend fed by the city’s progressive policies on homelessness and criminal justice. Portland was a center of BLM disorders in 2020 and of calls to defund the police.
California’s 27th District
This district in Los Angeles County has become more difficult for the GOP through redistricting, losing the conservative Simi Valley. The 25th District has covered the area, and Republican Mike Garcia holds that seat. But the new 27th trends Democratic by almost 13 points.
Garcia will be in his third race against the same opponent, Christy Smith, whom he defeated in 2020’s general election by only 333 votes.
“It would be a stretch seat for Republicans normally,” the only seat the party holds in Los Angeles County, said FiveThirtyEight editor Maya Sweedler in a podcast where she picked it as a seat of crucial interest. “But if Garcia is running hot on election night, it will be notable for Republicans. I’m curious if Garcia can hang to this.”
FiveThirtyEight calls Garcia slightly favored, with a 65 percent chance to win. Real Clear Politics says the race leans GOP. The Cook Political Report labels it a toss-up.
Garcia is a former Navy fighter pilot who then worked for Raytheon. Smith, a former California Assemblywoman, has worked for the U.S. Department of Education.
New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District
Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas, elected in 2018, faces Republican opponent Karoline Leavitt, who is just 25. She worked as an assistant press secretary in the Trump White House and later as director of communications for House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.)
Trump did not endorse a candidate in the crowded GOP primary but later supported Leavitt with an enthusiastic shout-out on Truth Social.
FiveThirtyEight terms Pappas as slightly favored to win, with a 65 percent chance of victory. Real Clear Politics, though, says it leans Republican, with it having gone for Trump over Biden by 1 point in 2020. The Cook Political Report calls it a toss-up.
Pappas, co-chairs the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. He has campaigned on health care and lowering the cost of prescription drugs and said in a debate that he wants to modernize trucking and shipping regulations to “unkink supply chains.”
Leavitt told Fox News that she wanted to “really reach out to my generation of voters. . . . I live among them, my friends, my former college roommates, my former colleagues who are really being indoctrinated by the left’s agenda and their messaging. We desperately need strong, conservative, youthful voices on our side of the aisle that are standing up for our country.”
Like many Republican and Democratic opponents around the country, the two have clashed on abortion, Biden’s economic policies, and the outcome of the 2020 election.