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Top Five Races to Watch

With the House majority at stake in Tuesday’s election, a shift from Republican to Democratic control would have huge implications for the national agenda and the Trump presidency.

Broad national factors, no doubt, will shape the outcome of many battleground contests. But local factors remain relevant, though perhaps less paramount than in past elections.

Here are five House contests to monitor. They offer insights on various angles at play in the election.

1. Republican at risk in suburbia: Mike Coffman vs. Jason Crow – Colorado

The unpopularity of President Donald Trump in upper-income suburban districts across the nation has posed severe risk for many House Republicans. In past elections, they have found a way to survive with their own skills and appeal to voters. Even when they attempt to go their own way, many of these incumbents likely will find that the obstacles in 2018 are too great.

Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, a five-term Republican in the suburbs east of Denver, serves a district (CO-6) that President Obama and Hillary Clinton won by five and nine percent, respectively. In those contests, Coffman ran independently of national Republicans—for example, by learning Spanish and reaching out to the growing Latino community in his district.

This time, polls have shown that Democrat Jason Crow is the favorite, largely because of Trump’s unpopularity. Coffman has sought to distance himself by criticizing Trump’s tweets and supporting immigration reforms to provide a path to citizenship for children who were brought illegally into the United States. But that likely won’t be enough for Coffman to survive.

2. Republican at risk in Trump country: Carol Miller vs. Richard Ojeda – West Virginia

In the coal country of Appalachia, Trump’s moves to encourage more mining and loosen environmental rules have been very popular. In these areas, Trump scored huge wins in the 2016 campaign, and Democrats have struggled with the unpopularity of their national party. That can lead to some creative political strategy.

A prime example is the district (WV-3) in southern West Virginia, where Trump won 73 percent of the vote. When Rep. Evan Jenkins gave up the seat in his unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination to challenge Sen. Joe Manchin, the GOP was favored to hold his House seat. But they have had to work harder than expected.

Democrat Richard Ojeda has run a maverick campaign against Republican Carol Miller; both are state legislators. After having endorsed Trump in 2016. Ojeda has reversed his view. “All he’s done is shown that he’s taking care of the daggone people he’s supposed to be getting rid of,” Ojeda complained. Trump responded by calling Ojeda “a total wacko.” That may be enough for Miller to prevail.

3. Open-seat showdown: Marty Northstein vs. Susan Wild – Pennsylvania

The Republican bloodbath likely will extend to numerous House districts where the Republican incumbent has retired—often as the result of objections to Trump and fear of their own reelection prospects. Without incumbency protection, Republicans face uphill prospects. That’s especially been the case in Pennsylvania, where court-ordered redistricting this year has redrawn many safely Republican seats.

Republicans face that problem in the Lehigh County district (PA-7) where veteran Rep. Charlie Dent—a leader of GOP moderates in the House—stepped down this spring. Democrat Susan Wild, a prominent local lawyer and first-time candidate, is favored to defeat Republican Marty Nothstein, who was well-known for having won an Olympic gold medal for cycling.

Like many women running for Congress this year, Wild has benefited from huge campaign contributions—including EMILY’s List, which support Democratic women who favor abortion rights. Nothstein, by contrast, has suffered sluggish fundraising. National Republicans have turned their attention and money elsewhere.

4. Unique case of a GOP takeover: Pete Stauber vs. Joe Radinovich – Minnesota

The popularity of President Trump has helped to strengthen Republicans in some one-time Democratic strongholds, which tend to be mostly rural and working-class areas. In a few districts, the Democratic wave likely will fall short.

An example is the Duluth-based district (MN-8) in Minnesota’s Northland, where veteran Democratic Rep. Richard Nolan is retiring. The frontrunner to take the seat is Republican Pete Stauber, a former professional hockey player who served 22 years as a Duluth police officer. Stauber has been embraced by Trump, whose tariffs on steel imports have been popular in the area’s Iron Range.

Democratic nominee Joe Radinovich has criticized Republican tax cuts and called for increased background checks of gun sales. In an inexpensive media market, the contest drew large expenditures from outside groups. But House Democrats in October cut back their support of Radinovich, following polls that showed Stauber with a comfortable lead.

5. Potential sleeper contests:

If a Democratic wave results, as some in that party believe, it might take out veteran Republicans who had little warning that they were in danger. As has occasionally happened in past elections, the identity of the challenger might have little relevance—though such surprise winners often face an uphill battle for reelection. Another factor that can encourage a wave is when one party runs unexpectedly well in statewide elections.

That could be the scenario in Michigan, where Democrat Gretchen Whitmer has a big lead in her campaign for governor. Republicans fear that a Democratic wave across the state could jeopardize Rep. Fred Upton, the former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who has served 32 years in the district (MI-6) in the southwest corner of Michigan.

MI-6: Sleeper contest, with seemingly secure Republican; turnover would signal a Wave

These profiles were prepared by Rich Cohen, co-author of The Almanac of American Politics, a reference work published biennially by Columbia Books Information Services. The Almanac of American Politics contains in-depth profiles of every governor, senator, and house member in office. 

Pre-order the 2020 edition today to prepare for the next chapter in modern American politics and better understand the context of the people and perspectives shaping the issues that matter to you!

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