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At the Races: 6 Months to Go

Our weekly newsletter on congressional campaigns


Welcome to At the Races! You can keep track of House and Senate races with this weekly newsletter by subscribing here. We want to hear what you think. Email us at with your questions, tips or candidate sightings. — Simone Pathé and Bridget Bowman

This week … the matchups were decided in three Senate races, more House contests took shape, and we ranked the most vulnerable members.


North Carolina GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger is the first incumbent to lose in 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
North Carolina GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger is the first incumbent to lose in 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Starting Gate

Top Ten (Kind of): This week marks six months until Election Day! (BRB, going to buy all of the coffee in preparation for the next few months.) So we revisited the 10 most vulnerable incumbents in the House and the Senate. Our new list includes the same 10 senators as our initial compilation six months ago. But we switched some of the order with a few new challenger developments.

On the House side, retirements have switched up our list quite a bit. This time we don’t have any Democrats in our top 10, and that’s in part because some of the best GOP pickup opportunities are in open seats. Our top vulnerable incumbent from six months ago, GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, has since retired, so Iowa Republican Rod Blum moved into the top spot. We have a few new additions to the list as well. Simone also explains some of the changes in this three-minute video.

*Bookmark* Can’t get enough of primary elections after this week? Keep track of upcoming primaries with Roll Call’s midterm guide.

We Have Results! Democrats were already interested in North Carolina’s 9th District, eagerly watching Pittenger move to the right in the primary. But that wasn’t enough to save him. He fell to repeat primary challenger Mark Harris, a former pastor. Pittenger was no stranger to tough primaries — he only defeated Harris by 134 votes in a recount in 2016. The three-term Republican was thought to be taking his primary more seriously this year, and didn’t face some of the the same challenges he did two years ago when redistricting altered the lines of his district and he was still facing an FBI investigation. Look for Democrats to make a strong play for the 9th in the general election, with nominee Dan McCready.

Pittenger wasn’t the only House Republican who had a rough night Tuesday. Three of the four congressmen running for Senate lost, with voters opting for candidates who tried to cast themselves as Washington outsiders (with “cast” being the operative word here).

In West Virginia, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey beat out GOP Rep. Evan Jenkins, whom national Democrats spent nearly $2 million against. Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship finished third. Heading into last weekend, Blankenship appeared to be experiencing a resurgence — at least enough for Morrisey and President Donald Trump to train their fire on him. Blankenship’s team finally released some topline polling numbers the day before the election, but without disclosing any details or methodology, we were skeptical. Blankenship may have lost, but he remains a phenomenon in the Mountain State. Revisit Simone’s dispatch from Bluefield, W.Va., to understand why he remained in the mix until the very end. And to dig deeper into West Virginia politics, including the general election matchup between Morrisey and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III, take a listen to the latest Political Theater podcast with Jason Dick and Simone.

Two other GOP congressmen lost Tuesday: Neither Rep. Todd Rokita nor Rep. Luke Messer won the Republican nomination for Senate in Indiana. Self-funding former state Rep. Mike Braun will now face Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in November. He branded himself as a businessman outsider in the mold of Trump, but there’s more to him than that. “As far as I know, he served in the state Legislature,” Donnelly cracked on a postelection conference call with reporters Tuesday night. Democrats see plenty of vulnerabilities in his state legislative and business record.

The only House member who won his Senate nomination was Ohio Rep. James B. Renacci, who had Trump’s backing. That wasn’t much of a surprise.

The more exciting primary in Ohio was for the special election (and general election) in the open 12th District. State Sen. Troy Balderson, the pick of more mainstream Republicans, will face off against Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor in August.

Elsewhere at the House level, West Virginia state Del. Carol Miller won the GOP nomination for the open 3rd District. (Will her victory inspire outside groups to spend more to get women through GOP primaries?) She’ll face off against Democratic state Sen. Richard Ojeda, who’s garnered lots of national media attention.

One of the biggest surprises of the night was in Indiana’s 4th District, where Mike Braun’s younger brother, former state Rep. Steve Braun, didn’t win the GOP nomination for the open seat. (Remember, the brothers weren’t exactly buddies on the campaign trail.) Instead, state Rep. Jim Baird earned the GOP nod, despite barely raising any money and being vastly outspent. Read more about Baird, who’s likely to be the next member from this safe Republican district.

Least surprising result of the night? Vice President Mike Pence’s older brother Greg won the GOP nomination in the open 6th District.

New Lines, New Drama: Don’t forget about redistricting! With gubernatorial and state legislature races, this fall’s midterms could have a big impact on redrawing congressional lines after the 2020 Census. And that’s not to mention some major cases pending before the Supreme Court that could upend the entire process. Legal affairs reporter Todd Ruger breaks down the latest in the redistricting cases and dynamics to watch in the states.

Dangerous Dozen: There are 57 open House seats up this fall, where the incumbents are not seeking re-election and there won’t be a special election before November — the second-largest number since 1930. Roll Call political analyst Stu Rothenberg revives his “Dangerous Dozen” series, diving into 12 open House seats, and breaking down those most likely to flip party control. Spoiler alert: Republicans are on defense.

Brain Drain: What do those retirements mean for Congress? Data reporter Sean McMinn dives into how the House could experience a major brain drain next year. The 69 members who won’t be returning for the 116th Congress account for 828 years of congressional experience, which includes valuable institutional knowledge. Sean looks at three potential midterm scenarios and breaks down how they would affect overall experience next term.

The Count: 11

While there are a lot of competitive races ahead, senior editor David Hawkings and data reporter Paul V. Fontelo looked at 11 candidates who are likely heading to Congress next year. They include five Democrats and six Republicans. Check them out here.

Nathan’s Notes

Only five of the nation’s 50 state governors were elected directly after serving in the House, but nine lawmakers are hoping to increase that number. Nathan L. Gonzales breaks down the House members running for governor, and where they stand in their quest for a promotion. And we have a bonus note from Nathan, where he follows the money (cue dramatic parking garage music from “All the President’s Men”). He explains in this quick video how following TV ad spending can provide insight into the seats each party thinks are competitive.

Candidate Confessions

Democrat Andy Thorburn is competing in the crowded open primary for California’s 39th District to replace retiring GOP Rep. Ed Royce. Democrats are very concerned about being shut out of the November ballot (remember in California, the top two vote-getters in the June 5 primary, regardless of party, will advance to the general election). Thorburn, a former health insurance executive, has loaned his own campaign more than $2 million. But before the 74-year-old went into the insurance business, he was a teacher in New Jersey and became involved in the teacher’s union. He served a 30-day jail sentence in 1969 for his role in a teacher’s strike. The other Democrats in the race include lottery winner and Navy veteran Gil Cisneros (who is in the DCCC’s Red to Blue program), pediatrician Mai Khanh Tran (who has been endorsed by EMILY’s List), and businessman Sam Jammal (a former congressional staffer). A number of Republicans are also competing in this race.

Reader’s Race

Remember Georgia’s 6th District? That suburban Atlanta district we talked about virtually nonstop this time last year? The special election to fill former GOP Rep. Tom Price’s seat took up plenty of oxygen during the off-year, but doesn’t look nearly as competitive this time around when Democrats have plenty of other seats on their radar. Republican Karen Handel defeated big-spending Democrat Jon Ossoff (with lots of help from outside Republican groups) in 2017, and is now running for her first full term. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Likely Republican.

The primary to decide her Democratic opponent is on May 22. Remember that Georgia’s a top-two state, so if no candidate receives a majority, the top-two finishers will advance to a runoff. Among the candidates with the most money are former local TV anchor Bobby Kaple, who ended the first quarter of the year with $415,000 and has loaned his campaign nearly $200,000 since getting in the race. (He hadn’t filed a pre-primary report by press time.) He’s received money from House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer and is backed by Louisiana Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland. Businessman Kevin Abel ended the pre-primary reporting period with $111,000.

For next week, email us at and let us know which race you want to know more about: Nevada’s 4th District or Montana’s at-large District.

Photo Finish

It’s a cliché that all elections come down to turnout, but it’s also true. Senior editor David Hawkings takes a look at midterm turnout trends and voter registration in this video.


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