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The 10 Most Vulnerable House Incumbents: Blum’s Still the One

Erik Paulsen and Bruce Poliquin make the list for first time this cycle

Iowa Rep. Rod Blum remains the most vulnerable incumbent. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Iowa Rep. Rod Blum remains the most vulnerable incumbent. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

With one month to go until Election Day, two new names are on our latest ranking of the most vulnerable House incumbents, but once again, the list remains all-Republican.

Despite widely over-performing President Donald Trump in his district in 2016, Minnesota Rep. Erik Paulsen looks to be in tougher shape this year in a seat Hillary Clinton comfortably carried. He has company — four of the most vulnerable incumbents are running in Clinton districts, with Colorado’s Mike Coffman and Kansas’ Kevin Yoder moving up on the list. 

But it’s not all about Republicans in Clinton districts. Two incumbents representing seats Clinton carried — California Reps. Dana Rohrabacher and Steve Knight — moved off the list. Republicans in Trump districts are in trouble, too. Maine Rep. Bruce Poliquin makes the list for the first time this cycle. He isn’t a stranger to tough races, but he may struggle against a new opponent under the state’s ranked-choice voting system.

Rankings are based on conversations with strategists on both sides of the aisle, polling, and race ratings from Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. A lot can change in a month, so we’ll reassess the rankings one last time before Election Day.

Watch: What Surprised Roll Call’s Politics Team This Midterm Season (So Far)

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1. Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa

Blum remains at the top of the list with groups from both parties signaling that he is likely to lose to Democratic state Rep. Abby Finkenauer. The National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC, haven’t spent to help Blum, who is also facing an Ethics Committee investigation for not disclosing his role with a company. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee canceled its air time in the 1st District last month, a sign of its confidence in Finkenauer’s chances.

Race Rating: Leans Democratic

2. Keith Rothfus, R-Pa. 

Rothfus had an uphill climb after the state’s congressional map was redrawn, and his western Pennsylvania district shifted to one Trump would have won by just 2 points under the new lines. It also didn’t help that Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb decided to run against him in the new 17th District. Lamb benefits from high name recognition and a sizable war chest following his high-profile special election victory in a neighboring district in March. The national party signaled that things haven’t improved for Rothfus, with the NRCC canceling its district airtime.

Race rating:Leans Democratic

3. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn.  

The five-term Republican is making his first appearance on this list. His suburban Twin Cities district isn’t a fan of Trump, but Paulsen over-performed the president two years ago, winning re-election by double digits while Clinton carried the 3rd District by 9 points. This year is different. It’s Paulsen’s first re-election with a Republican in the White House, and his district’s ticket-splitters seem to be responding well to first-time candidate Dean Phillips, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor nominee. Unlike Paulsen’s 2016 challenger, Phillips isn’t trying to tie the incumbent to Trump. Instead, he’s running on a message of a government overhaul and getting money out of politics.

Race Rating:Tilts Democratic

4. Barbara Comstock, R-Va. 

The sophomore Republican remains vulnerable in a district that voted for Clinton by 10 points. But she drops one spot this month — in part to make room for Paulsen, but also because she’s continued to distance herself from the president, who’s deeply unpopular in her 10th District. Some public polling has shown a slight tightening since the summer in the race against her well-funded and well-known Democratic challenger, state Sen. Jennifer Wexton. But Comstock is still behind and CLF has yet to commit any resources to the race. Comstock is a tough campaigner, but the national environment looks difficult to overcome.

Race Rating:Tilts Democratic

5. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan.

Yoder’s situation hasn’t appeared to improve despite GOP spending aimed at his Democratic opponent, Sharice Davids, for her comments about abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. To make matters worse for Yoder, the NRCC has canceled its ad buy in the 3rd District. Davids, who is backed by EMILY’s List, raised $2.7 million in the third quarter, according to her campaign, and KCUR reported that Yoder raised $1.3 million. While some polling has shown Davids ahead, Yoder’s campaign recently released a poll that gave him a narrow lead in a district Clinton won by 1 point.

Race Rating:Tilts Democratic

6. Mike Coffman, R-Colo.

Coffman has been an elusive Democratic target in the past, but things are looking worse for him this year. Republicans note that he has effectively built his own brand in the 6th District in the Denver suburbs. But the national environment could be too much for Coffman to win a district that Clinton carried by 9 points, with Democrat Jason Crow proving to be a formidable challenger. CLF recently pulled its money here as well — a sign it may be giving up on the race, though the NRCC is still spending. Democrats are also spending in the race. 

Race Rating:Tilts Democratic

7. Jason Lewis, R-Minn.

The freshman Republican drops three spots this month. That’s not necessarily because he’s done anything over the last month to improve his odds in a district that narrowly voted for Trump, but because other incumbents in tougher districts have moved up. Minnesota’s 2nd District still has a significant agricultural population that puts Lewis in better shape than his Gopher State colleague to the north. But given this year’s national environment and the absence of a third-party candidate who took nearly 8 percent of the vote two years ago, Lewis is in for a tough rematch against DFL nominee Angie Craig.

Race Rating:Tilts Democratic

8. John J. Faso, R-N.Y.

Faso moves down the list as other incumbents’ races have picked up. His 19th District in upstate New York swung from President Barack Obama to Trump, and is the kind of seat Democrats are looking to win back this year. The 19th is also an area that’s seen an increase in Democratic enthusiasm. Outside groups on both sides are spending here, with Republicans highlighting lyrics from Democrat Antonio Delgado’s prior career as a rapper. Delgado and his Democratic allies are focusing on health care, while Faso is defending his record on the issue.

Race Rating:Tilts Democratic

9. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y. 

Tenney’s upstate New York district is tougher for Democrats because of its Republican lean — Trump won it by 16 points — but they still view the 22nd District as a pickup opportunity. State Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, the Democratic nominee, has localized his message and has proved to be a strong fundraiser. The most recent Republican attacks have tied him to Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo who is running for re-election and not popular in the district. Democratic groups continue to spend against Tenney, focusing their attacks on her votes for the GOP health care and tax overhauls.

Race Rating:Tilts Democratic

10. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine

The sophomore Republican, who’s running in a district Trump won by 10 points, graces the list for the first time this cycle. Poliquin has won tough races before, but there are some key differences this year. He’s got a new Democratic opponent in Marine veteran Jared Golden, the state House assistant majority leader. Poliquin voted to repeal the 2010 health care law, which Democrats are using against him in the rural, working-class 2nd District. And for the first time at the federal level, Maine is using ranked-choice voting, which means Poliquin would have to receive a majority of the vote to win outright. Recent private and public polling doesn’t show that happening. That means the last-place finishers (likely the two independent candidates) would be eliminated one-by-one with their votes reallocated to voters’ second-choice candidates.

Race Rating:Toss-up

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