5 districts that changed so much, so fast, you could get whiplash
Partisan shifts usually happen gradually, but not here
Oftentimes, political trends and change take years or more to develop. The partisan transformation of the South is a good example. In the case of a handful of House seats, however, the partisan switch in representation has been rapid and remarkable.
There are at least five whiplash districts.
Less than six years ago, Virginia’s 7th District was represented by Eric Cantor, the second-highest-ranking Republican in the House. After his loss to Dave Brat in a 2014 primary, the Richmond-area seat was represented by a member of the House Freedom Caucus, a gathering of anti-establishment, conservative firebrands. Now, the 7th is represented by Democrat Abigail Spanberger, one of the stars of the Democratic freshman class who also voted to impeach President Donald Trump.
For nearly 50 years, Illinois’ 6th District was represented by powerful GOP Rep. Henry J. Hyde (who was chairman of the Judiciary and International Relations committees) and Peter Roskam, who rose to become the fourth-ranking Republican in leadership as chief deputy whip. Now, the suburban Chicago seat is represented by Democrat Sean Casten.
Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen represented New Jersey in the House from 1995 through 2019 as did his father for 22 years, starting when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. Now the 11th District is represented by Democrat Mikie Sherrill, who won the open seat in 2018.
Similarly, California’s 45th District had been part of a staunchly red Orange County. The suburban seat was most recently represented by Republican Mimi Walters until 2018, when she was defeated by Democrat Katie Porter. What was once a lighthouse for Republicans in California is now represented by a protégée and former student of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. And Republicans are unlikely to knock off Porter in November.
The flip side can be seen in West Virginia. Democrat Nick J. Rahall II represented the southern part of the state from 1977 until 2015, when the congressman lost to Republican Evan Jenkins. Now the 3rd District is nowhere near the list of competitive House races after decades of Democratic representation.
In fact, as it stands today, Republicans would be fortunate to win one of the four districts in the fall that used to reliably vote for GOP candidates for a generation. The question is whether President Donald Trump accelerated a trend that was already taking place, or if Trump’s profile caused voters to react against his party, and the districts will go back to their previous performance when he’s no longer in the Oval Office.
Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst for CQ Roll Call.