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As campaign ends, GOP dominates list of 10 most vulnerable in the House

A year ago, list featured eight Democrats; now there are three

How much has the political environment moved away from Republicans? Look no further than the 10 most vulnerable House members.

One year ago, this list included eight Democrats and two Republicans. On the eve of the 2020 elections, the list includes seven Republicans and just three Democrats. It’s a dramatic shift after a tumultuous year.

Democrats have long believed they could hold on to their House majority, even with 30 of their members running in districts President Donald Trump carried in 2016. A string of GOP retirements opening up competitive House seats buoyed their hopes.

Throughout the 2020 cycle, House Democrats built massive campaign war chests and Republicans struggled to keep pace. Meanwhile, Trump’s favorability sank as the coronavirus pandemic hit, dragging down congressional Republicans. And with former Vice President Joe Biden at the top of the Democratic ticket, Republicans lost an opportunity to tie vulnerable Democrats to a far-left presidential nominee. 

A number of the most endangered House members are locked in tied races, which could still go Republicans’ way. 

New York GOP Rep. John Katko is no longer on the list, thanks in part to a third-party candidate who could siphon votes from his Democratic opponent. He also dropped off to make room for colleagues in suburban districts who appear to be in more trouble, including Missouri’s Ann Wagner. Arizona’s David Schweikert and Minnesota’s Jim Hagedorn also join the list in the face of ethics-related attacks. 

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These districts’ 2016 presidential results were factored into the rankings, along with conversations with strategists on both sides of the aisle and race ratings from Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.

Here are the most vulnerable House members heading into Election Day:

Bacon narrowly survived the 2018 blue wave, but stronger forces have lined up against him in his rematch with Democrat Kara Eastman. With an Electoral College vote at stake, both presidential campaigns are spending here, and outside groups from both sides have poured millions into the race. Bacon has argued that Eastman is too liberal for the Omaha-area district. His endorsement by the Democrat he unseated, Brad Ashford, has been somewhat neutralized by Eastman’s ads touting support from high-profile Republicans and attacking Bacon for his “hell, yes” vote to repeal the 2010 health care law. Recent polls show a tight race, but Biden has a solid lead.

The House Agriculture chairman faces the reelection fight of his 15-term career. He kept his grip on the rural western Minnesota district even when Trump carried it in 2016 by more than 30 points. But this year, Peterson’s challenger poses a bigger threat. Michelle Fischbach, a former lieutenant governor and state senator, has posted strong fundraising totals: $2.2 million as of Oct. 14 to Peterson’s $2.3 million. That’s more money than Peterson’s challengers collected in the past four cycles combined. Outside groups have poured millions into attack ads against both of them. If any Democrat can win in the 7th, it’s Peterson, who voted against impeaching Trump and opposes abortion rights.

Van Drew has consistently trailed Democratic challenger Amy Kennedy in the polls leading up to Election Day. And it’s unclear whether Trump will again be able to carry the district, which voted twice for former President Barack Obama. Kennedy, a former teacher, has accused Van Drew of putting his political ambitions over the needs of his constituents when he switched parties in December and pledged his “undying support” for Trump. Kennedy, a first-time candidate, doesn’t have a political record for Republicans to attack, but she has been able to draw support from the political network of her husband, former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy.

Schweikert is locked in a tough bid for a sixth term in the affluent suburbs north of Phoenix as he confronts ethics woes, a formidable opponent and the suburban shift away from the GOP. Former emergency room physician Hiral Tipirneni, who lost two bids for a neighboring district in 2018, has consistently outraised the incumbent. Outside Democratic groups have jumped into the race, significantly outspending Republicans and launching ads highlighting Schweikert’s campaign finance violations. This year, Phoenix has been inundated with ads as Democrats target Arizona in the presidential and Senate races. 

This rural district that covers the southern half of New Mexico is expected to vote for Trump again, putting Torres Small in a tough position in her rematch against former state Rep. Yvette Herrell. Republicans have sought to paint Torres Small, a water rights lawyer, as a Nancy Pelosi-aligned liberal working to end oil and gas production and kill jobs. Torres Small has countered with her own ads promoting work to support the industry, an issue that could set her apart from the top of the ticket. Democrats have attacked Herrell for failing to disclose half a million dollars in income that her company made from state contracts while she was in office.

Wagner has put herself at the forefront of Republican efforts to appeal to suburban voters. But with the majority of her party moving in the opposite direction, her own St. Louis-area seat is now in jeopardy. Wagner is known as a prolific fundraiser. But her Democratic challenger, state Sen. Jill Schupp, has consistently outraised her. The district helped propel passage of a state ballot measure approving Medicaid expansion in the August primary, a sign that voters there are receptive to Schupp’s vows to strengthen the 2010 health care law and could be persuaded by Democrats’ attacks that Wagner is beholden to pharmaceutical and other special interests.

Chabot is perennially in a tough fight, representing one of the most competitive districts in a state map drawn largely to protect Republicans. Chabot fended off a well-funded challenger in 2018, two years after Trump carried the district, but Democrats are hopeful that support for Trump has eroded in the suburban Cincinnati district since then. This year, Chabot faces health care executive Kate Schroder, a cancer survivor who has made health care a key theme in her campaign. Schroder raised $3.5 million through Oct. 14 to Chabot’s $3 million, and that, combined with Trump’s struggles with suburban voters, could be ominous for Chabot.

Hagedorn’s slide in the polls in his rematch against Democratic-Farmer-Labor nominee Dan Feehan shows how much Democrats have expanded their map into GOP turf this cycle. Ethics and campaign finance scandals have dogged Hagedorn in his quest for a second term. Feehan, an Army veteran and Obama-era Pentagon official, brought in $4.3 million by Oct. 14 to Hagedorn’s haul of $2.2 million. Unlike some of the most vulnerable Republicans, who represent suburban enclaves that have turned against the president, Hagedorn’s district is largely rural Trump country, which may help the incumbent. It also includes Rochester, home to the Mayo Clinic, where Hagedorn has been treated for kidney cancer.

Rose moves down the list as other incumbents look like they’re in more trouble. But Republicans believe this race is moving in their direction as they’ve hit Rose with “law and order” messaging in the Staten Island-based district, home to many first-responders. Democrats still believe Rose can defeat state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, noting that the brash congressman is a good fit for the district. Rose has had a persistent financial advantage in the expensive New York City media market, raising nearly $8.4 million to Malliotakis’ $3.1 million through Oct. 14. Outside groups have dumped millions into this race, with Democratic groups outspending Republicans.

Republicans consider Garcia, a Navy veteran, a strong incumbent who could outrun Trump in the district, which is north of Los Angeles. But he’s vulnerable as the only GOP House member running for a seat Hillary Clinton carried with more than 50 percent of the vote in 2016. He defeated his opponent, state Assemblywoman Christy Smith, in a May special election for the seat left open by the resignation of Democrat Katie Hill. Smith has since revamped her campaign team, and the electorate is expected to be much more Democratic for the November race compared with the special election.

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