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How Democrats defending 30 ‘Trump districts’ did

Some seats were emblematic of blue wave in 2018

Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger, left, is one of 30 House Democrats who are defending seats in districts Trump won in 2016.
Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger, left, is one of 30 House Democrats who are defending seats in districts Trump won in 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As Democrats looked to maintain or even increase their House majority, both parties were closely watching a group of contests that could hold the key: 30 seats with Democratic incumbents that President Donald Trump carried in 2016. 

House Democrats went into Tuesday night expecting to hold the majority of them, helped by strong fundraising and Trump’s flagging poll numbers across the board. Going into the election, 11 of the 30 races were not even rated as competitive by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, and just four were Toss-ups

“Tonight, House Democrats are poised to further strengthen our majority, the biggest, most diverse most dynamic women-led House majority in history,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a Tuesday afternoon press call. 

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Republicans, though, hoped that Trump’s presence at the top of the ticket would help them hold their ground.

Through 3:30 a.m., Democrats had held five of the seats while Republicans captured four. Others were still uncalled, some of them with candidates saying they were waiting for mail-in ballots to be tallied. Here’s a rundown (all times are Eastern):

Horn loses grip in Oklahoma suburbs: Freshman Democrat Kendra Horn fell to a challenge from state Sen. Stephanie Bice in Oklahoma’s 5th District in suburban Oklahoma City where Trump has maintained steady support. Bice, who has touted her record defending conservative values, such as fiscal responsibility, opposition to abortion and gun rights, was leading 52 percent to 48 percent when The Associated Press called the race at 3:13 a.m. Wednesday. Horn was a top Republican target after her surprise 2018 victory. Bice emerged from a bruising late-August primary to outraise Horn in the third quarter this year, allowing her to compete with the incumbent on the airwaves in the last weeks before the election. Republicans painted Horn, who has a moderate record, as a Pelosi liberal who threatened oil and gas industry jobs.

Torres Small falls to Herrell in New Mexico rematch: Freshman Democrat Xochitl Torres Small lost to former GOP state Rep. Yvette Herrell in rural New Mexico’s 2nd District. Herrell was leading 54 percent to 46 percent when the AP called the race at 2:13 a.m. Wednesday. Republicans painted Torres Small, a water rights lawyer, as a Nancy Pelosi-aligned liberal working to end oil and gas production and to kill jobs. Torres Small countered with her own ads promoting her work to support the industry, and Democrats attacked Herrell for failing to disclose half a million dollars in income that her company made from state contracts while she was in office. Those attacks were no match for the partisan lean of a district Trump carried by 10 points in 2016.

South Carolina suburbs swing back to GOP with Mace victory: Rep. Joe Cunningham entered the 2020 cycle as one of the most vulnerable Democrats in Congress after flipping a Charleston-area coastal district by a single point in 2018. He was among a number of House Democrats who managed to build a strong local profile and amass a sizable fundraising advantage by avoiding partisan disputes and focusing instead on his opposition to off-shore drilling. But state Rep. Nancy Mace, the first female graduate of the Citadel military college, was able to counter that she had sponsored legislation opposing it. She was leading 52 percent to 48 percent when the AP called the race at 2:04 a.m. Wednesday. Trump won the district by 11 points in 2016.  

Peterson ousted in MN-07: After several cycles of ticket-splitting wins, 15-term Democratic-Farmer-Labor Rep. Collin C. Peterson lost his rural western Minnesota district to Republican Michelle Fischbach. When the AP called the race at 12:36 a.m. Wednesday, Fischbach, a former Minnesota lieutenant governor and state senator, was leading Peterson 54 percent to 40 percent. In ousting Peterson, 7th District voters are giving up some of their clout in Congress as he would have continued to chair the House Agriculture Committee if reelected. Fischbach raised more money than Peterson and was likely aided in her support for Trump, who carried the district by 31 points in 2016. Peterson, an anti-abortion conservative Democrat, largely avoided crossing Trump — he voted against the House impeachment charges — but ultimately endorsed Biden.

McBath victory buttresses Democratic strength in Atlanta suburbs: Democrats’ yearslong effort to gain control of the rapidly changing Atlanta suburbs was rewarded with a second term for Rep. Lucy McBath in Georgia’s 6th District, which Trump won by 1 point in 2016. McBath, a gun control advocate, was leading her Republican predecessor Karen Handel 54 percent to 46 percent when the AP called the race at 1:37 a.m. Wednesday. Both parties have poured tens of millions into this district in recent years, as demographic changes and voter mobilization in the region hinted at a statewide resurgence for the left. Handel won the seat in a $40 million special election in 2017 that was the most expensive in House history, only to lose it by 1 point to McBath, a political newcomer, the following year.

Pappas wins NH-01: Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas held off a challenge by Republican Matt Mowers in New Hampshire’s 1st District. Pappas was leading Mowers 51 percent to 46 percent when the AP called the race at 12:40 a.m. Wednesday. Pappas said he had fought the opioid crisis and advocated on behalf of small businesses, access to affordable health care and safe drinking water. Mowers, a former Trump Administration official at the State Department, ran on cutting taxes.

Kim defeats Richter in NJ-03: Freshman Democrat Andy Kim easily dispatched a challenge from Republican David Richter in New Jersey’s 3rd District, which Trump won by 6 points in 2016. Kim was leading Richter 55 percent to 44 percent when the AP called the race at 12:15 a.m. Wednesday. Richter, the former CEO of construction giant Hill International, was the front-runner to challenge Rep. Jeff Van Drew in the neighboring 2nd District before Van Drew switched parties last year and GOP leaders encouraged Richter to swap districts. But Richter didn’t get much help from outside groups to support his argument that Kim was too liberal for the district. Kim, meanwhile, touted his frequent town halls and promoted his record on supporting veterans, lowering prescription drug costs and campaign finance reform.

Gottheimer wins in northern New Jersey: Democrat Josh Gottheimer won a third term in a district that encompasses some of the most conservative communities in northern New Jersey. Gottheimer was leading Republican businessman Frank Pallotta 58 percent to 41 percent when the AP called the race at 11:16 p.m. Tuesday. The district backed Trump by 1 point in 2016. Trump tweeted an endorsement for Pallotta last week, but Gottheimer maintained a massive fundraising advantage and was able to neutralize attacks from the right with a string of Republican endorsements and a record of frequently bucking his party in the House.

Sherrill keeps once conservative New Jersey district blue: Freshman Democrat Mikie Sherrill won a second term in the 11th District, a longtime Republican stronghold that she decisively flipped in 2018. Sherrill was leading tax lawyer and lobbyist Rosemary Becchi 59 percent to 40 percent when the AP called the race at 9:49 p.m. Tuesday. Trump carried the seat by less than a point in 2016. Becchi, a former tax counsel to the Senate Finance Committee, campaigned on lowering taxes and helping the state economy rebound from the coronavirus pandemic, but Democratic voter registrations spiked as New Jersey case levels rose and Sherrill was able to counter attacks that she was too liberal with a moderate voting record, including her work as a co-sponsor on four bills that Trump signed into law.

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