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These House members are vulnerable next year, and they’re not alone

Not all maps have been finalized, but tough races await several members

All signs point to uncertainty for, from left, Democratic Reps. Tom O’Halleran and Elaine Luria, and Republican Reps. Alex X. Mooney and Liz Cheney in the 2022 midterms.
All signs point to uncertainty for, from left, Democratic Reps. Tom O’Halleran and Elaine Luria, and Republican Reps. Alex X. Mooney and Liz Cheney in the 2022 midterms. (Photos by Bill Clark/Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call; composition by Chris Hale/CQ Roll Call)

With states across the country still drawing new congressional maps, significant uncertainty remains about which House members are most vulnerable for the 2022 midterms. 

As a result, ranking the 10 most vulnerable incumbents, as CQ Roll Call normally does at this point in the cycle, is not feasible. Instead, the list below highlights the House lawmakers with the toughest reelection prospects, based on what is now known. These members won narrow victories last year and have little hope of mapmakers making their lives easier, have been pitted against fellow incumbents in redistricting, or are under fire within their own parties. 

One thing that seems clear: Democrats are at a disadvantage. After losing a net of 11 seats last fall, they are defending a narrow majority — Republicans need to pick up five seats to flip the House, and approval ratings for President Joe Biden, a factor that could sway the national tone of the race, have dropped as the coronavirus pandemic continues and Democrats battle each other over his Build Back Better agenda.

More members will join this list once redistricting is completed in states such as New York and California, which have some of the largest House delegations and where Democrats are eyeing possible pickup opportunities. In California, any one of four Republicans in districts Biden carried in 2020 — David Valadao, Young Kim, Michelle Steel and Mike Garcia — could end up with still more competitive seats after the state’s nonpartisan redistricting commission finishes its maps. 

[Most vulnerable senators one year out]

Democrats are in control of redistricting in New York, where several seats could be in play. Other states whose maps will probably affect future versions of this list include Georgia and Florida, where Republicans control redistricting, and Michigan, where it’s up to an independent commission.

Underlining how quickly the landscape can change, North Carolina approved maps last week that would put Democrats G.K. Butterfield and Kathy Manning in more competitive districts, although it is still unclear who would run against them and what their plans will be. 

But based on the environment right now, these are the House lawmakers facing the most challenging reelection races next year.

Where new district lines have been drawn

Axne’s Des Moines-area district narrowly voted for President Donald Trump in 2020 and becomes a tad redder under the new map, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections. Biden’s job approval ratings are especially low in Iowa, indicating the state might not be as swingy overall in 2022 as it has been in recent cycles. GOP Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who won a neighboring seat by just six votes last year, could choose to run here after her home was drawn into the new 3rd District, and there is still speculation about Axne’s reelection plans. 

Maine’s new map doesn’t do much to change Golden’s position heading into 2022. He’s still in a district that voted for Trump — by 6 points, compared with 8 points under the current lines — according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections. But Golden has weathered tough campaigns in the past. He has more than $1 million in the bank, but he faces a well-funded rematch with Republican Bruce Poliquin, who held the seat for two terms before losing to Golden in the country’s first use of ranked choice voting for Congress in 2018. 

Member-versus-member races

With West Virginia losing one of its three seats in redistricting, McKinley and Mooney will face each other in a safely Republican district in the northern half of the state. Trump would have defeated Biden 68 percent to 31 percent here, according to Jacob Rubashkin, an analyst at Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. McKinley, whose votes have been more in line with the Trump-era GOP, led Mooney 44 percent to 29 percent, with 18 percent of respondents undecided, in a poll released last week by the Republican group GOPAC. Mooney has more money in the bank, but he is also under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for alleged misuse of campaign funds. 

Newman, who ousted Rep. Daniel Lipinski in a 2020 primary, announced she would challenge Casten after state Democratic lawmakers passed a new House map — still to be signed by Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker — that drew her into a district with Democrat Jesús “Chuy” García that is nearly 67 percent Latino. The matchup with Casten once again pits Newman against a more centrist member of her own party. Much of the new district is made up of territory that Newman currently represents, but she enters the race at a more than 2-to-1 cash disadvantage. And Casten is no stranger to tough campaigns — he flipped his current seat, which had been drawn to favor Republicans, during the Democratic wave of 2018. 

The new Illinois map lumps Bost and Miller into the same southern Illinois district, but Miller has not yet said if she would run there. That’s led to chatter that she could take on GOP Rep. Rodney Davis in the new, safely red 15th District after his current 13th District was made more Democratic. While both Miller and Bost boast strong conservative voting records, there are more opportunities for Miller to create a contrast with the more moderate Davis. Davis has also left open speculation that he could  run for governor. 

Facing fights no matter how maps are drawn

Virginia Republicans’ strong performance across the state in last week’s gubernatorial and down-ballot elections — including in suburban areas that helped Luria flip her seat in 2018 — means she is likely to face a tough race regardless of how the state’s map is finally drawn. Luria, a moderate who spent 20 years in the Navy working on combat ships, is a good match for a region with a high concentration of military bases. But in Virginia, Republicans have significant control over the nominating process and could select a candidate similarly well-matched from a crowded field that includes state Sen. Jen Kiggans, a top GOP recruit who is also a Navy veteran. 

New Jersey is another state where Republicans overperformed expectations in elections last week, and that puts Malinowski — who hails from GOP-friendly Central Jersey — in a rough spot. He’s facing a rematch with state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., who comes from a well-known New Jersey political family. Kean kicked off his candidacy with an appearance by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy at his campaign launch — an indication that national Republicans are excited about this race. Republicans are already hammering Malinowski about his failures to disclose stock trades as required by law. That will be an issue for him no matter how the Garden State’s bipartisan redistricting commission draws his new seat. 

Arizona’s independent redistricting commission granted preliminary approval in late October to a new map that puts O’Halleran in a district more favorable to Republicans. The proposed map also raised the possibility of a challenge from GOP Rep. Paul Gosar, a hard-line conservative. Republicans see fertile ground for attacks in recent local reports that O’Halleran racked up more than $11,000 in late fees and other costs associated with delinquent payments and tax liens while he served in the state Legislature. But O’Halleran has pointed out that his tab was settled a decade ago. The GOP field is already crowded, with several candidates likely to push the eventual nominee to the right. 

Republicans control the redistricting process in the Granite State, and the state GOP has already proposed a draft map that would make Pappas’ seat redder. Republicans think they can nationalize the race with attacks on Democrats’ “socialist tax and spending spree” that they say will resonate with voters traditionally hostile to taxes. The GOP nominee will have to make it through a tough primary that is already crowded with well-known figures, including 2020 nominee Matt Mowers, a former executive director of the state GOP who served in the Trump administration, and Gail Huff Brown, a onetime Boston-area television journalist married to former Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott P. Brown. 

Spanberger’s 2018 win in a longtime Republican district in suburban Richmond was a symbol of the blue wave that swept Democrats into control of the House. Ever since, the former CIA case officer has been one of the party’s most prominent advocates for reining in a lurch to the left that she has warned could cost centrists like her their seats. Like Luria, she is considered a strong candidate. But she’s in a state that is currently surly toward Democrats, and the rightward shift typically seen in GOP primaries could be tempered here by the district GOP’s control of the nominating process.

Members vulnerable in primaries

Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump and her forceful criticism of his influence on the GOP led to her ouster from party leadership and has made her a top target of the former president and his allies. Trump has already shown an outsize interest in this primary, personally interviewing GOP hopefuls before bestowing his endorsement on 2018 gubernatorial candidate Harriet Hageman, a onetime Cheney ally. Trump’s sizable 2020 winning margin in Wyoming indicates that will be enough for plenty of voters. But Cheney is a formidable opponent, with more than $3.7 million in her war chest as of Sept. 30. In contrast, Hageman raised $302,000 by the end of September and could have problems following reports that she worked to strip Trump of his presidential nomination in 2016. 

Rice represents a redder district than most of the 10 Republicans who voted with him to impeach Trump. And he faces an added hurdle because of a South Carolina requirement that primary winners receive more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff, which could be difficult in a crowded primary. Still, like the rest of the pro-impeachment Republicans, he outraised his primary opponents in the last fundraising quarter and had $1.8 million in the bank on Sept. 30. The challenger with the biggest haul, Army veteran and conservative media personality Graham Allen, had $304,000.

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