After primaries, these 10 House members are most vulnerable
Landscape still tilts toward GOP, though not as much as earlier this year
It’s already been a rough cycle for House incumbents, and the midterm elections are still 55 days away.
Fourteen lost reelection bids, including five who were on the previous list of the chamber’s most vulnerable. They fell in primaries where redistricting or increasingly dogmatic electorates doomed them. Now with primaries (mostly) behind them, House incumbents and their big-spending outside allies are in full general election mode. Roll Call’s 10 most vulnerable House members, six Democrats and four Republicans, face a shifting landscape that seems more favorable for Democrats than it was a few months ago but still tilts toward the GOP.
Republicans, who could easily win the House majority with open seats alone, need only a net gain of five to retake the chamber. GOP operatives say they expect to clear that small hurdle. But the party still may lose some battle-tested members in swing districts where abortion rights have taken a prominent place after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. It’s worth keeping in mind that three of the Republicans on the list were on it last cycle, when no House members from their party lost.
Democrats say they see a narrow path to protecting their majority, with voters energized over abortion and appeased, at least for now, by a drop in gas prices. Neither camp seems to expect a massive red wave in November.
The House member most likely to lose on Election Day, Florida Democratic Rep. Al Lawson, is in a rare situation of having his current district parceled away but not opting to retire. He is now running in a district that President Joe Biden lost by 11 points in 2020. Since he faces a fellow incumbent, Republican Neal Dunn, he’s not included in the top 10. Neither is new GOP Rep. Mayra Flores, who won a special election and now is the underdog in a race for Texas’ 34th District against Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez. Biden won that district by almost 16 points in 2020.
Biden’s job approval numbers have ticked up after Democrats successfully moved big bills in Congress that they plan to use on the campaign trail. Former President Donald Trump — a presence in GOP primaries where he worked against members, such as Wyoming’s Liz Cheney, who voted to impeach him — hasn’t gone away. Trump may help motivate his base to vote for Republicans in the midterms, or his most loyal candidates may foil the GOP in districts they otherwise could have won.
And while Republicans are largely proud of their efforts to recruit a strong pool of diverse candidates, they also were hurt by a primary electorate that rewarded extreme positions. The results in some pivotal races fueled Democrats’ attempt to paint the GOP as the party of election deniers with intolerant positions on social policies. Some Democrats who might otherwise appear on this list are in easier races because of far-right Republican nominees at the top of the ticket in competitive states like Pennsylvania and Arizona. Others — like Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur, whose opponent festooned his lawn with a hand-painted Trump sign — got a boost because of the extreme positions of their opponents.
O’Halleran remains the most vulnerable incumbent in the country, at least among those not facing off against another member. Republican nominee Eli Crane, a former Navy SEAL and business owner who appeared on “Shark Tank,” emerged from a crowded GOP primary bolstered by former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. Crane faced criticism in the primary for not residing in the 2nd District, since he has lived in Tucson. The underlying dynamic has not changed much since the spring, with O’Halleran needing to try to introduce himself to a reconfigured district that went from narrowly backing Biden to rejecting him solidly.
Despite Axne’s big fundraising advantage, House Republicans expect Iowa’s 3rd District to swing back to their party in November. They’re banking on attacks that she’s too cozy with Biden, who remains unpopular there, and that Axne supported her party’s government-spending agenda, which they argue has fueled inflation. Axne held $3 million on hand as of June 30, while her opponent, state Sen. Zach Nunn, reported $300,000 after a contested GOP primary earlier that month. Like other Republican candidates across the battlefield, Nunn will benefit from big-spending outside interests. Axne has outside help too: Democrats’ House Majority PAC recently launched an ad attacking Nunn over campaign donations.
Valadao has won tough races before, beating incumbent Rep. TJ Cox in a 2020 rematch. Valadao narrowly made it into the top two in a June all-party primary, prevailing over fellow Republican and military veteran Chris Mathys, who billed himself as more conservative than Valadao, who voted to impeach Trump. Republicans view Valadao as uniquely able to hold the seat. Cox, who has subsequently been indicted on fraud charges, arguably had more baggage than Valadao’s opponent this cycle, Democratic state assemblymember Rudy Salas. Valadao had more cash on hand — $1.7 million to Salas’ $690,000 — as of June 30. Outside groups plan to spend big in the race.
Malinowski is in a rematch with his 2020 opponent, former state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., but redistricting made the 7th District more difficult for Democrats and the two-term incumbent moves into the fourth spot with less than two months to go until Election Day. He does have a cash advantage over Kean. Malinowski reported having $4.2 million on hand at the end of June, while Kean had $1.3 million. Kean and Republicans have also seized on Malinowski’s failure to disclose stock trades as required by House ethics rules.
Luria’s district became more difficult for her during redistricting, and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, won it during last year’s gubernatorial race. She faces state Sen. Jen Kiggans, a top GOP recruit and nurse practitioner who, like Luria, is a Navy veteran. Luria sits on the House select committee investigating Jan. 6th, but Kiggans has so far focused on the economy and inflation in her ads. Abortion could also play a factor here, and Luria has argued in ads that Kiggans is out of step with the district on the issue.
Peltola recently pulled off an upset victory in the Last Frontier’s first test of ranked choice voting in a congressional election. She faces two of the same opponents, former GOP Gov. Sarah Palin and Republican Nick Begich III, and, likely, Libertarian Chris Bye in November. Palin and Begich have continued to attack each other, a reality that helped Peltola in the special election (to fill the term of the late GOP Rep. Don Young). But Alaska remains GOP turf, and Republicans say members of their party are becoming more familiar with ranked voting and may heed the slogan “rank the red” to prioritize their party’s candidates in ranked ballots.
Chabot, who is seeking a 14th term, regularly finds himself in tough races in the Cincinnati-area 1st District, but the redrawn lines crafted after the 2020 census made his reelection this year even harder. Democratic challenger Greg Landsman, a member of the Cincinnati City Council, held $815,000 cash on hand as of June 30, while Chabot reported $745,000. Republicans are working to portray Landsman as too liberal for the district, but Democrats are quick to point out that Chabot was among the 147 GOP lawmakers who voted against certifying the 2020 election for Biden, who won the district.
Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general, has weathered tough elections every cycle since he narrowly defeated Democratic incumbent Brad Ashford in 2016. Since then, he has managed to slightly increase his lead in every election, defeating the same progressive Democrat twice. The district backed Trump in 2016 but Biden in 2020, and its partisan lean was largely unchanged under new congressional maps. Public and private polling shows Bacon in a close race against state Sen. Tony Vargas. Vargas, who would be Nebraska’s first Hispanic member of Congress if elected, can point to bipartisan credentials in the state Legislature. Bacon, meanwhile, opposed abortion rights and faces potential backlash from the district’s suburban women over the Roe ruling.
Two-term Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin faces state Rep. Tom Barrett in a race that will be expensive and hard-fought. Slotkin has been gearing up for a fight and had $6.6 million on hand as of July 13 to Barrett’s $447,000. Auto jobs have become an issue in this race, as Democrats have criticized Barrett for votes he took to oppose incentives to bring a General Motors investment to the state. Slotkin cut an ad on the topic last month. Barrett has called it “corporate welfare” and said the jobs don’t come with enough protections, pointing to Ford layoffs in Michigan earlier this year.
If this race feels like déjà vu, that’s because it is. Garcia has beaten his challenger, former state Assemblywoman Christy Smith, twice in 2020 already. In November 2020, Garcia held on to the seat by a margin of about 330 votes. Even Democrats concede that Smith is a flawed candidate, but redistricting made the district a couple points more difficult for the incumbent. Garcia had a strong fundraising advantage, holding $1.7 million cash on hand as of June 30 to Smith’s $300,000. He was the top vote-earner in the all-party primary, but Smith was nearly 10 points behind him as two other Democrats won a combined 12 percent.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.