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Six weeks out: Five ratings changes

Republicans favored to win House, Senate is closer

Ohio Republican candidate for Congress J.R. Majewski leaves the Capitol Hill Club in Washington on Sept. 20.
Ohio Republican candidate for Congress J.R. Majewski leaves the Capitol Hill Club in Washington on Sept. 20. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

With six weeks to go before Election Day, only one thing is certain: The fight for Congress is close and competitive.

Republicans are still favored to win back the House majority, albeit not by the same margin that was expected earlier in the cycle. The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision ending federal protections for abortions galvanized the Democratic Party and complicated the election by turning it from a referendum on President Joe Biden’s underwhelming job approval rating to a choice between how two parties would govern.

While an energized Democratic Party is limiting how deep Republicans reach into Democratic territory for takeover opportunities, the Democratic surge from mid- to late-summer may have been a mere bump. Republicans are feeling better about their chances in key House races, even though there’s been modest improvement in Biden’s job rating.

The issue landscape has shifted slightly. The economy isn’t good enough for Democrats to run on, but it’s improved enough to dilute its potency as a Republican attack line. That’s a reason why the GOP is leaning more into crime and immigration, while Democrats are close to all-in on abortion.

The House

Republicans are still the favorites to gain the five seats they need for a House majority, although their advantage likely will be narrow. We’re shifting our projection from Republicans gaining 12 to 30 seats to Republicans picking up eight to 20 seats.

Democrats’ chances to hold the House are related to the national environment, as well as movement in individual races.

Despite GOP attempts to defeat her using redistricting, Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur was in a stronger-than-expected position in Ohio’s 9th District before Republican J.R. Majewski’s time in the military was scrutinized and Republicans withdrew money for TV ads. That race moved from Toss-up to Tilt Democratic. Once again, Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids is running strong in Kansas’ 3rd District, although polls showed her with a significant advantage in what ended up being a close race in 2020. That race also moved from Toss-up to Tilt Democratic.

Washington’s 3rd District would have voted for President Donald Trump with 51 percent, but the race got more complicated after GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler lost in the primary. Republican Joe Kent, who challenged the congresswoman from the right, is still introducing himself to district voters and is in a competitive race with Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, an auto shop owner. That race moved from Solid Republican to Likely Republican.

One race continues to get better for Republicans. Biden would have won Oregon’s new 6th District with 55 percent, but GOP businessman Mike Erickson is in a competitive race with Democratic state Rep. Andrea Salinas. With a strong independent candidate on the ballot, Republicans have an opportunity to win the governorship of Oregon for the first time in decades, which could be boosting Erickson as well. That race moved from Lean Democratic to Tilt Democratic.

The Senate

The fight for the Senate has always been more closely contested than in the House. But a small shift in the political environment, combined with lackluster candidate performance from some GOP nominees in key races, has put Democrats in the best position to hold the Senate they’ve had all cycle.

The Senate battlefield embodies a clear shift. A year ago, GOP strategists did not expect to have to spend significant time and money in the fall holding Ohio, North Carolina, or even Pennsylvania, yet those races are draining resources. Consequently, Republicans look short of the money and environmental advantage necessary to win in Arizona, let alone Democratic states such as Colorado and Washington.

The Senate Leadership Fund, an outside GOP group tasked with retaking the majority, canceled its final $10 million in TV ad buys in Arizona for the fall, which is a clear sign Republicans are not confident they’ll defeat Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. Venture capitalist Blake Masters, the GOP nominee, will need to get help from other outside groups or start raising more money in order to come anywhere close to Kelly’s superior fundraising. The state’s partisan lean doesn’t give Kelly much breathing room, but all public and private polling shows the astronaut turned senator with some sort of edge. The race has moved from Toss-up to Tilt Democratic.

If Republicans don’t defeat Kelly, then they will almost certainly have to knock off at least two of Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, Raphael Warnock or Maggie Hassan. Overall, the fight for the Senate remains very close and our projection continues to be a range of Republicans +1 to Democrats +1. The GOP needs a net gain of one seat for a majority, and a December runoff in Georgia could be the ultimate finale.

Latest rating changes

One Senate race shifts toward Democrats:
Arizona Senate (Mark Kelly, D), from Toss-up to Tilt Democratic

Three House races shift toward Democrats:
Kansas’ 3rd District (Sharice Davids, D), from Toss-up to Tilt Democratic
Ohio’s 9th District (Marcy Kaptur, D), from Toss-up to Tilt Democratic
Washington’s 3rd District (Open; Jaime Herrera Beutler, R, lost in primary), from Solid Republican to Likely Republican

One House race shifts toward Republicans:
Oregon’s 6th District (Open; New), from Lean Democratic to Tilt Democratic

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