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The (not really) dangerous (not quite a) dozen open House seats

Number of seats with no incumbents running in 2024 is below average

The decision by Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin to look to the Senate side of the Capitol for her next election leaves open a seat that both parties have a shot at winning next year.
The decision by Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin to look to the Senate side of the Capitol for her next election leaves open a seat that both parties have a shot at winning next year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

For 20 years, Stuart Rothenberg’s Dangerous Dozen House Open Seats was a Roll Call staple, as he pared down the list of districts without an incumbent and studiously ranked them in order of their vulnerability. More than a quarter of the way through the 2024 election cycle, however, there aren’t even a dozen open House seats in the country, and just three of them are remotely competitive. 

Over the past 75 years, 34 House members on average did not seek reelection each cycle, according to Vital Statistics on Congress. That includes a low of 21 members in 1956 and a high of 65 in 1992. When Stu put together his list in May of 2018, he had 57 races from which to choose. 

At this point, just 11 House districts will have no incumbents running in 2024. That’s a typical number for this point in the cycle, and there’s still time for incumbents to announce their decision to forgo reelection or run for another office, but a number of factors make it hard to see how two dozen more members head for the exits.

Overall, this has been a slow developing cycle. Despite some party strategists claiming things are normal and that “it’s still early,” candidates are waiting longer than usual to make their decisions. 

“There’s total instability at the top,” one party strategist said recently, referring to the presidential race. From President Joe Biden’s age and mediocre job approval rating to former President Donald Trump’s mounting legal problems and general ability to turn off independent voters, a rematch offers plenty of uncertainty. And there’s the possibility that Trump isn’t even the nominee.

Without knowing the political environment, most incumbents might just choose to try to ride it out for another race. Republicans are enjoying life in the majority and have a hard time seeing how they’ll lose seats next year with an unpopular president topping the Democratic ticket. And Democrats are close enough to see the majority is within reach under the right circumstances, particularly if Republicans nominate Trump for a third time.

Settling from redistricting could be a factor as well. Faced with new district lines, some incumbents were forced to make tough decisions last cycle. (Indeed, 49 House members did not seek reelection in 2022.) That would leave fewer incumbents to make a tough decision the subsequent cycle, but a new map has been ordered in Alabama, and more may be coming in other states. 

However, looking back at similar cycles in the decade, there hasn’t been a remarkable decrease in House retirements. Thirty-two members, on average, did not seek reelection in the seven election cycles that ended in a “4” over the past 75 years — just two fewer than the overall average.

There also aren’t a lot of opportunities to move up to statewide office. Ten of the 11 open House seats are the result of members running for the Senate: Democratic Reps. Ruben Gallego of Arizona; Barbara Lee, Adam B. Schiff and Katie Porter of California; David Trone of Maryland; Elissa Slotkin of Michigan; Colin Allred of Texas; and Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware, along with GOP Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Alex X. Mooney of West Virginia.

Other House members considering Senate bids would likely have to give up their House seats for an uncertain Senate challenge against an incumbent. And unlike the 2022 cycle, when 36 states elected a governor, just 11 states will elect a governor in 2024, further limiting the opportunities to climb the political ladder. 

Indiana Republican Rep. Victoria Spartz is currently the only House member not seeking reelection without running for another office. 

Biden or Trump won eight of 11 open House seats with at least 57 percent, and some by much more than that. For example, Biden won Lee’s 12th District in California with 89 percent and Gallego’s 3rd District in Arizona with 75 percent. Trump won Banks’ 3rd District in northeast Indiana with 64 percent. Consequently, there’s a very short list of vulnerable House open seats, but still, by tradition, they’re ranked in order of most likely to change party hands:

Michigan’s 7th District. Slotkin’s Senate run opens up this seat, which includes the Lansing area and northwestern Detroit exurbs. Biden would have won the district narrowly in 2020 with just 49.4 percent, so the seat is extremely competitive. And yet neither party has an announced candidate, even though Slotkin announced in February. 

Republicans’ 2022 nominee, state Sen. Tom Barrett, is expected to run again but hasn’t publicly announced his plans, while the biggest initial names on the Democratic side declined to run. Former state Sen. Curtis Hertel is consolidating support behind the scenes, according to Inside Elections’ Erin Covey, although there could still be a primary. This is the type of district Democrats need to win in order to get back to the House majority, but it’s not clear they’ll be able to do so. Inside Elections rating: Toss-up

California’s 47th District. Porter’s Senate run opens up this seat. Biden won the Orange County district with 55 percent in 2020, but the Democratic field has been unsettled since state Sen. Dave Min was arrested for drunken driving in May. Now attorney Joanna Weiss is getting a second look from Democrats. Meanwhile, former state Assemblyman Scott Baugh has consolidated GOP support for a second run after getting overwhelmed by Porter’s fundraising juggernaut in 2022. Inside Elections rating: Tilt Democratic

Maryland’s 6th District. Trone’s Senate run opens up this seat that stretches from Montgomery County in the northern D.C. suburbs all the way to the West Virginia border. Biden won the district with 54 percent in 2020, so it’s within reach for Republicans under certain circumstances, but the GOP is having a hard time coming up with a credible candidate. Most of the action will be in the Democratic primary. State Dels. Joe Vogel and Lesley Lopez are running but could be joined by former Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce April McClain-Delaney, whose husband once held this seat. Inside Elections rating: Likely Democratic

Apparently bemoaning the lack of open seats is also a Roll Call tradition, since Stu wrote a similar column 20 years ago. But even that 2004 cycle ended up being below average.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.

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