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Roads to the House majority: Interstate 5

First part of series examines 12 competitive races along West Coast's main artery

Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Wash., is one of the most vulnerable House incumbents this year.
Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Wash., is one of the most vulnerable House incumbents this year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

First in an occasional series

In the shadow of the presidential race and the fight for control of the Senate, there’s a battle for the House majority as well. 

Talking about a “path to the majority” is typical political parlance by adding up the seats each party would need to win to get to 218. But there are also a handful of literal roads that connect competitive congressional seats.

So over the next few weeks, we’ll take a road trip down some of the nation’s highways and byways (OK, really just highways) to understand whether Republicans or Democrats will control the House next year. So get some snacks, put together your playlist, download some podcasts like this one or that one and buckle up.

Interstate 5 stretches nearly 1,400 miles, from the border with Canada south through Washington, Oregon, and California before it ends at the border with Mexico, short of Tijuana. 

Along the journey down the West Coast, the interstate runs through a dozen districts rated as competitive by Inside Elections. Democrats currently control six of those districts (Washington’s 3rd, Oregon’s 4th and 6th and California’s 9th, 47th and 49th) and Republicans control six (Oregon’s 5th and California’s 13th, 22nd, 27th, 40th, and 45th). 

If Democrats sweep the vulnerable GOP seats, while holding their own, they would exceed the four-seat gain they need for a majority. But the vulnerable Democratic seats give Republicans an opportunity to grow their majority by performing well along Interstate 5.

Here’s a breakdown of the races, grouped by the local name for the highway that connects them.

‘I-5’

Locally referred to as I-5 in the Pacific Northwest, Interstate 5 touches or goes through four competitive House districts in Washington and Oregon. Democrats currently hold three, and probably need a clean sweep of the quartet to get back to a majority. 

I-5 almost bisects Washington’s 3rd District in the southwest corner of the Evergreen State. In 2022, Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez pulled off the upset after Republican Joe Kent edged out GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in the all-party primary for the second spot in the general election. This cycle, Perez is one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the country, and represents the only Toss-up district where then-President Donald Trump outpaced Democratic nominee Joe Biden in 2020. Despite some effort to find a different candidate, Republicans look poised to get behind Kent again. GOP strategists say he’s running a more professional campaign but he’s still got some baggage. 

Further south, I-5 is approximately the dividing line between Oregon’s 5th and 6th Districts, both which are rated as competitive, albeit not to the same degree. 

The 5th District includes Portland suburbs east of I-5 along the Willamette Valley and is currently represented by Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer. It’s an evenly divided district that Biden won in 2020, but the GOP gubernatorial nominee Christine Drazan carried in 2022. Democratic strategists successfully led state Rep. Janelle Bynum through the primary and believe she’ll be able to defeat the congresswoman for a third time, after beating her in two state legislative races. But this race, which is rated as Toss-up, will be tougher for Bynum, particularly if Biden’s underwater poll numbers don’t improve. 

The 6th District is mostly territory west of I-5, including the capital, Salem, as well as Dallas and wine country, and is represented by Democratic Rep. Andrea Salinas. It’s not out of reach for Republicans, but they renominated Mike Erickson, who is personally wealthy but more focused on a lawsuit about their 2022 race than he is on the campaign in 2024. The race is rated Likely Democratic.

Further south on I-5 is the 4th District, including the southwest corner of the state and much of the Oregon coast. Republicans believe Democratic Rep. Val Hoyle is vulnerable from allegations of misconduct during her time as the state’s labor commissioner. But the district is Democratic under most circumstances and GOP nominee Monique DeSpain needs to step up her fundraising. Because of the inexpensive media markets, this race could break late with big outside spending in the last few weeks. Likely Democratic.

‘5’

About 400 miles south along 5, where locals in Northern California tend to drop the “I” when referring to the interstate, sits California’s 9th District. Republicans are excited about their candidate, Stockton Mayor Kevin Lincoln, but Democratic Rep. Josh Harder’s vulnerability has more to do with Biden’s weakness. The president carried the district with 56 percent in 2020, but is struggling in California’s Central Valley. Harder had a $2.7 million to $303,000 cash advantage on March 31, but the race’s Likely Democratic rating could shift in Lincoln’s direction because of the top of the ticket. 

It’s a similar story in the neighboring 13th District to the south — Biden beat Trump with 54 percent in 2020 — except the Modesto-area seat is represented by Republican John Duarte. Ticket-splitting has been rare, so if Biden carries the seat again, then Democrat Adam Gray (who only lost to Duarte by 2 points in 2022) has a chance of knocking off the first-term Republican in this Toss-Up race.

‘The 5’

Venturing into Southern California, the interstate becomes known as “The 5,” as a holdover from when local freeways had names before the numbered interstate system was established in the 1950s. 

GOP Rep. David Valadao represents California’s 22nd District and is no stranger to competitive races. He’s won Democratic-leaning districts in the past (Biden won the 22nd with 55 percent in 2020) but he also lost when the seat was configured differently in 2018. The congressman defeated Democrat Rudy Salas by 3 points in 2022 and faces him again this fall. Democrats thought Biden’s presence at the top of the ticket would put Salas over the top, but that’s less clear at this point. The race is rated Tilt Republican. 

A little further south is California’s 27th District, including part of the San Fernando Valley just north of Los Angeles. GOP Rep. Mike Garcia has won close races in the past, but all against the same flawed Democrat. He’ll face former Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides this time in a Toss-Up race in a district that Biden won with 55 percent in 2020. 

Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Calif., represents a district Democratic nominee Joe Biden won in 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

South of Los Angeles, The 5 bisects a narrow point of California’s 45th District in Orange County near Knott’s Berry Farm. Democrats believe Democrat Derek Tran can appeal to the district’s sizable Vietnamese population against GOP Rep. Michelle Steel, who is Korean-American. Biden carried the district in 2020 with 52 percent, but may not repeat that success, making it more difficult for Tran in a race rated Lean Republican. 

The 5 cuts through parts of California’s 40th District near Santa Ana and further south near Mission Viejo. Democrats are not talking up Joe Kerr’s challenge to GOP Rep. Young Kim, but if Biden rebounds considerably at the top of the ticket (he won the district with 49.9 percent in 2020) then this race could get more competitive. It’s currently rated Likely Republican. 

The neighboring 47th District is arguably one of the top dozen competitive House races in the country. It’s mainly a coastal Orange County seat but The 5 runs through the northern part of the district near Irvine. Rather than seek reelection, Democratic Rep. Katie Porter made an unsuccessful bid for Senate. Republican Scott Baugh lost to Porter in 2022, but has a better chance in an open seat this year against Democratic state Sen. Dave Min. Orange County hasn’t been favorable to Trump, but Biden’s struggles could confirm to long-time Republican voters why they didn’t support Democrats for at least a generation before Trump. The race is rated Tilt Democratic.

The 5 then runs down the coast toward San Diego, taking in much of California’s 49th District. Democratic Rep. Mike Levin isn’t a GOP target after Republican Matt Gunderson finished ahead of other, preferred candidates in the primary. The race is rated Likely Democratic and should stay in the Democratic column under all but the best scenarios for Republicans.

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