Welcome to our daily DDHQ House Elections Updates. I’m your host, G. Elliott Morris. Questions, comments, concerns? Feel free to pass along via email or twitter. There are 362 days until the 2018 midterm elections. Democrats are up in the generic ballot by 7.2% and we rate 195 seats as Safe, Likely or Lean Democratic, 14 as Tossup, and 226 as Safe, Likely, or Lean Republican. Check our full U.S. House forecast here and read our full list of ratings here. Sign up here to get these updates via email.
A recap of House election news from November 1 to November 8.
We’re less than a year away from the 2018 midterm elections, though it seems like a decade has past since the last batch. But looking closer to home, a lot has happened in the world of House elections in the past week. We’re going to focus today on the most important news for analyzing prospects in 2018: incumbent retirements. Thanks to my handy-dandy spreadsheet we see that the Republican representatives from TX-05, TX-21, NJ-02, and TX-02 all announced their retirements since last we met. Let’s take a dive into each district to see exactly what that means for 2018!
TX-05: GOP Rep. to leave seat open in 2018. U.S. House Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R) announced October 31 that he will not be running for re-election in 2018, the second Texas Republican to do so. Hensarling is the former leader of the lower chamber’s Republican conference and the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, making him a powerful force in GOP congressional politics. His retirement may be surprising to many, but it does not appear to be too atypical. Hensarling has been in Congress for more than 15 years. He is not “old” in the usual sense for lawmakers, but 60 is generally approaching retirement age. This is especially true if you “never intended to make [Congress] a lifetime commitment,” as Hensarling said. The representative also said that he has teenage children he would like like to spend more time with. Hensarling’s departure will certainly make waves within his committee — but perhaps more importantly, we’re unsure what (if any) waves will be generated in his district. As for the former, Hensarling’s most likely replacement as chair of Financial Services Committee is senior Republican member Peter King of NY-02. But as for the latter, the picture is still muddy.
Rep. Hensarling hails from northeastern Texas, his congressional district situated in suburban Dallas and Mesquite and running down towards Houston. It encompasses some notable rural towns like Athens and Palestine along the way. This area of rural Texas is mostly inhabited by your classic conservative Texan, something that comes through in the Representative’s personality and lawmaking style. According to the political scientists who run VoteView.com, Hensarling is more conservative than 92% of House Republicans. His district, too, according to an analysis of survey data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, is somewhat similarly conservative. Without Hensarling in Congress, who will take up that Conservative mantle?
On the Republican side, the Texas Tribune’s Abby Livingston sought comment from Tea Party sweetheart and former U.S. Rep. from Florida Allen West, now living in Hensarling’s neck of the woods, in which he said “I didn’t move here to run for political office, but that’s some interesting news you just told me.” This sounds a lot like West is entertaining the idea that he’ll run for Congress. If he joins the race — and that’s a big “if” right now — West would likely have support from Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other key Conservative leaders in the state.
On the left, the only candidate that has announced their candidacy for TX-05 thus far is Democrat Dan Wood, a longtime Terrell native and 2012 candidate for Texas 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — which he lost with 47% of the vote. It is unclear if he will be as competitive in Rep. Hensarling’s district as he was in the electorate for the 5th Circuit Court. It can be safely presumed that he’ll get a lot of the urban/suburban Democratic votes in the northwestern part of the district.
We’ll see how the dust settles in this volatile primary field before making any claims about the general election next November, but Decision Desk HQ currently rates TX-05 as Safe Republican.
TX-21: Science Committee Chair to step down. U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith announced last Tuesday that he won’t seek re-election in 2018. Rep. Smith has been in Congress for a very long time; he’ll have 32 years of service by the end of this, his last, term in January of 2019. He has accomplished quite a bit in his tenure in the House, including authoring portions of 1996 immigration reform bill that increased the number of border patrol agents and modernized their toolset (to include helicopters, ATVs, and night-vision goggles). He also embraced his Democratic colleagues in working towards patent and copyright reform.
But what most Americans who recognize Smith will remember him for is the criticism he has received for his record on science, mainly climate change. This would likely fly under the radar if he was not the chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Smith introduced legislation multiple times to limit the regulatory authority of the Environmental Protection Agency and moving NASA’s agenda away from scientific research towards space exploration. His muddy record here does not seem to matter much to his voters, however, because he has been re-elected with more than 60% of the vote since 1986, even while Hillary Clinton came within 10% of Donald Trump here in the 2016 presidential election
But, Rep. Smith won’t be on the ballot next November. So who is up next in this central Texas district? There are six Republicans and Democrats who had announced bids to contest Smith before he announced his resignation from campaigning next cycle and none seem to be going anywhere. Notably absent from the list, however, is Matt McCall, a businessman who earned nearly 30% of primary voters in 2016. For the Democrats running to replace Smith, Joseph Kopser looks to be the most viable option. Kopser raised nearly as much cash as Smith in the third quarter of 2017. Though, with the benefit of hindsight, Smith may not have been making as many calls as usual. We will keep our eye on this Austin, San Antonio, and hill country congressional district, The seat’s placement in these two urban areas (which have been focal points of the #resistance) makes it even more important to watch, as far as a Democratic takeover is concerned.
Decision Desk HQ is keeping the rating of TX-21 at Likely Republican.
TX-02: Third Texas Republican in two weeks announces retirement. Republican Representative Ted Poe announced in the blitz of election night 2017 that he will not be seeking re-election next cycle. That makes him the fifth Texan and fourth Republican to do so since the 2016 House elections ended. Poe is from a strongly Republican district — one that voted for Donald Trump by 9% and Mitt Romney by 27 — that will very likely be rated Safe Republican when campaign season rolls around next spring.
As for benchmarking, Democrat Pat Ryan (who ran against Poe in 2016 and won 36% of the vote) likely has the best shot at winning the nomination again if only because of his advantage with name recognition. That being said, Ryan’s opponent for the Democratic nomination Todd Litton had nearly $230,000 in the bank as of October 31, so he may have more than enough resources to pull off a win. But, even if he does, don’t expect too miraculous a Democratic showing in this high income, white collar area of the western Houston and the city’s northern suburbs.
NJ-02: Republican retires, revealing a Tossup district. New Jersey’s Frank LoBiondo (R), who is tied as the state’s third longest-serving House representative, announced on Tuesday his plans to retire from Congress upon the expiration of his current term. His retirement exposes yet another opportunity for a Democratic pickup as his incumbency advantage disappears.
LoBiondo has served the state of New Jersey since his election to Congress in the 1994 Republican wave, which was largely a reaction to Bill Clinton’s presidency. LoBiondo has since coasted to re-election most years — always by a margin of victory larger than 16% — and even prevailed when most thought he would not. That was the case in 2014 when LoBiondo’s Democratic opponent Bill Hughes Jr. was outspent 4-to-1 and ended up succumbing to the partisanship of the district.
However, with him retiring, our benchmark of the district shifts to its partisanship in presidential elections. Specifically, we look at a combination of the Democrat/Republican’s performance in the district for the past two cycles. So while Donald Trump won the district by 5% in 2016, Barack Obama carried it by 7 and 8 points in the 2008 and 2012 presidential election. In a Democratic environment — one where Trump is indirectly on the ballot, as we saw this week when Democrats made huge gains across the nation — we can envision NJ-02 going either way, perhaps even tilting left under the perfect conditions. But for now we will wait to see how the race shapes up.
Decision Desk HQ rates NJ-02 as Tossup, a shift one category to the left from Lean Republican.
President Trump job approval polling
- Trump’s job approval in my average is 37%.
2018 House Midterms
According to the latest House forecast data…
- Democrats are up 7.5% in my average of generic ballot polls, and 8.4% in our estimates of the election day two-party vote.
- They have about a 51% shot at winning a House majority and an 18% chance of winning more than 250 seats.
- This is a slight increase over last week’s numbers.
- Ronald Brownstein (The Atlantic): Democrats’ Narrow path to Winning the House
- Nate Cohn (NYT Upshot): Democrats Cheer, but They May Have to Do Better in ’18
- Eric Bradner (CNN): Democrats’ chances of taking the House suddenly look a lot better
- Ben Jacobs (The Guardian): A year after Trump’s election, what are Democrats’ chances in 2018?