Key 2020 congressional races: Democrats seek to shore up House majority

Democrats reclaimed the House in 2018 after eight years of Republican control and are expected to keep it in 2020

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published November 3, 2020 8:16PM (EST)

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leaves her news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leaves her news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Update: The Associated Press confirmed on Tuesday that the Democrats will have at least 218 seats in the House of Representatives and, consequently, continue to hold that legislative body.

According to recent reports, President Trump believes that Republicans can retake a majority in the House of Representatives in 2020. He might be the only one. Political experts largely believe that the Democrats are overwhelming favorites to retain control of the House, extending Nancy Pelosi's speakership for one more term — which she has suggested will be her last. It's likely, in fact, that Democrats will expand their majority with wins in at least a few swing districts. But that doesn't mean every House Democrat is safe — or that there aren't going to be critical races to watch.

Nate Silver's website gives Democrats a 97 percent chance of keeping the House, while the Cook Political Report expects Democrats to expand their current 232-197 majority by 10 to 15 seats (one seat is held by an independent and five are currently vacant).

Democrats are only defending 12 open seats, while 32 House Republicans have retired, perhaps an indication that they didn't like their chances in an election year dominated by Trump. FiveThirtyEight's polling average on its congressional generic ballot tracker gives Democrats an average 7.3 percent lead, close to the 8.7 percent lead they held before picking up 40 seats in the "blue wave" of the 2018 midterm elections.

Salon has selected 20 races to watch, some because of how close they're likely to be, and others for more symbolic reasons. For example, the two House Democrats who voted against impeaching Trump earlier this year are both up for reelection — although only one of them is still a Democrat. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota faces a tight race against Republican Michelle Fischbach, whereas Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, who switched to the Republicans after the impeachment vote, appears to trail Democrat nominee Amy Kennedy.

Democrats are also looking to extend their suburban gains from 2018 in places like Indiana's 5th district, where Republican incumbent Susan Brooks is retiring and Democrat Christina Hale faced Republican Victoria Spartz; or in Arkansas' 2nd district, where incumbent Republican Rep. French Hill was running against Democratic challenger Joyce Elliott. Then there are the ripe opportunities for expansion in Texas, including open seats in the Lone Star State's 22nd and 24th districts.

Here are the House races we're tracking. This story will be updated as results continue to roll in.

Arizona, 6th district: Republican David Schweikert (incumbent) vs. Democrat Hiral Tipirneni

Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of this race is the scandals plaguing Schweikert: In July the Republican admitted to 11 ethics violations, including misuse of official funds, as well as violating other congressional and campaign finance rules. Although he was only reprimanded instead of facing harsher legal consequences, it should tell you something that the House resolution was unanimous — a rare moment of bipartisanship.

The Associated Press called this district for Schweikert.

* * *

Arkansas, 2nd district: Republican French Hill (incumbent) vs. Democrat Joyce Elliott

While Arkansas has a reputation as a Republican stronghold, this district only flipped red in 2010 after being held by Democrats for the previous two decades. Elliott was a public school teacher for 30 years before her entry into politics.

The Associated Press called this district for Hill.

* * *

California, 21st district: Democrat T.J. Cox (incumbent) vs. Republican David Valadao

A rematch of the 2018 election in the same district, Valadao is looking to win back a seat that he lost to Cox that year by a razor-thin 862 votes. Even in a state that Biden will win easily, Cox's California seat is won Republicans could get back.

The Associated Press called this district for Valadao.

* * *

Georgia, 7th district: Open — Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux vs. Republican Rich McCormick

Although the incumbent in this district (Republican Rep. Rob Woodall) is not seeking reelection, this is not Bourdeaux's first time appearing on the ballot in that district. She lost to Woodall in 2018 by a mere 433 votes.

The Associated Press called this district for Bourdeaux.

* * *

Indiana, 5th district: Open — Democrat Christina Hale vs. Republican Victoria Spartz

When incumbent Rep. Susan Brooks won the 2018 election in this district as a Republican, she defeated her opponent by a margin of more than 13 points. The mere fact that this district is considered to be close in 2020 marks a significant shift from the status quo only two years ago.

The Associated Press called this district for Spartz.

* * *

Michigan, 3rd district: Open — Democrat Hillary Scholten vs. Republican Peter Meijer

This district is notable because its incumbent, independent Rep. Justin Amash, quit the Republican Party last year because of his opposition to Trump. Prior to his departure, Amash was the first congressional Republican to call for Trump's impeachment, tweeting in May 2019 that "partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances." The question is whether his constituents share his disgust with the president.

The Associated Press called this district for Meijer.

* * *

Minnesota, 7th district: Democrat Collin Peterson (incumbent) vs. Republican Michelle Fischbach

Peterson, who voted against impeaching Trump earlier this year, has described himself as "the only conservative Democrat left, basically" in the House. He is running against former lieutenant governor and state legislator Michelle Fischbach, who is considered competitive even though Peterson has held that seat for 30 years.

The Associated Press called this district for Fischbach.

* * *

Missouri, 2nd district: Republican Ann Wagner (incumbent) vs. Democrat Jill Schupp

Although Wagner won her district by more than 20 points in 2016, her margin fell to a mere four points when ran again in 2018. Wagner has held this district since her first election in 2012.

The Associated Press called this district for Wagner.

* * *

Nebraska, 2nd district: Republican Don Bacon (incumbent) vs. Democrat Kara Eastman

This district is notable because, like Maine's 2nd congressional district, its electoral vote could go to Biden even if the rest of the state is won by Trump. That is because Nebraska divides its electoral votes by congressional district, making Eastman's race perhaps more significant to Biden's Electoral College fate than most other House races.

The Associated Press called this district for Bacon.

* * *

New Jersey, 2nd district: Republican Jeff Van Drew (incumbent) vs. Democrat Amy Kennedy

This is a traditionally conservative district in the southern corner of New Jersey — a perennially blue state in presidential election — and it had been represented by Republican Frank LoBiondo since 1995, until Van Drew was elected as a Democrat in 2018. Van Drew switched parties Republican during Trump's impeachment, however, and it's unclear how his district will react to that.

The Associated Press called this district for Van Drew.

* * *

New Mexico, 2nd district: Democrat Xochitl Torres Small (incumbent) vs. Republican Yvette Herrell

This is another rematch from 2018, when Small eked out a victory over then-incumbent Herrell by just under 4,000 votes, making this a competitive district in a state that is widely expected to go Democratic in the presidential election.

The Associated Press called this district for Herrell.

* * *

New York, 11th district: Democrat Max Rose (incumbent) vs. Republican Nicole Malliotakis

This district in Brooklyn and Staten Island was for years the only Republican district in New York City, and was one of 31 in the House that were won by Trump in 2016 but flipped to the Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections.

The Associated Press called this district for Malliotakis.

* * *

New York, 22nd district: Democrat Anthony Brindisi (incumbent) vs. Republican Claudia Tenney

Another rematch: Tenney was elected in 2016 and lost to Brindisi by less than 5,000 votes in 2018.

* * *

Ohio, 1st district: Republican Steve Chabot (incumbent) vs. Democrat Kate Schroder

This is another district that seems to be creeping blue. In 2016, when Trump was elected, Chabot defeated his Democratic challenger by nearly 20 points. By 2018, however, Chabot's margin narrowed to less than five points.

The Associated Press called this district for Chabot.

* * *

Oklahoma, 5th district: Democrat Kendra Horn (incumbent) vs. Republican Stephanie Bice

This district, which used to be solidly Republican, was one of the major upsets of the 2018 midterms, when Horn defeated claimed then-incumbent Republican Steve Russell by less than 4,000 votes.

The Associated Press called this district for Bice.

* * *

Pennsylvania, 10th district: Republican Scott Perry (incumbent) vs. Democrat Eugene DePasquale

Perry has represented this district since 2012, but national Democrats have focused on this seat — whose boundaries were redrawn in 2018 — as a particularly promising potential acquisition.

The Associated Press called this district for Perry.

* * *

Pennsylvania, 17th district: Democrat Conor Lamb (incumbent) vs. Republican Sean Parnell

Lamb made headlines by winning the traditionally conservative district in a 2018 special election, and then retained the seat in the midterms later that year.

The Associated Press called this district for Lamb.

* * *

Texas, 22nd district: Open — Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni vs. Republican Troy Nehls

Like many of the districts on this list, this one was held by a Republican (Pete Olson) for many years and by comfortable margins. In 2018, however, Olson defeated Kulkarni by less than five points. This year, Olson is retiring and this race appears highly competitive. 

The Associated Press called this race for Nehls.

* * *

Texas, 24th district: Open — Democrat Candace Valenzuela vs. Republican Beth Van Duyne

This seat is being vacated by Republican Kenny Marchant, first elected in 2004. While Marchant defeated Democratic challenger Jan McDowell by roughly 17 points in 2016, that margin narrowed to three points in 2018.

The Associated Press called this district for Van Duyne.

* * *

Utah, 4th district: Democrat Ben McAdams (incumbent) vs. Republican Burgess Owens

McAdams is the former Salt Lake City mayor and managed to ride out that popularity to a 694-vote 2018 victory over the Republican incumbent, Mia Love — but the GOP sees a realistic opportunity to win it back.

The Associated Press called this district for Owens.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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