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Cook Report: Eight More GOP Seats Move Towards Democrats
Thursday, 04 October 2018 08:25

Wasserman writes: "Five weeks out, several personally popular Republicans who appeared to be defying the "blue wave' in Clinton-won districts are beginning to see their leads erode."

Voters fill out their ballots. (photo: Amber Arnold/AP)
Voters fill out their ballots. (photo: Amber Arnold/AP)

Cook Report: Eight More GOP Seats Move Towards Democrats

By David Wasserman, Cook Political Report

04 October 18


ive weeks out, several personally popular Republicans who appeared to be defying the "blue wave" in Clinton-won districts are beginning to see their leads erode. GOP Reps. Carlos Curbelo (FL-26), John Katko (NY-24) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) led most surveys over the summer but are now prime targets as their well-funded Democratic challengers become better-known and the Kavanaugh debate further polarizes voters into red and blue corners.

It's becoming harder and harder to see Republicans' path to holding the majority. In the past few days, multiple Democrats challengers have announced staggering fundraising totals of more than $3 million during the third quarter of the year, exceeding what many predecessors have raised for an entire cycle. One high-ranking Republican worries his party could be "buried under an avalanche" of Democratic money that GOP outside groups can't match.

After today's ratings changes, there are 15 GOP-held seats in Lean or Likely Democratic (including seven incumbents) and Democrats would only need to win 11 of the 31 races in the Toss Up column to flip the majority. There's still time for political conditions to change, but today the likeliest outcome appears to be a Democratic gain of between 25 and 40 seats (they need 23 for House control). View our full ratings here.

Ratings Changes

FL-26: Carlos Curbelo (R) - Lean R to Toss Up
KS-03: Kevin Yoder (R) - Toss Up to Lean D
MI-03: Justin Amash (R) - Solid R to Likely R
MI-11: OPEN (Trott)(R) - Toss Up to Lean D
NY-21: Elise Stefanik (R) - Solid R to Likely R
NY-24: John Katko (R) - Likely R to Lean R
PA-17: Keith Rothfus (R) - Lean D to Likely D
UT-04: Mia Love (R) - Lean R to Toss Up

Updated Bottom Lines

FL-26: Carlos Curbelo (R) - South: Homestead, The Keys, The Everglades

Toss Up. Over the summer, Curbelo looked in surprisingly good position to defy a "blue wave" in a 69 percent Hispanic district that voted for Hillary Clinton 57 percent to 41 percent. The Cuban-American Republican hasn't been shy about his support for immigration reform and a carbon tax, or calling the president's remarks in Helsinki "unacceptable" and "deeply alarming." Now, both parties acknowledge the race has tightened.

Democratic former FIU official and fundraising consultant Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who lost a state senate race in 2016, isn't the most polished or dynamic candidate. She lost her father to gun violence in Ecuador, but has so far made healthcare her campaign's centerpiece. She and the DCCC have outspent Curbelo on Miami television, pummeling his vote for the GOP healthcare bill as proof he's hiding behind a moderate facade.

A mid-September New York Times/Siena Poll found Curbelo leading 47 percent to 44 percent, and new polls by GBA Strategies (for the DCCC) and GQRR Research (for Mucarsel-Powell) show the Democrat pulling into the lead by a point. Republicans claim these polls are under-sampling Cuban voters, obscuring Curbelo's real lead. Either way, there's little doubt Democrats' heavy spending has taken a toll and made this race closer.

KS-03: Kevin Yoder (R) - East: Greater Kansas City

Lean Democratic. Last week, the NRCC canceled $1 million of its remaining $1.8 million ad buy for Yoder, an admission that the incumbent is now trailing. This highly professional suburban Kansas City seat voted for Hillary Clinton 47 percent to 46 percent in 2016, and the unpopularity of former Gov. Sam Brownback and GOP gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach compound a poor national environment for suburban Kansas Republicans.

Democratic attorney Sharice Davids announced this week that she raised a record-shattering $2.7 million last quarter, outraising Yoder by $1.6 million. Davids, a Native American, lesbian and former MMA fighter who was raised by a single mother in nearby Leavenworth, has an unconventional background to say the least. But so far, she appears to be both energizing Democratic donors and attracting independent voters.

Republicans will no doubt seize on the time Davids has spent outside the state, including attending law school at Cornell University and her activism on Indian Reservations across the country (she's a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin), as evidence she's an elitist with her own agenda. But Davids expressed skepticism towards single-payer healthcare and still beat a Bernie Sanders campaign worker in the primary.

The bigger surprise was in the August GOP primary: Yoder took an underwhelming 68 percent against two opponents who hardly spent any money. At least one Kansas observer attributes his weak showing to blowback against a late July amendment he sponsored in the 2019 appropriations bill designed to overturn Attorney General Jeff Session's new policy on asylum claims. Breitbart described it as "catch-and-release language."

Davids may not be the type of well-established Johnson County moderate that has proven a winning formula for Democrats here in the past. But in 2018, that may matter less. A mid-September New York Times/Siena poll found Davids leading 51 percent to 43 percent, roughly matching most private surveys. Yoder joins the Lean Democratic column.

MI-03: Justin Amash (R) - West central: Grand Rapids, Battle Creek

Likely Republican. Amash, a Freedom Caucus member and heir to Ron Paul's libertarian mantle in the House, has been presumed to be safe thanks to his vocal criticism of President Trump (Amash cited Trump's "dazzling display of pettiness and insecurity" at one point in June). But Democrat Gretchen Whitmer appears to be running away with the governor's race and is giving several Michigan Republicans down-ballot jitters.

This increasingly professional Grand Rapids seat is a Democratic recruitment failure: Cathy Albro, a pro-single-payer former teacher who won the August primary with 68 percent, had raised just $61,000 at the end of July. However, Amash had just $277,000 on hand and doesn't appear to be running a vigorous campaign either. There's also no guarantee his Trump criticism will earn him as many votes from Democrats as he loses from Trump supporters.

Despite the parties' utter lack of activity here, the potential for a horrible night for Michigan Republicans makes overlooked districts like this one watching. Trump only won this seat 52 percent to 42 percent, in line with plenty of other districts that are competitive.

MI-11: OPEN (Trott) (R) - Detroit west suburbs: Livonia, Novi

Lean Democratic. As Democrat Gretchen Whitmer has opened up a lead in the governor's race, Republicans privately acknowledge Democrat Haley Stevens is the favorite over Republican Lena Epstein for this open suburban Detroit seat. Republicans drew the seat to their advantage in 2011, but it voted for President Trump 49 percent to 45 percent and has by far the highest percentage of college graduates in the state.

Epstein, who co-owns her family's auto lubrication dynasty, served as Trump's 2016 Michigan campaign chair and dropped down from the Senate race to this House contest last year. She loaned her campaign $990,000, allowing her to win the primary with 31 percent. But this isn't a hardcore Trump electorate, and Democrats cite her Fox News appearances in support of the GOP's healthcare repeal bill as evidence she's out of touch.

Stevens, 33, won a crowded Democratic primary with 27 percent plays up her role as chief of staff to the Obama Auto Task Force. Republicans will seize on her primary endorsement from Hillary Clinton, and a new America First Action ad morphs Clinton and former Gov. Jennifer Granholm's faces into Stevens's. But it speaks volumes that other GOP groups, including the CLF and NRCC, haven't invested here.

Each side is highlighting their opponent's close association with an unpopular 2016 nominee, but unfortunately for Epstein, this year is shaping up as a referendum on Trump. The race moves to the Lean Democratic column.

NY-21: Elise Stefanik (R) - North: Plattsburgh, Watertown, Saratoga Springs

Likely Republican. Stefanik has built a successful "North Country girl makes good" brand as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress and a hardworking, constituent-services oriented moderate. She won by a whopping 35 points in 2016 (President Trump carried the district by 14 points four years after Barack Obama won it by six). And this year, Stefanik may be somewhat insulated by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Upstate unpopularity.

But it can't be ignored that Democratic nominee Tedra Cobb, a former St. Lawrence County legislator, raised $715,000 in the third quarter of the year and plans to talk about her daughter's pre-existing condition in the context of Stefanik's vote for the Republican healthcare bill. Stefanik is taking the challenge seriously and went up in August with an ad hitting Cobb's votes to raise taxes in the county legislature. Stefanik is still the heavy favorite.

NY-24: John Katko (R) - West central: Syracuse, Oswego

Lean Republican. Democrats all but wrote off this Syracuse seat in June when their favored candidate, former prosecutor Juanita Perez Williams, lost the primary. After all, Katko has built cross-partisan appeal as a tough-on-gangs former local prosecutor and a moderate who voted against the GOP healthcare bill. In 2016, he racked up a staggering 61 percent while Hillary Clinton carried the seat 49 percent to 45 percent.

But the political environment today is vastly different from 2016. Pro-single-payer Democratic nominee Dana Balter, a Syracuse assistant teaching professor and Ph.D. candidate, raised $1.5 million online with the help of Progressive activists and has been on the air since August. Now, the DCCC and House Majority PAC are jumping in with ads. Katko is still the favorite, but both parties agree his lead has narrowed.

PA-17: Keith Rothfus (R) - Pittsburgh suburbs, Beaver County

Likely Democratic. Two weeks ago, the NRCC canceled what was left of its ad buy in Pittsburgh, all but conceding that Rothfus will lose reelection to new Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb. The die here was pretty much cast in February, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court unveiled its new map and threw Rothfus and Lamb into a district that's eight points more Democratic than either of the ones they currently represent.

UT-04: Mia Love (R) - Central: southern Salt Lake City suburbs

Toss Up. Party strategists are arguing over what's the bigger factor in Love's reelection math: drag from President Trump's unpopularity, or a lift from Mitt Romney's Senate bid. Either way, the contest between Love and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams looks likely to go down to the wire. A late August Dan Jones & Associates poll found Love leading 49 percent to 46 percent, and multiple private polls have found it within the margin of error.

Democrats scored a major coup when McAdams decided to run. McAdams, a 43-year-old attorney, won the top county office in 2012 and 2016 and already represents 85 percent of UT-04 (although UT-04 doesn't include Salt Lake City and is much more Republican than the county). McAdams has built a unique brand as a wonky, nerdy Mormon Democrat and cultivated relationships with Republican mayors.

Love has worked hard to change her initial reputation from 2012 as a spotlight seeker and is up with ads lampooning McAdams's past as a Clinton White House intern. In one of his ads, McAdams appears in the shower calling DC "dirty" and pledging he won't vote for Nancy Pelosi. He's also highlighting his undercover stint to draw attention to conditions at county homeless shelters. Trump's dismal Utah numbers make this a highly competitive race.

View our full ratings here.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 04 October 2018 09:30