Behind the Scenes of Race Ratings: The Candidate Interview
Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales

Curious about what goes on behind the scenes at the Roll Call-Inside Elections political handicapping factory? Well wonder no more as Nathan Gonzales and the Roll Call team give you an inside look at what happens in the candidate interviews. 

Some Answers, More Questions for Mysterious Club for Conservatives PAC
Background, finances a tangled web

Inflammatory, hyperpartisan fundraising emails are a standard part of the election process, but who’s behind them can sometimes be a mystery. Take the case of a political action committee set up last fall that raised over $160,000 by sending out roughly a dozen emails.

Since its inception in October, the Club for Conservatives PAC has been a confusing web of details. The group’s year-end report with the Federal Election Commission provided more information about its fundraising and spending, but also raised new questions about its operations.

Rating Change: Nolan Announcement Shifts Minnesota Open Seat to Toss-Up
But past results not good news for GOP

Minnesota Rep. Rick Nolan announced his retirement Friday, leaving Democrats with a vulnerable open seat to defend in a cycle when they need to gain 24 seats for a majority.

On one hand, the open seat looks like a gift to Republicans considering Donald Trump carried the district by nearly 16 points in 2016. Nolan is one of just 12 Democrats who represent a district that Trump carried in 2012, according to Daily Kos Elections, and won two close and expensive re-election races.

Podcast: ​In Search of the Ideal Political Map
Roll Call Decoder, Episode 3

Courts are weighing in as never before on whether gerrymandering can be too political. If red and blue can no longer constitutionally dominate the mapmakers’ work, what are they to do? As Roll Call election analyst Nathan Gonzales explains, it’s very difficult to draw districts that are at once competitive, compact and fair to minority voters. And the 2018 primaries are about to get started.

 Show Notes:

Rating Change: New Jersey Open Seat Shifts to Toss-Up
Trump carried Frelinghuysen’s 11th District by 1 point in 2016

Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s retirement makes his 11th District of New Jersey even more vulnerable for his party. 

While the congressman had some of his own baggage — an employee at a local bank landed in hot water with her employer when the congressman alerted the CEO that she was a Democratic activist — and it was unclear whether he was ready for a difficult re-election fight, his family has been a staple of New Jersey politics for generations and Frelinghuysen outperformed Donald Trump in the district in 2016. 

Pennsylvania’s 7th: How Do You Rate a Race for a Seat That Doesn’t Exist?
Keystone State district lines likely to change with new map

The deep, dark secret of political handicapping is that there isn’t a singular equation that can project the winner of each congressional race. It is helpful to know who is running and where they are running. But thanks to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court throwing out the Republican-drawn congressional map and GOP incumbent Patrick Meehan’s retirement, we barely know anything about this year’s race in the 7th District.

On Thursday evening, Meehan finally announced his decision not to seek a fifth term after allegations of sexual misconduct with a former staffer and a futile attempt to explain away his conduct.

Rating Change: Special Election in Ohio’s 12th Likely to Get Closer
Enthusiasm advantage could give Democrats a shot at Tiberi’s seat

In a time of political uncertainty, there appears to be one constant: Special elections in Republican districts and states are neither boring nor safe. Right now, there’s no reason to believe the race in Ohio’s 12th District will be any different.

GOP Rep. Pat Tiberi’s resignation to lead the Ohio Business Roundtable opens up the central Ohio seat for the first time since 2000, when Republican Rep. John R. Kasich left Congress to run for president. The district hasn’t elected a Democrat since the early 1980s, but the minority party has demonstrated an enthusiasm advantage over the last year that could boost an unlikely candidate once again.

Rating Change: Meehan Seat More Vulnerable for GOP
Pennsylvania Republican faces sexual misconduct allegations

Republican Rep. Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania is the latest lawmaker hit with allegations of sexual misconduct, putting his suburban Philadelphia seat at even more risk of a Democratic takeover.

GOP leadership removed Meehan from the House Ethics Committee within hours of the initial New York Times report that he used funds from his personal office to settle a sexual harassment complaint with a former member of his staff. The congressman has denied any wrongdoing.

Old Photos That Current Candidates Might Not Want You to See
A Throwback Thursday to four familiar faces

Since the internet has deemed Thursday the appropriate time to turn back the clock, I dug through Roll Call’s extensive photo archives for some old photos of current candidates who previously ran for another office. Not only is there a little more gray hair this time around, but it’s a good lesson in perseverance.

Back in 2006, Texas Republican Van Taylor received national attention as an Iraq War veteran running for Congress as the war was becoming increasingly unpopular. He lost in the blue wave to Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards. But Taylor was subsequently elected to the state Legislature and is now the prohibitive favorite for Texas’ 3rd District seat, which is open because Republican incumbent Sam Johnson is not seeking re-election.

How the Open Seats Are (or Aren’t) Creating Opportunities in the House
 

Four House Republicans have already this year announced plans to retire, continuing a trend that began in 2017. Roll Call elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales unpacks how the wave of GOP retirements could affect Democrats’ chances of flipping seats come November....
Rating Update: Race for Issa’s Open Seat Remains a Toss-Up for Now
California’s 49th District rejected Trump in 2016

A new day, a new Republican retirement, but a similar story. On Wednesday, GOP Rep. Darrell Issa announced he will not seek re-election to his Southern California district, leaving Republicans to defend another open seat that Hillary Clinton carried.

Similar to California’s 39th District, where GOP Rep. Ed Royce just announced his retirement, Issa’s 49th District has in recent history usually voted for Republican candidates but rejected Donald Trump for president in 2016. Voters there also nearly threw out Issa, who had become known for his Benghazi investigations.

Ratings Change: Open Seat Shifts California Race to Toss-Up
Rep. Ed Royce’s retirement gives Democrats a shot

Democrats have been targeting California’s 39th District ever since Hillary Clinton carried it over Donald Trump in the last presidential race. But Republican Rep. Ed Royce’s retirement announcement Monday gives them an opportunity to take over a seat without having to defeat an entrenched incumbent who had $3.5 million in his campaign account at the end of September.

The scope of the Democratic opportunity in Southern California depends on whether Clinton’s performance is the new normal (she carried the district 52 percent to 43 percent) or whether 2016 was an aberration. The 39th District could still be fundamentally Republican, considering 2012, when Mitt Romney carried it 51 percent to 47 percent and Republican Elizabeth Emken outperformed Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein 51 percent to 49 percent, even though she lost statewide by 25 points.

Rating Change: Virginia Senate Race Moves to Solid Democratic
GOP prospects dim in race against Tim Kaine

Just a dozen years ago, Virginia sent two Republicans to the United States Senate. Now the GOP is at risk of losing its fifth consecutive Senate election.

In 2006, Democrat Jim Webb knocked off GOP Sen. George Allen 49.6 percent to 49.2 percent in the Democratic wave. Two years later, Democrat Mark Warner drubbed former GOP Gov. Jim Gilmore 65 percent to 34 percent to take over retiring Republican Sen. John W. Warner’s seat. In 2012, Democrat Tim Kaine defeated Allen 53 percent to 47 percent when Webb decided not to seek re-election. And in 2014, Warner appeared to be caught off guard during a Republican wave but still defeated Ed Gillespie 49 percent to 48 percent.

Ratings Change: Culberson’s Texas Seat Creeps Closer to Toss-Up
7th District shifts from Leans Republican to Tilts Republican

Every cycle there is a member of Congress who fails to modernize his campaign and adapt to new challenges, whether it’s Florida’s John Mica last cycle or George Gekas of Pennsylvania from further back. Texas Republican John Culberson might be the newest addition to the club.

He was re-elected in 2016 with 56 percent in an uneventful race, but Hillary Clinton narrowly carried the district (49-47 percent), making Culberson one of 23 Republicans representing districts won by the Democratic presidential nominee, and a Democratic takeover target.

The Curious Case of the Club for Conservatives, Part Two
Club grows harder to track with new emails, names and addresses

Roy Moore suffered a historic defeat in Alabama, but it’s unclear whether a political action committee that formed to help his campaign will carry on the fight — and continue to do it in mysterious ways.

On Dec. 1, I published an article about the newly-formed Club for Conservatives PAC and a confusing web of fundraising screeds, mailing addresses, URLs and a mysterious treasurer who doesn’t appear to have an online profile despite averaging over 1,000 words in each request for money. Treasurer Brooke Pendley and other members of the Pendley family did not return emails, phone calls and Twitter messages when contacted for clarity about the group.

Ratings Change: Pennsylvania Seat More Vulnerable in Special Election
18th Districts shifts from Solid Republican to Likely Republican

While the dust has barely settled on Democrat Doug Jones’ historic victory in Alabama, the next special election is just three months away. Republicans normally wouldn’t have trouble winning a district like Pennsylvania’s 18th, considering Donald Trump carried it by nearly 20 points in 2016. But the 2017 slate of special elections demonstrated Republicans’ ability to turn every race into a struggle, even in favorable territory.

Earlier this fall, GOP Rep. Tim Murphy publicly admitted to having an extra-marital affair, text messages surfaced in which he urged his mistress to have an abortion and a separate memo that alleged a toxic work environment in his office went public. The congressman eventually resigned, effective Oct. 21.

10 Thoughts After the Alabama Senate Election
Republicans avoid one headache but the civil war isn’t over

One of the best parts about covering elections is that there is always a result. After all the prognosticating, projecting, discussing and arguing, there’s a winner. But determining the true meaning of victory and loss can be difficult.

There will be plenty of time to analyze the Alabama Senate special election (at least until the next special election on March 13 in Pennsylvania’s 18th District), but here are some initial postelection thoughts:

Ratings Change: Franken Steps Down Amid Allegations, Seat Starts Likely Democratic
Minnesota Senator resigns after colleagues call for his exit

Sen. Al Franken’s resignation puts another Democratic seat into the 2018 mix, but it’s still unclear whether his departure provides Republicans with a legitimate takeover opportunity.

To handicap a race, it’s helpful to know where the contest will take place and who is running. In this case, we know the place is Minnesota, where, despite Donald Trump’s surge in the Midwest, Hillary Clinton narrowly prevailed in 2016, 46-45 percent, and where Republicans haven’t won a Senate race since Norm Coleman’s 2-point victory in 2002.

Ratings Update: Tennessee Senate Remains Solid R for Now
Democrats may still have uphill battle, even with Bredesen

Democrats made a big splash this week with the entry of former Gov. Phil Bredesen into the Tennessee Senate race, but the party still has an uphill battle in a state President Donald Trump won convincingly, and it’s not even clear Bredesen gives Democrats the best chance of winning.

On the surface, having a former two-term governor running for an open seat (GOP Sen. Bob Corker is not running for re-election) looks like a great takeover opportunity for Democrats, but there are some signs that the race should still be considered a long shot.

No One Is Afraid of a Government Shutdown
Democrats nor Republicans while White House seems to encourage it

Call me crazy, but I don’t think we’ll see a compromise before the looming budget deadline. Why? Because no one in Washington is particularly afraid of a government shutdown.

Democrats aren’t afraid of a government shutdown because Republicans are in control of the legislative and executive branches, and they believe the GOP will get blamed for the impasse.