Campaigns

DCCC sets its eyes on Texas suburbs and beyond for 2020

House Democrats unveiled their offensive targets for presidential year

Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, won re-election to his suburban Dallas seat last fall by just 3 points. He’s on the Democrats’ target list for 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

On the heels of their historic midterm success, the House Democratic campaign arm has identified 32 Republican-held seats it’d like to peel off in 2020. 

Democrats netted 40 seats in the chamber last fall by going after the suburbs and areas of diverse and rapid population growth where President Donald Trump has been unpopular. The party is looking to the next tier of these districts to help them make more gains next year. 

“2018 was just the tip of the iceberg for Democrats,” DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos said in a statement. 

Inclusion on this list doesn’t necessarily mean national Democrats will spend money in all of these districts. And as much as they’d like to grow their majority in a presidential year, Democrats will also be defending 31 districts that Trump carried in 2016. But the party is banking on the president remaining unpopular with suburban Republicans and independents and continuing to energize Democrats.

A Monday DCCC memo specifically cited House Republicans’ votes against individual bills that would have funded parts of the government during the shutdown. On Friday, the DCCC targeted 25 incumbents on the shutdown with its first digital expenditure of the cycle. Democrats are also signaling they’ll continue to keep their focus on health care, as well as an anti-corruption message they think paid off in 2018. Regardless of what happens in North Carolina’s 9th District, which the DCCC is also targeting as an open seat, they will likely try to tie other Republicans to alleged election fraud connected to Mark Harris’ campaign. 

About two dozen Republicans on the DCCC’s list won by less than 5 points last fall, including Harris. Six of those seats are in Texas, where many of the Democrats’ offensive targets are concentrated

Also watch: First 2020 Senate race ratings are here

Changing districts

Democrats are hoping the Lone Star State may be the California of 2018 — the epicenter of red-to-blue flips. The party is once again zeroing in on perennial target Rep. Will Hurd, who is one of three Republicans nationwide to have survived in districts Hillary Clinton won. He defeated Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, who’s considering another bid, by less than half a point.

The five other Texas targets sit in districts Trump won comfortably, some by double digits. But many of those Republicans had relatively narrow victories last fall. Trump carried the 31st District, for example, by 13 points, but GOP Rep. John Carter only won re-election by 3. Rep. Michael McCaul, former chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, won his eighth term by 4 points. Longtime Reps. Pete Olson and Kenny Marchant won election by less than 5 points, as did freshman Rep. Chip Roy

Democrats are targeting similar areas of growth in places like Georgia and Missouri. Rep. Rob Woodall survived by just 419 votes in the Atlanta suburbs. He hadn’t taken his race seriously, airing his first TV ad just the week before Election Day. Rep. Ann Wagner is also a target after winning re-election by just 4 points in a suburban St. Louis district Trump won by 10. North Carolina Rep. George Holding was a late Democratic target last cycle who ended up winning by a more comfortable 5 points. But given the population growth in the Raleigh suburbs, his district could become more competitive for Democrats. Washington’s Jaime Herrera Beutler also won by 5 points in a similarly suburban district. 

Near-misses 

And then there are the near-misses — the races Democrats seriously contested in 2018 but fell just short of winning.

Freshman Jim Hagedorn won Minnesota’s 1st District by less than half a point, although contesting this seat in a presidential year might be challenging since Trump carried it by 15 points. Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis survived by less than a point, setting up what’s likely to be a top target for 2020.

As one of the other Republicans holding a Clinton district, Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, who won by less than 3 points, is always going to be an attractive target for Democrats. The same goes for New York Rep. John Katko, although Democrats have struggled to put him on the defensive despite him holding a Clinton seat. 

Kentucky Rep. Andy Barr faced one of the most well-financed challengers in Democrat Amy McGrath last year. He held on by 3 points, but is again a target. McGrath was far from the DCCC’s favorite candidate and hasn’t said yet whether she’ll run again.

The DCCC didn’t get its preferred candidate in Nebraska’s 2nd District last year either. GOP Rep. Don Bacon ended up defeating Kara Eastman by 2 points, and she’s already said she’s running again. It remains to be seen whether former Rep. Brad Ashford, a Blue Dog, or his wife may run for the Democratic nomination.

Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, the former chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, won re-election last fall by less than 5 points. Democrats are targeting him again, but what they’re really hoping for is an Upton retirement that would open up the 6th District. The DCCC also added New York Rep. Peter T. King to its retirement watch list. The 14-term Republican won his Long Island seat by 6 points last fall. An overwhelming majority of the DCCC’s targets have never served in the minority before, which Democrats are hoping may compel some of them to call it quits. 

Reaches 

Many of these Republicans have been targets before, but a handful on the DCCC’s 2020 list survived by fairly comfortable margins, suggesting knocking them off could be tougher.

Florida Rep. Brian Mast, for example, is a well-liked incumbent who prevailed by nearly 9 points last fall. Democrats added Colorado Rep. Scott Tipton to its expanded battlefield in 2016, but he held on by 14 points and then again by 8 points last fall. Democrats are hoping the Hispanic population in Tipton’s district and the African-American population in Mast’s could give them a boost in two key presidential states. 

The presidential race could also influence Rep. Steve Chabot’s race in Ohio’s 1st District, where the incumbent won by 4 points after his Democratic opponent faced negative headlines later in the race. Presidential dynamics may also help in Pennsylvania where Scott Perry and Mike Kelly had surprisingly close finishes last fall, given the support for Trump in their districts in 2016. 

Trump carried New York Rep. Lee Zeldin’s Long Island seat by 12 points, and the congressman held on by 4 points last year. But Zeldin is on the list because it’s a suburban area with a history of supporting Democrats. North Carolina Rep. Ted Budd also survived by 6 points, but Clinton performed the best in the 13th District of any GOP-held Tar Heel seat. It’s also possible North Carolina has a new map before 2020.

Just a couple of Republican names are new to a list like this. Indiana Rep. Susan W. Brooks represents the kind of next tier suburban seat Democrats will be fixing on, after defeating the likes of Barbara Comstock in Virginia. She won re-election to her suburban Indianapolis seat by 14 points. Arizona Rep. David Schweikert won re-election by 10 points, but Democrats are eyeing the increasingly suburban and well-educated population in the Phoenix-area 6th District. He’s also been the subject of an Ethics Committee investigation. 

The scandalized 

Democrats tried to tie all Republicans to a culture of corruption in 2018, but several incumbents who have had their own ethical quandaries actually survived, albeit narrowly. These Republicans represent districts where Trump did well, so their inclusion on the target list says much more about them than about their districts. New York Rep. Chris Collins held on by less than half a point, while California Rep. Duncan Hunter won by 3 points. 

Iowa Rep. Steve King has already earned a rebuke from the House and several primary challengers, while Democrat J.D. Scholten may be eyeing a rematch after losing to King by just 3 points last year. Similarly, Trump ally Devin Nunes of California is a Democratic target because of his high-profile connection to the administration, not because of his district — though he had his closest race last year, winning by 5 points.

Meanwhile, concerns about his alleged campaign finance abuses have been building since Florida freshman Ross Spano won the 15th District by 6 points, landing him a spot on this list after a closer-than-expected contest in a Trump district last fall. 

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