Election News

Latest House Ratings Changes: Battleground Districts Expanding in Democrats' Favor

March 8, 2018

The team at Sabato's Crystal Ball has made a number of rating changes for the November House races; all of which move in the direction of the Democratic party. The cumulative effect is that, for the first time this cycle, Republicans are favored (leaning Republican or better) in fewer than 218 seats. 218 is the magic number for control of the 435-member House, when there are no vacancies.

With the changes, Republicans are favored in 214 seats this November, Democrats 197, with 24 toss-ups*. Looking at the most 50 most competitive races (toss-ups + leans), Republicans currently hold 45 of them. None of the Democratic incumbents in the five remaining seats are running this November. Put another way, every Democrat seeking re-election this fall is considered safe or likely to hold the seat.

At this point, control of the House is clearly in play, and the number of competitive seats is expanding. However, we're still eight months out from the election, so much can change. If the trend stabilizes, and Republicans can hold the seats where they're currently favored, they don't need to win all that many of the toss-up districts to keep the House. Conversely, if the environment for the GOP continues to worsen, Democrats could easily surpass the 218 they need to take the gavel from Paul Ryan.

Click or tap the map above to explore the interactive House map and create your own forecast. The map has recently been updated to make it easier to use.

* Sabato has also moved their rating for next Tuesday's Pennsylvania PA-18 special election to toss-up. As part of the court-ordered redistricting, a large portion of the current 18th will be in the redrawn, safely Republican PA-14 this November. If the Democrat Conor Lamb wins Tuesday, he's most likely to run in the new PA-17 against 'incumbent' Republican Keith Rothfus. In any case, our map is looking beyond the special election to the ratings for November, which gets us to the 214 Republican total, with 24 toss-ups. 



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Citing Health Problems, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi to Resign April 1

March 5, 2018

Seven-term Sen. Thad Cochran, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced he will resign his seat on April 1st. Cochran, 80, cited health problems in announcing the decision, according to The Associated Press. The Mississippi Republican is currently the 3rd most senior member of the Senate, behind only Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah. Hatch has previously announced he will retire at the end of 2018.

The Republican Gov. Phil Bryant will appoint a temporary replacement. A special election will be held on November 6th, coincident with the 2018 midterms. The winner of that race will serve the remainder of Cochran's term, which will next be contested in 2020.

Mississippi joins Minnesota with both Senate seats up for election in 2018. Republican Roger Wicker is running for a 3rd term in the regularly scheduled election. That seat is safely Republican. Sabato's Crystal Ball is starting the special election race as 'Likely Republican', although it is worth noting that no state in this 'double-barrel' situation has elected Senators of different parties since 1966. 

That the rating is 'likely' instead of 'safe' could partially be due to one quirk of Mississippi special election law. There will be no party primaries and the November 6th election will be nonpartisan. All candidates will run on a single ballot, with party affiliations not listed. If no candidate exceeds 50%, the top two will meet in a runoff. If that involved a Democrat vs. a controversial Republican, there's at least a small chance of a repeat of an upset like we saw in neighboring Alabama late last year.

There will now be 35 Senate seats contested in 2018; 26 are held by Democrats and 9 by Republicans. We'll be updating the Interactive Senate Map in the days ahead to reflect this new race.


Redrawn Pennsylvania Districts Added to House Interactive Map

February 28, 2018

We've updated the 2018 House Interactive Map to reflect the redrawn boundaries for Pennsylvania's 18 congressional districts. Unless blocked by the Supreme Court, these borders are expected to be in place for both the 2018 and 2020 elections. For more information on how we're handling the changes on the map, see 2018 Pennsylvania Redistricting.

The revised map is somewhat more favorable to Democrats, particularly given the overall political environment. That party is also benefiting from departures, as four of 12 Republican incumbents are not seeking re-election. An analysis by Sabato's Crystal Ball goes into detail. At a high level however, there are now five safe Democratic seats and one likely Democratic. In addition there are now three toss-up districts in the Philadelphia area. Contrast that to the five seats Democrats hold today and a gain of anywhere from one to four seats seems plausible.

Note that the March 13th special election in the vacant 18th district will take place within the old boundaries. That race, in a district Donald Trump won by 20 points in 2016, was moved to toss-up this week by The Cook Political Report. The old 18th is now largely the new 14th district, which is even more Republican-leaning. The Sabato article discusses the implications for this race on November. The main takeaway is that if the Democrat Conor Lamb wins, his best bet to stay in Congress is to run in the 17th district against Republican Keith Rothfus.

The new Pennsylvania borders could also prove to be critical in who controls the House after the midterms. Looking at the entire country, Republicans currently control 238 seats, 20 more than the 218 required when there are no vacancies. (There are currently four opens seats, including the aforementioned one in Pennsylvania). The latest projection for November has Republicans at least slightly favored in exactly 218 seats, the lowest it has been this entire cycle.  


Federal Lawsuits Seek to Alter Electoral College Allocation System

February 21, 2018

Lawsuits challenging the winner-take-all system of allocating electoral votes were filed in four states Tuesday. The filings took place in four states which have voted for the same party in the last 7 or more presidential elections. These include California and Massachusetts on the Democratic side and the heavily Republican states of Texas and South Carolina.

The suits do not challenge the use of the Electoral College system - which is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution - but instead that winner-take-all disenfranchises many voters. The ultimate goal of the plaintiffs is to establish an allocation of electoral votes proportional to the popular vote across the 48 states that today use winner-take-all. Nebraska and Maine use a different method that partially allocates electoral votes by congressional district.

The plaintiffs vary by state, but include the League of United Latin American Citizens and former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld. The legal team is led by David Boies, who represented then Vice-President Al Gore in the Bush v. Gore case that resolved the disputed 2000 presidential election. In that election, as in 2016, the Democratic nominee lost the election - by falling short of 270 electoral votes - despite winning the popular vote.

This isn't the first effort to modify winner-take-all. Several state legislatures have introduced their own proposals over the years. These are almost always partisan efforts, occuring when the party controlling the legislature is not the one winning in presidential races. In our Gaming the Electoral College feature, we look at the impact of various methodologies that have been proposed.


Pennsylvania Supreme Court Issues Revised Congressional District Map

February 19, 2018

As expected, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has come out with a revised map for the state's 18 congressional districts. 

Here's the current map (with incumbent party)

The 'instant punditry' on Twitter is that the new map is quite favorable for the Democrats, although we haven't seen any specific district-by-district analysis as of yet. Republicans will almost certainly challenge the ruling.

The full ruling, along with dissenting opinions can be found here.


New Pennsylvania Congressional Map Expected Today

February 19, 2018

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is expected to decide today on new boundaries for the state's 18 congressional districts. The Court had previously indicated it would create the map today if the Republican-controlled Legislature and the Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf were unable to reach agreement on one.

Including individual maps drawn by the Legislature and Governor, seven proposals were submitted for consideration. The Court could choose one of those or create one of its own. It has retained a redistricting expert to assist in the process.

A few notes:

  • The March 13 special election for the vacant 18th district will take place using the current borders
  • The new districts will be effective for voting beginning with the primaries, scheduled for May 15
    • However, the borders will not change for representation purposes until the next Congress (January, 2019)
  • While Pennsylvania is roughly a 50/50 state, Democrats are heavily concentrated in Philadelphia and, to a lesser extent, Pittsburgh. Given other geographic and political factors involved (e.g., contiguous area, keeping counties/towns together wherever possible), it is likely that the new map will still favor Republicans in more districts than Democrats.
  • Assuming no further litigation, the new map will be effective for the 2018 and 2020 elections. After the 2020 Census, most states will engage in a redistricting process that will be effective with the 2022 elections.

Rep. Kevin Cramer to Join North Dakota Senate Race Friday

February 15, 2018

North Dakota's at-large Rep. Kevin Cramer will announce Friday his entry into the U.S. Senate race. The 3-term Republican will give the party a top recruit in its effort to unseat Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

Cramer initially had passed on running, but apparently has had a change of heart in recent days. The only other Republican in the race, state Sen. Tom Campbell, may shift over to run for Cramer's seat in the House. 

A Facebook page 'Kevin Cramer for US Senate' posted that the announcement would come late Friday afternoon in Bismarck.

Cramer will become the 51st current House member to pass on re-election to that body in 2018. He'll be the 10th of those running for the U.S. Senate.  We'll add him to the list of retirements when the announcement is official.

Kramer won his third term in 2016 by 45%, while Donald Trump won the state by 36%. This is Heitkamp's first term; she won election in 2012 by just under 1%. 


Pa. Gov. Wolf Rejects Revised Congressional Map

February 13, 2018

Pennsylvania's Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has rejected the revised congressional map submitted late last week by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The two parties have until Thursday to agree on a new map or the Court will draw one of its own.

The proposed map was redrawn after an order by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last month that held the current congressional district borders were unconstitutional. An appeal of this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied.

While the revised map meet some of the Court's specifications regarding geographic compactness and political (e.g., county and/or city) boundaries, numerous analyses have found the submitted map to be roughly as partisan as the current map. 

Current Map, seats held by party (from our Interactive House Map, choose Pennsylvania in the drop down):

Proposed Map (from the Washington Post, based on presidential margin of victory in 2016):

The Court order specified that the new borders will be effective for the 2018 midterms, beginning with the state's primaries, scheduled for May 15th. However, the special election for the vacant 18th district, scheduled for March 13th, will take place under the existing boundaries.


Minnesota Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan to Retire

February 9, 2018

Minnesota Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan announced he won't run for re-election in 2018. Nolan's 8th district, which covers the northeastern part of the state, including Duluth, was one of just 12 nationally that elected a Democrat to the House in 2016 while also voting for Donald Trump. Trump won by over 15%* here, while Nolan won re-election by less than 1%. While the race remains a toss-up, per Kyle Kondik at Sabato's Crystal Ball, it does represent one of the few attractive pickup opportunities for Republicans in this year's midterms.

Nolan is the 50th current member of the U.S. House to not stand for re-election. The list includes 34 Republicans and 16 Democrats. In addition to Nolan, Minnesota's Democratic 1st District Rep. Timothy Waltz is leaving; he is running for governor.

Five of Minnesota's eight districts are expected to be at least somewhat competitive in 2018. No states with more districts has this high a percentage of competitive races.

* Of the 12 districts, only the adjacent 7th district went more heavily for Trump that year. He won by 31% there. The long-time Democratic incumbent, Collin Peterson, won a 14th term by 5%.


There are 1,000 Days Until the 2020 Presidential Election

February 7, 2018

Today (February 7th) marks 1,000 days until the 2020 presidential election. That will take place on Tuesday, November 3rd 2020. There are 272 days until this year's midterm elections on November 6th. 

The last time a presidential election occurred on November 3rd was in 1992, when Democrat Bill Clinton defeated incumbent Republican George H.W. Bush.



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