The GOP’s Biggest 2018 Election Problem: Republican Representatives in Blue States

The GOP has a 24-seat advantage in the House of Representatives today. But Republicans’ biggest problem headed into 2018 is that their coalition has depended for the last forty years on winning suburban House seats in solidly blue states, and those representatives are in danger of near extinction.

Even ten years ago, let alone twenty or thirty, a state’s “red” or “blue” status in Presidential elections had little to do with its local politics, or the “D” or “R” next to the local representative. There were dozens of Democratic representatives across Alabama, Missouri, and Tennessee, for example, while there were dozens of Republicans in California, New York, and New Jersey.

That changed dramatically beginning in 2010, when Republicans rewrote the House district lines in red states they controlled after the census. This, combined with far greater GOP favoring polarization in the south, wrote the Democrats out of most districts in hard red states except for cities with large African American populations. Now, there are less than 12 Democratic representatives spread across twenty Republican dominated states: West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Montana, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Alaska, Arkansas, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, and Kansas. Twelve of these states don’t have a single Democratic representative.

However, the Republican’s problem is that the same thing has happened to them across the Northeast, and is threatening to happen to them in the three largest “blue” states of New York, California, New Jersey, and two other blue bastions with purple representation: Washington and Virginia. Combined, these five blue states have 39 Republican house members.

California is perhaps the most interesting subject case for 2018. It has become bluer and bluer over the last two decades, yet still has 14 GOP congressmen. Both the GOP Health Repeal and GOP Tax Bill would be devastating to the state, and bring much higher taxes, including to GOP districts, yet the California Republicans led by Kevin McCarthy were crucial to getting both bills passed in the house. California Democrats are eying their seats and polls say they are in significant danger.

Moreover, the underlying Cook Report partisanship leans matched against the generic Congressional ballot match up with the polls: 7 of the 14 GOP Congressmen are in a district with a partisanship index of +/-5, which would be well within range for Democrats with a generic congressional ballot of +9 currently (and rising), while two more, Mimi Walters (+7) and Dana Rohrbacher (who is being pressed hard for his pro-Russia views) are also vulnerable.

Meanwhile, in New York and New Jersey, it’s a similar story. In ever bluer New York, out of 9 GOP Congressmen, six of them have a Cook partisanship rating of +5 or less. In New Jersey, the GOP hold five seats and two, including those of embattled Rep Tom McArthur (who was at the center of the failed healthcare repeal) and the retiring Frank LaBlondio, are in the crosshairs. In Virginia, Barbara Comstock (+1) is extremely vulnerable and the formerly safe seat of the retiring Bob Goodlatte is up for grabs, and in Washington, retiring Dave Reichert and vulnerable Rep Dan Newhouse’s seats are top targets.

Democrats will also look to Illinois, where representatives Roskam (+4), Bost (0), Davis (0), and Kintzinger (+4) are all vulnerable, Minnesota’s Lewis (+2) and Paulson (-1), and Colorado’s Mike Coffman (-2), if the congressional ballot continues to favor at the present rate or gets worse.

For some perspective, the Georgia 6 district, where Democrats lost a close election by 4 points when Trump approval was higher than today, is a Cook Partisan Index +8 district, and the Kansas and Montana districts where Democrats lost by 6 and 7 points, respectively, were both above +10.

Last, there are also enough vulnerable GOP districts in swing states such as those of the retiring Ilena Leitenen (-5) and Carlos Cuebolo (-6) in Florida, Arizona’s Martha McSally (+1), Pennsylvania’s Costello (+2) Meehan (+1), Fitzpatrick (+2), and the retiring Charlie Dent (+4), Michigan’s retiring Dave Trott (+4), and Iowa’s Blum (-) and Young (+1) to make Republicans sweat elsewhere.

Collectively, that is the great Achilles heel for Republicans in the upcoming election. Unlike states like Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Michigan, where gerrymandering has helped insulate GOP reps despite having some that could be challenged in the right wave election, Republicans in purple districts in solidly blue states will be very vulnerable next year unless the political environment changes drastically. And if Republicans lose them, then they will have a very tough challenge ahead in 2020, where they will have no room for error in all the seats they hold in the swing states.

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