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How to tell if the GOP is heading for a landslide in the House

<i>J. Scott Applewhite/AP/FILE</i><br/>The chamber of the US House of Representatives is seen at the US Capitol on February 28.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP/FILE
The chamber of the US House of Representatives is seen at the US Capitol on February 28.

By Simone Pathe, CNN

The conditions are ripe for Republicans to win the US House of Representatives. So while Senate control is still up for grabs, the discussion on the House side has shifted to just how large a possible new GOP majority could be.

Republicans only need a net gain of five seats to win the chamber. They can get there just by picking up Democratic-held seats that former President Donald Trump won in 2020, plus others that shifted closer toward the GOP in redistricting.

They can pick up even more seats by winning in suburban areas that deserted the GOP during Trump’s presidency. Many of this year’s toss-up races are playing out in the suburbs, offering a key test of whether well-educated and more affluent voters who left the Republican Party in 2018 will come back now that Trump is out of the White House.

The backdrop to these individual races is a national environment that would appear to be a boon to the GOP. Even after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade injected a heavy dose of uncertainty into the political landscape this summer, the economy and inflation remain the most pressing concerns for voters, a dynamic that plays into Republican attacks on the party in power. Republicans also have history on their side, since a new president’s party often loses seats in the midterms — especially a president with approval ratings like Joe Biden’s.

All of those tailwinds are easier for the GOP to take advantage of in House races. Although these contests take place in 435 individual districts, they tend to be more nationalized affairs since candidates have less defined brands than senators.

In part because of those national conditions, Republicans are also targeting some districts that Biden would have won by double digits under the new lines. But that’s also a reflection of the gains they made in 2020; the GOP needs to reach even deeper into Biden territory to find Democratic-held seats they can go after. Underscoring Democrats’ defensive posture, 9 of the 10 House races seeing the most ad spending in the final week feature vulnerable incumbent Democrats.

Democratic retirements opened new opportunities across the map, including in places such as Rhode Island, giving House Republicans another viable district to try to regain a foothold in New England after being wiped out in 2018. Those open seats are harder for Democrats to defend because they generally require outside groups to spend more than they would have had to with an incumbent in the race raising money.

Nationally, redistricting benefited House Republicans overall, though things turned out better for Democrats than expected — just not everywhere. In fact, Republicans have chances to flip all the races they’d need to win the House in two blue states alone — Oregon and New York — thanks to a combination of new maps and open seats.

To win the House majority, however, Republicans need to hold most of their own seats. That requires defending seats Democrats are targeting, including those that became bluer in redistricting.

Here are some key House races to keep an eye on that could determine whether Republicans win the majority — and, assuming they do, the kinds of races that may signal just how much of a “red wave” is cresting over Washington. Race ratings come from Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. This list is by no means exhaustive and may be updated as we get closer to Election Day.

The freebie districts

These are seats that the GOP should be winning easily because they shifted so much toward Republicans in redistricting that they’re barely competitive. In some of them, the Democratic incumbent either retired or is running in a different district.

Tennessee’s 5th District (Likely Republican)

Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper, a 16-term member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, decided against running for reelection after state Republicans redrew his Nashville-area district into one that clearly favors the GOP. The previous version had voted for Biden by nearly 24 points, but Trump would have won the new version by 11 points.

Florida’s 7th District (Likely Republican)

Democrats are losing another moderate Blue Dog member in Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a member of the January 6 committee who’s not running for reelection. It’s harder for Democrats to defend this seat, north of Orlando, without Murphy, a strong incumbent with a compelling personal story as the first Vietnamese American woman to serve in Congress. And it’s even harder in a district that got more Republican, with the new version shifting about 15 points toward Trump.

Georgia’s 6th District (Likely Republican)

This suburban Atlanta seat was also redrawn by Republicans to be significantly redder — so much so that Rep. Lucy McBath opted to take on a fellow Democratic incumbent — and won the primary — in the neighboring 7th District, leaving this seat open. Trump would have won the new 6th District by 15 points.

Texas’ 38th District (Solid Republican)

The GOP redraw of Texas’ congressional map significantly reduced the number of competitive districts, and Republicans have a prime pickup opportunity in this new Houston-area seat that Trump would have won by 18 points. Republican Wesley Hunt — a favorite GOP recruit who lost a bid for a different seat to Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in 2020 — is heavily favored in the new district. Hunt’s victory could increase the number of Black Republicans in the House.

The nearly surrendered districts

These are the kinds of districts that either shifted away from Democrats in redistricting or that they just don’t have enough money to defend — perhaps because they’re open seats or because outside groups need the money elsewhere. This list isn’t exhaustive, but Republican should be able to pick up some of these seats — and if they’re not, they may not be in for as good as a night as they’d hoped.

Arizona’s 2nd District (Lean Republican)

Republicans feel good about this largely rural district in northeastern Arizona because it got much tougher for three-term Rep. Tom O’Halleran. (Trump would have won it by 8 points, while Biden won O’Halleran’s current seat by about 2 points.) The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made a late investment in the race in October.

Wisconsin’s 3rd District (Lean Republican)

This is an open seat Republicans are favored to pick up. Democratic Rep. Ron Kind won reelection in 2020 while Trump was carrying the district by about 5 points, making Kind one of the relatively few House lawmakers to represent a district won by the presidential nominee of the opposing party. That already made the seat a top GOP target, but then Kind announced last summer that he wasn’t running for reelection. Republican Derrick Van Orden, whom Kind narrowly defeated in 2020, is running again. Van Orden attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021, but has said he never entered the Capitol.

Texas’ 15th District (Lean Republican)

This is one of three Rio Grande Valley districts at play this year that will test whether Republicans can deepen their inroads with Hispanic voters in South Texas. It’s an open seat because Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez is running for a different, more favorable seat after redistricting made the 15th District more competitive for Republicans. And national Democrats have already directed spending to other races, suggesting Republican Monica De La Cruz, whom Gonzalez narrowly defeated in 2020, has the edge against progressive Democrat Michelle Vallejo in a redrawn seat that Trump would have carried by 3 points.

Michigan’s 10th District (Lean Republican)

Michigan lost a seat in reapportionment. Rep. Andy Levin’s decision to unsuccessfully take on a fellow Democratic incumbent in a neighboring seat left Democrats without an incumbent running in the 10th District in suburban Detroit. Trump would have won the new 10th District, which is rooted in Macomb County, by just 1 point. Republican John James — who lost two recent bids for US Senate in the Wolverine State — is a strong fundraiser and well positioned to win this race.

The better-than-last-time battlegrounds

These are battleground districts that voted narrowly for Trump or Biden and are expected to see close races. But these seats may be more favorable to Republicans because of how they were redrawn or because of the specific candidate matchups. Democrats flipped many of these seats in the 2018 blue wave, making the districts natural GOP targets in a more favorable national environment. Again, this list isn’t exhaustive, but these are the kinds of districts Republicans should be winning if they’re having a decently good night.

Iowa’s 3rd District (Tilt Republican)

This Des Moines-area seat shifted ever so slightly toward Trump in redistricting. It typifies a middle-of-the-road district where the tension between Democratic messaging on abortion and Republican messaging on inflation is at a head. Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne is running for a third term against Republican state Sen. Zach Nunn, an Air Force veteran. Nunn is one of the rare Republicans to mention abortion on the airwaves, trying to flip the Democrats’ narrative about whose position is extreme.

Virginia’s 2nd District (Tilt Republican)

This is another suburban seat Democrats flipped in 2018. Two years later, Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria won a rematch against former GOP Rep. Scott Taylor. But this time, she has a new opponent in Jen Kiggans, a fellow Navy veteran who cuts a remarkably similar profile in this military-heavy district anchored in Virginia Beach. The district got slightly better for Republicans in redistricting — Biden carried the previous version by 5 points and would have won by 2 points under the new lines.

New Jersey’s 7th District (Tilt Republican)

Another member of the class of 2018, Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski, is running in more challenging terrain that now includes more of the rural northwestern part of the state, in addition to the well-educated and affluent New York City suburbs that helped him flip the seat in the Trump era. (The district is also home to Trump’s Bedminster golf club.) The new district would have backed Biden by 4 points, a drop from his 10-point victory margin under the previous lines. Malinowski faces a rematch with former state Sen. Tom Kean Jr., whom he barely beat in 2020 and whose father was a popular governor.

Pennsylvania’s 7th District (Toss-up)

Another House rematch got tougher for Democrats when this eastern Pennsylvania district shifted from one that had backed Biden by 5 points to one that would have backed him by half a point. Democratic Rep. Susan Wild, another incumbent first elected in 2018, is up against Republican Lisa Scheller, whom she narrowly defeated in 2020.

The knife’s edge battlegrounds

These are Democratic-held seats — many of them in suburban areas — that could go either way, but if Republicans are winning these kinds of seats, not all of which are listed here, they’ll be having a very good night. (Of course, Republicans have battlegrounds they have to defend too. Skip to the end for more on those.)

Washington’s 8th District (Toss-up)

Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier — the only female physician in the House — is running for a third term against Republican Matt Larkin. The redrawn district, which includes areas just outside Seattle and Tacoma, would have voted for Biden by 7 points. In a sign of Democrats’ defensive posture on crime and policing this year, Schrier has been trying to stress her independence and tout her ties to law enforcement in her paid advertising, while painting her opponent as “dangerous” for his views on abortion. Larkin has argued that the Democrat “can’t be trusted to keep us safe” and that she votes with Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Oregon’s 5th District (Tilt Republican)

This is an open seat because Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader, a moderate Blue Dog member who was Biden’s first congressional endorsee of the cycle, lost his primary earlier this year to progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner. Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer, the former mayor of Happy Valley, is trying to flip the redrawn district in the Portland and Bend suburbs, which Biden would have won by 8 points. Republicans are going after the Democrat for her previous political work in California, while she’s hitting back with an ad featuring the former Bend chief of police refuting attacks that she supports defunding the police. Regardless of how this race goes, it’ll be a chance for women to grow their ranks in the House.

Oregon’s 6th District (Toss-up)

State Democrats drew this new seat south of Portland, which Biden would have won by 13 points, as an easy pickup for their party. But Republican Mike Erickson — who lost a 2008 challenge to Schrader — is leaning into classic GOP attack lines trying to tie his Democratic opponent, state Rep. Andrea Salinas, to high inflation and spending in Washington, DC. Republicans are also running a misleading ad campaign accusing Salinas of voting to defund the police. (As a CNN fact check notes, none of the three bills the ad cites actually defunded the police.) Democratic ads highlight that Salinas is the daughter of a police officer.

Nevada’s 3rd District (Tilt Democratic)

This district, located south and west of Las Vegas, will test the resonance of the GOP’s economic message, even in a seat that got more Democratic in redistricting. (Biden would have carried the redrawn 3rd District by about 7 points compared with less than half a point under the old lines.) Republican April Becker, who ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 2020, is talking about Washington spending and inflation as she tries to unseat Democratic Rep. Susie Lee. The two-term congresswoman is trying to brand Becker as “way too extreme” — pointing to everything from abortion to the Republican’s actions around the 2020 election (Becker alleged there was voter fraud in her 2020 loss and sought a new election). Becker says she’s against a national abortion ban, but that isn’t stopping Democrats from attacking her as someone supported by those who want a ban.

Colorado’s 8th District (Tilt Republican)

Colorado added this seat north of Denver, which Biden would have won by less than 5 points, following reapportionment after the 2020 census. Democratic groups spent a relatively small amount trying to elevate a more conservative Republican in the primary, but state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer emerged as the nominee against Democratic state Rep. Yadira Caraveo, a pediatrician. Both sides are attacking each other over their records in the state legislature. This race, which has shifted from a “Toss-up” toward Republicans in the final stretch, will be a test of the appeal of Republicans in the suburbs and among some Hispanic voters. And whichever way this new seat goes, it’s a chance to elect another woman to the House.

The tougher battlegrounds

These are among some of the strongest battle-tested Democratic incumbents, many with significant resources. If Republicans are winning these seats, they’re having a very good night.

Maine’s 2nd District (Tilt Democratic)

Rep. Jared Golden, one of the few Democrats to represent a district Trump carried twice, is about to see whether a Democrat with his own brand can buck the national environment. A Marine veteran first elected in 2018, Golden has voted against many of his party’s priorities in Washington, DC, with the recent health care, climate and tax package being a notable exception. But he’s up against a known commodity and strong fundraiser in former GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin, whose 2018 defeat eliminated the last Republican in the House from New England. But as in that race four years ago, ranked-choice voting makes the race difficult to predict.

Alaska’s At-Large District (Lean Democratic)

Ranked-choice voting will also likely be in play in Alaska’s At-Large District, which had been in GOP hands for nearly 50 years before Democrats flipped it in a special election this summer with a focus on abortion rights. Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola became the first Alaska Native in Congress, but she’ll face former Gov. Sarah Palin, among others, again in November. GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who’s up for reelection this year, has said she plans to rank Peltola first on her ballot.

Pennsylvania’s 8th District (Toss-up)

Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright is another incumbent used to running in Trump territory, although the redrawn version of his northeastern Pennsylvania district would have voted for the former President by a slightly smaller margin (3 points) in 2020 — compared with 5 points under the previous lines. The five-term congressman faces a rematch against Republican Jim Bognet, whom he narrowly defeated two years ago in a district that includes Biden’s hometown of Scranton. Cartwright’s ads speak to his challenge — appealing to Trump voters in a national environment that favors Republicans. One spot features a Biden voter and Trump voter explaining that their support for the congressman is the only thing they can agree on.

Virginia’s 7th District (Tilt Democratic)

Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer, is one of many members of the class of 2018 — particularly those with national security backgrounds — who are top GOP targets this cycle. And though her district became bluer in redistricting, she’s tried to distance herself from national Democrats. (She is running ads touting the endorsement of a former GOP congressman and a Republican police officer, for example.) She may also benefit from running against Republican Yesli Vega, who’s been painted as too conservative for this district, which now extends to some of the suburbs around Washington, DC. Still, the national environment is keeping this one close, and the race is among those attracting the most ad spending — more than $26 million since Labor Day.

Michigan’s 7th District (Tilt Democratic)

Another high-profile member of that group of national security Democrats is Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who flipped a GOP-held Michigan district in 2018 and went on to win reelection in 2020 while Trump was narrowly carrying her seat. Slotkin is running this year in a district that split just about evenly in the 2020 presidential contest. The race has drawn more than $30 million in ad spending just since Labor Day, according to AdImpact data. Republicans should normally be able to ride the national tailwinds in such a district, but Slotkin is known to be a hardworking incumbent with a massive war chest. She entered October with nearly $4 million compared with $115,000 for Republican challenger Tom Barrett, who blames Biden and Slotkin for higher fuel costs. Sporting a “Dad” T-shirt in one recent spot, the state senator talks about how expensive it is to fuel up his family’s minivan. Slotkin is touting Democrats’ efforts to allow Medicare to negotiate certain drug costs, tying it to her own experience of watching her mom struggle with costs when she had cancer. Slotkin received an endorsement Thursday from Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who said she will also campaign with the Democrat.

Michigan’s 8th District (Lean Democratic)

Five-term Rep. Dan Kildee — a well-known name in the state after he succeeded his uncle in Congress — isn’t used to having competitive races. He won reelection in 2020 by nearly 13 points. But his redrawn district would have backed Biden by just 2 points, and that has made him a top GOP target. Kildee is up against Republican Paul Junge, who lost to Slotkin in the previous version of the 8th District in 2020. The National Republican Congressional Committee launched an ad that attempted to tie the incumbent to the Biden White House’s initial insistence that inflation was “transitory.” Junge has also claimed that Kildee is backed by groups who want to defund the police, but as a CNN fact check noted, he’s explicitly rejected that idea. Kildee is using a sheriff on camera to defend his record.

Minnesota’s 2nd District (Toss-up)

Minnesota is an especially potent place for police messaging after George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis led to protests and an unsuccessful 2021 ballot initiative to overhaul policing in the city. But Democratic Rep. Angie Craig, who flipped this district south of the Twin Cities in 2018, has responded to the GOP attacks with an ad featuring a sheriff who says the Democrat stood up to her own party and opposed that ballot measure. While GOP nominee Tyler Kistner has tried to attack the incumbent on inflation and crime, Craig has a significant financial advantage that could help her overcome a national environment unfavorable to Democrats.

New Hampshire’s 1st District (Tilt Democratic)

National Republicans seemed to think they would have had a better shot with 2020 nominee Matt Mowers taking on Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas again, but Mowers lost the September primary to Karoline Leavitt, a fellow former Trump administration official. Leavitt has more fully embraced Trump and his false rhetoric about a stolen election, which could alienate some of the voters Republicans would normally need to win in New Hampshire. (Biden would have won the district by about 6 points.) If she wins, Leavitt could become one of the first members of Generation Z — those born after 1996 — elected to Congress.

Texas’ 28th District (Lean Democratic)

Rep. Henry Cuellar — the lone House Democrat who votes against abortion rights — is trying to hold on to a Rio Grande Valley district where Republicans are looking to make inroads with Latino voters. After fending off the same progressive primary challenger for the second cycle in a row, Cuellar now faces Republican Cassy Garcia in a district that would have backed Biden by 7 points. Republicans have tried to make Cuellar out to be a creature of Washington — with one ad even suggesting he’s living like a “king” — while also pointing to an FBI search of his home as part of an investigation in which the Democrat has denied any wrongdoing.

New York’s 17th District (Toss-up)

Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the chair of the party’s House campaign arm, is locked in a tight race with Republican state Assemblyman Mike Lawler. Biden would have won this redrawn Lower Hudson Valley district by roughly 10 points, so victory for Lawler and Republicans, who have spent big on the campaign, would suggest more Democratic losses to come on election night. The same goes for the state’s 3rd and 4th Districts on Long Island. The seats opened up when Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice opted to retire and Rep. Tom Suozzi launched an unsuccessful primary challenge to Gov. Kathy Hochul. Democrats Robert Zimmerman (in the 3rd District) and Laura Gillen (in the 4th District) have been hit hard by their Republican opponents on crime and inflation. If they fall, many Democratic strategists say, the party’s House majority is almost sure to follow.

Bracing for a GOP landslide

These are the kinds of seats where Republican victories would suggest they’re having a really good night and building a very significant majority in the House. Inside Elections moved its ratings for five of these six races to be less safe for Democrats in the final week before the election.

Indiana’s 1st District (Lean Democratic)

This northwestern Indiana district has been trending toward Republicans — and they’re targeting it this year with a strong recruit in Iraq War veteran Jennifer-Ruth Green, who could diversity the ranks of the House GOP. She had outraised Democratic Rep. Frank Mrvan by the end of September and began October with more money in the bank. Biden would have won this traditionally Democratic district by 8 points, but even if it doesn’t flip, the margin here on election night could say a lot about how rough a night Democrats could be in for.

Rhode Island’s 2nd District (Toss-up) and Connecticut’s 5th District (Toss-up)

Besides Maine’s 2nd District, Republicans’ best opportunities to win back seats in New England are in Rhode Island and Connecticut. Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin’s retirement created an open western Rhode Island seat that Biden would have won by 14 points. (For comparison, he would have won the state’s neighboring 1st District by 29 points.) Republicans have a strong recruit in the 2nd District in former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who didn’t have a primary and is well known in the area. Democrat Seth Magaziner, the state treasurer, emerged handily from the mid-September primary but has had a shorter runway to pivot to the general election. Connecticut’s 5th District, by contrast, is not an open seat, so it may be a slightly harder one for Republicans to peel off. Democratic Rep. Jahana Hayes, who was first elected in 2018, faces Republican former state Sen. George Logan. But both races have shifted from favoring Democrats to toss-ups in the final weeks.

California’s 47th and 49th districts (Tilt Democratic)

A cluster of races out West could also signal that Republicans are having a huge night. They’re targeting Democratic Reps. Mike Levin in California’s 49th’s District and Katie Porter in California’s 47th, both of which Biden would have carried by 11 points. Both seats moved away from Democrats in the final stretch, with Inside Elections shifting their rating from “Lean Democratic” to “Tilt” — the narrowest degree of Democratic favorability.

Oregon’s 4th District (Tilt Democratic)

Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio is leaving behind an open seat, which Republican Alek Skarlatos, whom DeFazio beat by about 5 points in 2020, is running for again. But the seat got more Democratic in redistricting this year and would have backed Biden by nearly 13 points. Still, Inside Elections also moved this away from Democrats slightly in the final days of the campaign.

Republicans on defense

It’s not all offensive targets for the House GOP. They also need to defend their own seats, and each one they lose is one they’d have to gain elsewhere to advance toward the majority. These are just a few examples of the districts they’re defending.

Ohio’s 1st District (Toss-up)

Democrats have targeted Republican Rep. Steve Chabot for years. But this year, the district lines are much more favorable for them — Biden would have carried the redrawn version of this Cincinnati-area district by about 9 points, whereas Trump narrowly carried the previous version. Democrats are attacking Chabot over his opposition to abortion rights, while the congressman is leaning into economic messaging about inflation, arguing that voters “can’t afford” his Democratic opponent, Greg Landsman. Republicans have also tried to tie Landsman, a member of the Cincinnati City Council, to the movement to defund the police. (Landsman has his own ad with uniformed officers disputing that attack.)

California’s 22nd District (Toss-up)

Rep. David Valadao is one of only two of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last year who is on the ballot this fall. The other lawmakers either called it quits or were defeated in their primaries. In a rare move for the former President, Trump did not endorse against the congressman, but Valadao still drew a challenge from his right in the June top-two primary. He advanced to the general election with Democratic Assemblymember Rudy Salas but faces a tough race in a district Biden would have carried by 13 points.

California’s 27th District (Tilt Republican)

GOP Rep. Mike Garcia is in another rematch with Democrat Christy Smith after defeating her in a 2020 special election and the regular general election later that year. He benefits from a favorable national environment this year, even in a Los Angeles-area district that Biden would have won by about 12 points.

Nebraska’s 2nd District (Toss-up)

This suburban Omaha seat has been a perennial target for Democrats after Republican Don Bacon flipped it in 2016 as Trump was narrowly carrying it. But Biden won it four years later by 7 points (and would have carried the redrawn version by a similar 6-point margin). Now the three-term congressman is up against state Sen. Tony Vargas in a race that will test the GOP’s post-Trump strength in the suburbs.

Texas’ 34th District (Toss-up)

Republicans are on defense in this Rio Grande Valley seat after Mayra Flores won the special election in June to fill a vacancy in the old version of the seat. That made her the first Mexican-born woman elected to Congress. But Flores now faces Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez in a redrawn district that got much more Democratic in redistricting. (Biden won the previous version of the district by about 4 points but would have carried it by about 16 points under the new lines.)

Michigan’s 3rd District (Lean Democratic)

Republican chances here got steeper for two reasons. One, the district became more Democratic in redistricting, and two, GOP Rep. Peter Meijer, who voted for Trump’s impeachment, lost his primary after Democrats meddled in the race. That strategy could backfire, though, if Republican nominee John Gibbs, an election denier, pulls off a win.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Gregory Krieg, Renée Rigdon and David Wright contributed to this report.

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