The US House majority is in play next year after a weak GOP midterm showing and recent court ruling
Jul 12, 2023, 9:05 PM
(AP Photo/Jonathan J. Cooper)
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Republican Rep. David Schweikert used to win his wealthy, suburban Phoenix congressional district by nearly 30 points. Then Donald Trump was elected president, and his victories started shrinking.
Schweikert, who won his last election by just 3,200 votes, is now among the top 2024 targets for Democrats, who sense better-than-expected odds of retaking the House majority they lost last year.
After an anemic showing in the midterms, Republicans have virtually no cushion in their quest to retain control of the House, which was made all the more complicated by a surprise U.S. Supreme Court decision last month that will likely bring two new safely Democratic districts. Democrats need to pick up just five seats to control the House.
Republicans are counting on a strong showing from incumbents like Schweikert, one of 18 GOP lawmakers representing districts that supported Democrat Joe Biden for president in 2020. Many are in upscale suburbs like Scottsdale that lean conservative but have rejected Trump and the party he now dominates.
In contrast, only five Democrats represent districts that Trump won.
“I’ve been Republican since JFK,” said Roy Ross, a 74-year-old retired oil company manager who registered as an independent when he moved to Schweikert’s district from Tennessee two years ago. “But the last two elections, I just said, ‘I can’t do that.’”
Still, he said, “I can’t say that I’m hearing a lot from Democrats, either.”
Schweikert’s fate in Arizona, and that of the GOP’s House majority, will come down to the decisions of voters like Ross.
Other factors make for a volatile 2024 House landscape and point to terrain much more favorable to Democrats than what they faced in last year’s midterms.
Trump is the early front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, which could drive up turnout among his critics and force vulnerable Republicans to take uncomfortable positions. And abortion, which helped power Democratic victories in the midterms, remains salient a year after the conservative majority on the Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.
Democrats are already targeting key Republicans over abortion and looking to tie them to GOP figures like Trump who are unpopular with swing voters.
“Between overturning state-level protections for reproductive freedoms to prioritizing tax breaks for the wealthiest few and big corporations, vulnerable Republicans are signing their own pink slips ahead of next November’s election,” said Courtney Rice, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Democrats’ campaign arm.
Republicans see plenty of reasons for optimism. Looking to expand the playing field beyond the 18 districts that voted for Biden, Republicans are targeting 37 other districts where they believe a Democratic incumbent is vulnerable.
Two Democrats from swing districts — Reps. Katie Porter in California — are leaving their House seats to run for the Senate, improving the odds for Republicans who won’t have to run against an incumbent. Biden’s lackluster popularity could be a drain on his party, and prices for gas, food and housing remain high.
“Democrats are reminding voters why they took away the Democrats’ gavels in the first place – extreme, unreasonable, and out of touch,” said Rep. Richard Hudson, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the GOP’s House race arm. “Republicans are on offense, recruiting dynamic candidates and out-raising the Democrats, putting us in position to grow our majority.”
After Trump’s 2016 election, Schweikert’s district started trending toward the center as some voters who historically backed Republicans reluctantly voted for Democrats or left their ballots blank. Redistricting ahead of the 2022 midterms accelerated the trend.
Schweikert eked out a victory of less than 1 percentage point last year against a relatively unknown rival who got minimal support from national Democrats. Neither party will be ignoring the district this time around. Democrats have already started attacking Schweikert over abortion.
The race has attracted interest from a crowded field of Democrats, with no obvious front-runner.
Schweikert has walked a fine line, managing to avoid associating too closely with Trump without jeopardizing his path to the GOP nomination. On abortion, he says he opposes it but believes it should be left to the states.
“The parties have changed,” Schweikert said, describing the district’s shifting voting patterns between conversations with doctors, entrepreneurs and a physicist at a neighborhood parade in Arcadia, one of Phoenix’s most prestigious enclaves. “These people want me to fixate on their prosperity and not the eccentricities of the virus, the last election, those sorts of things.”
The U.S. Supreme Court found last month that Alabama’s congressional map violated the Voting Rights Act, a ruling that will require the state to create a second majority-Black district that strategists in both parties believe will be safely Democratic. Thanks to the ruling, a similar process is likely to play out in Louisiana, giving Democrats another safe seat.
In New York, Democrats are hopeful an ongoing lawsuit will allow them to draw new boundaries that tilt in their favor.
But Republicans have the advantage in North Carolina, where conservatives recently took the majority of the state Supreme Court and are expected to draw new maps that favor the GOP. The U.S. Supreme Court just reaffirmed the court’s power to get involved.
Control of the House will largely come down to staunchly red or blue states that won’t get much attention from presidential campaigns.
More than half of the 18 Republican-held districts that Biden won are in New York and California, two states that defied the midterm Democratic successes in much of the rest of the country. Most of the rest are scattered around the West — two in Arizona and one each in New Mexico and Oregon.
Strategists who work on House races believe several factors were behind Democrats’ struggles in New York and California, states they usually dominate. They say voters there were uniquely drawn to Republican messaging targeting crime and homelessness and, as residents of states staunchly supportive of abortion rights, were less swayed by fears of losing access. Republicans still see crime and homelessness as potent issues, along with immigration.
“There are two public policy issues that look as though they could dominate next year’s election, abortion and immigration,” said Dan Schnur, a former Republican strategist who now teaches politics at three California universities. “Both of the parties are not only vulnerable on one of those issues but don’t appear to have any clue as to how to deal with them.”