Mike Coffman

House Rating Changes: Five More Races Move Towards Democrats

Wasserman Photo
September 26, 2018

Six weeks out, Republican ads aiming to disqualify Democrats early don't appear to be sticking. House polling — both public and private — was already tenuous for the GOP, but has become noticeably more dire since Labor Day. Independent polls in the last two weeks show Reps. Mimi Walters (CA-45), Leonard Lance (NJ-07) and Dave Brat (VA-07) trailing. Not long ago, they were in the Lean Republican column.

There are a few notable exceptions. Rep. Andy Barr (KY-06) has erased his deficit, in part thanks to GOP ads hitting Democrat Amy McGrath for bragging at an out-of-state fundraiser that "I am further left than anybody in the state of Kentucky." And, Republicans continue to see better-than-expected numbers in significantly Hispanic districts like California's 39th CD, Florida's 26th and 27th CDs and Texas's 23rd CD.

But both parties are seeing Republicans' numbers continuing to erode in professional suburbs, and some in the GOP fear they still haven't hit "rock bottom." This week, five more districts move towards Democrats. Overall, 13 GOP seats now lean to Democrats and another 29 are Toss Ups. Right now the likeliest outcome is a Democratic gain in the 25 to 40 seat range (Democrats need 23 for a majority). View our full ratings here.

Rating Changes:

CO-06: Mike Coffman (R) - Toss Up to Lean D ←
NY-02: Peter King (R) - Solid R to Likely R ←
NC-13: Ted Budd (R) - Lean R to Toss Up ←
PA-01: Brian Fitzpatrick (R) - Lean R to Toss Up ←
TX-31: John Carter (R) - Likely R to Lean R ←

Bottom Lines:

CO-06: Mike Coffman (R) - Denver southeast suburbs: Aurora, Littleton
Lean Democratic. A New York Times/Siena poll taken last week showed Coffman trailing attorney and former Army Ranger Jason Crow 51 percent to 40 percent. Republicans admit Coffman has been badly outspent in the past month, but insist the race is much closer and believe a new ad that accuses "trial lawyer" Crow of representing a client who defrauded a veterans' hospital will turn things in Coffman's favor.

As his suburban Denver district has gotten bluer, the 63-year old Coffman has had to adapt to survive. He's learned Spanish and has even held fundraisers with the district's Eritrean and Ethiopian communities. But he's never had to run in this hostile a political climate, and polls suggest the bottom may be dropping out for the GOP in professional suburbs. There's still plenty of time left, but Coffman is behind today.

NY-02: Peter King (R) - South Shore Long Island: Islip, Babylon
Likely Republican. Thirteen-term Long Island GOP Rep. Pete King has routinely clobbered his opposition, taking more than 62 percent in three of his past four races. But he also hasn't faced a real opponent in decades. Democrat Liuba Grechen Shirley, 37, was just 11 when King, 74, was first elected, and the non-profit consultant has raised over $1 million with the help of EMILY's List. She's running as a "working mom" and an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-style outsider.

Shirley will cast King as an out-of-touch, pro-life career pol who voted to repeal protections for pre-existing conditions in a South Shore seat that voted for Barack Obama by four points in 2012 and for President Trump by nine points in 2016. King has built an independent reputation over the years, loudly criticizing some in his own party and voting against the GOP tax package. King has $3 million on hand, but Shirley recently beat the incumbent to the cable airwaves.

NC-13: Ted Budd (R) - West central: Greensboro, Statesville
Toss Up. This matchup may be the biggest culture clash in the country: Budd is a gun store owner and first-term Freedom Caucus member who homeschools his children in rural Davie County. Wealthy Democratic philanthropist Kathy Manning was the chief fundraiser for Greensboro's $78 million performing arts center scheduled to open next year. If ever there was a race that's "all about that base," this is it.

It's also behaving like open seat: Budd remains relatively unknown and undefined after winning this seat in 2016 with just 20 percent of the vote in the crowded GOP primary and some help from the Club for Growth. And even though the district voted for President Trump 53 percent to 44 percent, Greensboro may be energized and there aren't compelling statewide races to turn out rural GOP voters.

Manning has outraised Budd $1.9 million to $1.2 million and has aired ads touting her opposition to Nancy Pelosi for speaker in an effort to pre-empt attacks on her as a liberal elitist. Her extensive list of political donations over the years should provide fodder for Budd, but he'll need a bailout from GOP outside groups. Several private polls on both sides show Budd stuck in the low-to-mid 40s, a dangerous place to be.

PA-01: Brian Fitzpatrick (R) - Southeast: Bucks County
Toss Up. This Bucks County seat appeared to be slipping away from Democrats when they nominated multi-millionaire former lobbyist Scott Wallace and Fitzpatrick was endorsed by the AFL-CIO and Gabrielle Giffords. But with six weeks to go, Republicans haven't disqualified Wallace and the Democrat's prodigious self-funding is keeping him in close contention with the incumbent.

So far, Republicans have bizarrely sidestepped their own best talking points. Instead of casting Wallace as an elitist who's dwelled in mansions in Maryland and South Africa, the NRCC has attacked Wallace's philanthropy for devoting millions to "socialists" and a population control group aiming to stop "irresponsible breeding." Several GOP strategists grumbles the ads are clunky, confusing attempts at guilt by association.

Moreover, Fitzpatrick's ads have highlighted his work to combat opioids and attacked Wallace for giving to a group that "gave voice to convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal." But he's yet to truly pitch voters on his moderation and support from Democrats. At the end of the day, those pluses will only matter if voters find out about them. Right now, President Trump's unpopularity is defining the race, and that's bad for the GOP.

TX-31: John Carter (R) - Central: Round Rock, Temple, Killeen
Lean Republican. A new ALG Research poll for Democrat MJ Hegar's campaign shows her within four points of Carter, 46 percent to 42 percent, closing the deficit from nine last month. Republicans beg to differ, but it makes some sense considering Hegar has had the airwaves to herself the last few weeks with 30-second versions of her "Doors" ad that became a viral fundraising sensation over the summer.

Carter, 76, has been a fixture in local politics for decades, including as a judge. But he's never faced a competitive general election since winning this seat in 2002, and took an anemic 65 percent in this year's primary. And Austin's northern suburbs are moderating quickly. The 31st CD, which takes in Round Rock and part of Fort Hood, gave President Trump 53 percent in 2016 after giving Mitt Romney 60 percent in 2012.

Hegar, a search-and-rescue pilot, was awarded a Purple Heart and a Distinguished Flying Cross for valor after her helicopter was shot down and ambushed in Afghanistan in 2009. Hegar subsequently wrote a successful book, "Shoot Like a Girl," and got tattoos to cover her shrapnel wounds. Her ads detail how she sued the Defense Department to overturn a rule barring women from many combat positions.

Carter and Republicans will surely paint Hegar as a darling of Hollywood liberal elites (her life story is on the verge of being made into a movie starring Angelina Jolie), but will need to be careful to avoid appearing to attack her military service. Carter never served in uniform but will campaign on his advocacy for Fort Hood. Hegar's messaging head start and Carter's lack of preparedness may force Republicans to divert cash here.

Image: Mike Coffman | Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski