lauren underwood

House Rating Changes: Post-Kavanaugh Polls Reveal an Even More Polarized Landscape

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October 12, 2018

It's not saying much, but House Republicans have seen more bright spots in the past week of polling since the Kavanaugh confirmation fight than they saw in over a month. Both sides agree Democrats' enthusiasm advantage has narrowed, and Republicans are benefiting from their base "waking up" in red districts. However, there's little evidence of movement in blue and swing districts.

Republicans suddenly feel more confident about several incumbents who have previously been tied or behind but have the luxury of sitting in Trump-won districts: Reps. Mike Bost (IL-12), John Faso (NY-19), Claudia Tenney (NY-22) and Steve Chabot (OH-01). They're also newly optimistic about Toss Up open seats in Trump country, like Kansas's 2nd CD and North Carolina's 9th CD.

However, it shouldn't come as a shock that the highly charged Supreme Court fracas has barely moved the needle in high-income, Clinton-won suburbs. Republicans are especially concerned about Reps. Mimi Walters (CA-45) and Peter Roskam (IL-06), who now appear to be narrowly behind. In fact, there's evidence the map was beginning to polarize before the Kavanaugh fight.

Republicans continue to face especially strong headwinds in states where gubernatorial races aren't going well for them. Illinois, where GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner trails by more than 15 points is a particular concern as Roskam and Rep. Randy Hultgren (IL-14) face an onslaught of Democratic cash in the Chicago media market. But Michigan and Kansas are giving the GOP down-ballot woes too.

Democrats remain clear favorites for the House majority, but a modest increase in GOP intent to vote may curtail how deep they can push the battlefield into red districts where Trump won by larger margins. Our outlook remains a Democratic gain of between 25 and 40 seats, but if the election were held this week the result might be on the lower end of that range.

Rating Changes

IL-06: Roskam - Toss Up to Lean D ←
IL-14: Hultgren - Lean R to Toss Up ←
NV-04: OPEN - Likely D to Lean D →

Updated Bottom Lines

IL-06: Peter Roskam (R) - Chicago west suburbs: Wheaton, Palatine
Lean Democratic. Democrats didn't get their ideal nominee here back in March, but in this kind of political environment, it may not matter. Roskam, who hasn't had a competitive race since beating now-Sen. Tammy Duckworth for this seat in 2006, is now trailing scientist and energy businessman Sean Casten in both parties' polling. And Roskam's attacks on Casten don't seem to be sticking.

These high-income Chicago suburbs are unraveling for the GOP: despite Democrats packing the 6th CD with Republicans in 2011, it voted for Hillary Clinton 50 percent to 43 percent in 2016. Roskam, the former House GOP chief deputy whip, voted for his party's healthcare and tax bills. And now, Casten and the DCCC are pounding Roskam for voting with President Trump "94 percent of the time."

Democrats suffered a slight setback when Casten defeated initial frontrunner Kelly Mazeski in the primary, 30 percent to 27 percent. Mazeski had a powerful story of surviving breast cancer, but she split primary votes with four other women. Casten has run ads on climate change, an issue that may not resonate as strongly with the country club Republicans as changes to the SALT deduction.

The GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund used August and September to go nuclear on Casten, alleging he "cashed in on taxpayer subsidies" and "gave himself huge bonuses" while his renewable energy business "tanked," leaving investors high and dry. But while the NRCC is continuing to spend out of loyalty to Roskam, the CLF hasn't seen much return on its investment and may opt out.

Casten announced raising $2.6 million in the third quarter alone, more than Roskam had in cash on hand at the end of June. But the real GOP fear is that Gov. Bruce Rauner is polling so badly in his reelection race that he could drag others down with him. This race is far from over, but Casten is the favorite today.

IL-14: Randy Hultgren (R) - Chicago north and west exurbs: Batavia, McHenry
Toss Up. A Siena College/New York Times poll taken the past week showed Hultgren leading Democratic nurse and former HHS official Lauren Underwood 47 percent to 43 percent. But the poll also found the four-term GOP incumbent unknown to 42 percent of voters, an ominous omen for a down-the-line conservative in a heavily suburban seat that voted for President Trump just 48 percent to 45 percent.

When Republican strategists express worry about getting buried by a "green wave" of Democratic cash, the expensive Chicago media market could be a prime example. Hultgren, not known for his pizzazz, had $1 million on hand at the end of June. But the 32-year old Underwood raised $2 million in the most recent fundraising quarter and could outspend Hultgren considerably in the final stretch.

Underwood has been up on air since mid-September with an ad talking about her pre-existing heart condition and how Hultgren's vote to repeal the ACA inspired her to run. This week, Hultgren and the NRCC felt compelled to respond with ads accusing Underwood of being "bankrolled" by state House Speaker Mike Madigan's machine and supporting a "government takeover of healthcare."

The big danger for Illinois Republicans: Gov. Bruce Rauner is getting trounced in his reelection race and could drag others down with him. A new Reuters/Ipsos/University of Virginia Center for Politics poll found Democrats leading the generic congressional ballot in Illinois 57 percent to 35 percent. That's particularly treacherous for GOP members who lack their own strong brand, such as Hultgren.

NV-04: OPEN (Kihuen) (D) - South central: northern Las Vegas suburbs
Lean Democratic. Democrats were relieved when freshman Rep. Ruben Kihuen, accused of making unwanted sexual advances to a campaign aide, didn't file. But former Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford, who held this seat for a term before losing to Republican Cresent Hardy 49 percent to 46 percent, is once again struggling to put Hardy away in a rematch.

The 4th CD is 54 percent non-white and voted for Hillary Clinton 50 percent to 45 percent in 2016. The only reason Hardy won in 2014 was that Democratic turnout plummeted in the absence of a competitive statewide race and Horsford was caught napping That won't be the case in 2018, as amped up Democrats fight to turn out voters for competitive Senate and governor races.

But Horsford retains high negatives from his 2014 race, and the NRCC is on air rehashing Horsford's old defaults on car and home loans as well as a new attack on lobbying work Horsford's public relations firm did for the South Sudan regime. Now, the DCCC and House Majority PAC are both up with ads refuting those charges. Horsford is still the favorite, but it's competitive.

Image: Lauren Underwood campaigning in IL-14 | Credit: AP Photo/Teresa Crawford