Editors Note: These posts were written by students in Dr. Collens’s POSC 329 (Congressional Elections) class.
Students in Dr. Collens’s class this semester wrote profiles of competitive U.S. House races for 2018. Races were listed as competitive if either Cook Political Report or FiveThirtyEight rated the race as a “tossup” in early September. Students each chose a tossup district to profile (the essential question to answer was “Why is this race competitive in 2018?”) and were given the option to write a prediction blog post. Their (very lightly edited) posts appear below, with projected winners’ names in italics.
California 25th: Steve Knight (Incumbent) vs. Katie Hill
In the polls, Knight and Hill are within a couple points of each other. The New York Times Siena Poll had Steve Knight up by 2 points on September 19th and 4 points on October 28th. Berkeley’s poll has Hill up by 4 points on September 23. However, these results are within the margin of error for each poll. Therefore, the race has been categorized as a toss-up. The two candidates are fighting to represent California’s 25th Congressional District. This district is one of only seven Republican-controlled districts in California to vote for Hillary Clinton rather than Trump in 2016. This makes California 25th District a top priority for Democrats in order to regain control of the House. This district has become increasingly more competitive each election because of changing demographics, campaign financing, and the popularity of Trump in the district.
California’s 25th district has become more competitive since 2004 when the previous Republican Representative retired. In the 90s the district was redistricted to include more Republican voters into the district. The district served as a Republican stronghold within Los Angeles County. However, changing demographics have led to this district becoming more competitive and it is no longer a safe Republican district. The number of registered Democrats are at an all-time high, which has given Democrats confidence that Katie Hill will win the election. However, the new voters are African Americans, Hispanics, and millennials. These three groups of people who traditionally have very low voter turnout. They did not turn out for Bryan Caforio in 2016 and that was a Presidential election year. This is a midterm election, so we should expect even lower levels of voter turnout among newly registered Democrats in the District. Therefore, I do not believe that this increase in registration will have the Katie Hill’s desired influence on the election. Also, voters know Steve Knight personally because he has been their representative for three terms. This may attract independent and conservative Democrats to vote for him in the election. The incumbency advantage has decreased in recent years and voters influenced by the personal voter are less likely. However, it does still exist and Knight believes that he has supporters from both parties. Also, I do not believe Trump’s policies are a deterrent for conservative Democrats to vote for a Republican. However, Steve Knight has effectively distanced himself from Trump and his policies. I do know to think that it will significantly effect on Knight’s vote share. Lastly, I do not think the fact that Steve Knight has not fundraised as much as Hill will greatly affect the results either. Steve Knight does not need to fundraise as much as Hill because his spending will be less effective. Hill is spending to increase name recognition and familiarity with her policies, while Knight already has this. Thus, while I think the district is becoming more competitive, but I do not think it will turn blue this election cycle. I think the election will be close, but Steve Knight will continue to represent California’s 25th district.
by Loryn DeFalco
California 45th: Mimi Walters (Incumbent) vs. Katie Porter
Although Democratic enthusiasm is at an all-time high this year, Republicans will come out just enough in the 45th District of California to hand Mimi Walters her third term. While Katie Porter has been able to run a tremendous campaign, arguably the most impressive Democratic campaign the district has ever seen, her ascension may have been a bit premature.
Similar to some Tea Party candidates in 2010, Porter is running on a more extreme liberal agenda. She surprised many by defeating moderate and party favorite Dave Min, in the the district’s top two primary. Running as the protege of Elizabeth Warren, she will struggle to have the same success this time around in the general. More moderate and fiscally conservative voters will turn away from her at the ballot box.
The demographics and ideologies may be shifting towards left in this district as more minority communities begin to grow and develop, I still think it is too soon for a candidate as liberal as her to win here. Republicans in this district still enjoy a sizable advantage of 40,000 registered partisans over their Democratic opponents and overall the district remains primarily white at 60%.
Along with the numbers advantage, Walters gave her campaign a much needed stimulus by rallying around Proposition 6, which seeks to repeal the state’s high gas tax. As something Republicans care about more than Democrats, the majority of the benefits from the increased turnout from Proposition 6 will go towards Republicans.
The final reason I think Walter will retain her seat is the fact that her district does have a 45% approval rating of Trump, which is slightly higher than the national average. Trump’s approval rating amongst the Republican party is astronomic. Therefore I think this solid base of support will be greater than the coalition Porter will bring together. Along with that, I expect these Trump supporters to turnout in higher rates than younger democratic voters and the minority community. Overall because of these reasons I think the the impressive campaign of Katie Porter is stopped in its tracks by the incumbent Mimi Walters.
by Nick Marasco
Illinois 12: Mike Bost (Incumbent) vs. Brendan Kelly
Due to the competitive nature of Illinois 12th Congressional district, incumbent Mike Bost will remain the representative. Challenger Brendan Kelly was remarkably close in vote share percentages in the beginning of September and into October. However, as the election grew closer, Bost managed to remain in the lead. At no point was Kelly ahead of Bost, even with endorsements from former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Kelly had strong efforts to mobilize his voter base and increase turnout, however with negative ad campaigns, Bost was able to knock down Kelly’s popularity. Additionally, President Trump visited southern Illinois to endorse Bost and promote the GOP platform. Trump berated Kelly and claimed that he is soft on crime and for open borders, which has been growing issue in the United States today. Although Bost benefited from Trump’s rally, Kelly was endorsed by VoteVets, a Super PAC, and grew in grassroots donations. The grassroot donations accounted for two-thirds of Kelly’s entire campaign fund. This benefited Kelly for a majority of the race because of the increase in name recognition and ActBlue donations.
Nevertheless, this is not enough to beat an incumbent. Bost released negative advertisements claiming that Kelly let a pedophile, who sexually abused a 14 year old girl, and got away with a plea deal. This hurt Kelly, but Kelly released a video stating it was false and he was misquoted. Due to the race being rather competitive, there were many negative advertisements. With the support of End Citizens United, Kelly was able to release negative ads on Bost. About $600,000 later, End Citizens United produced two television advertisements, direct mail, and digital ads promoting Kelly. Challenger Kelly was able to benefit from this endorsement immensely due to leaving an impression in constituents’ minds that Bost is the wrong candidate for IL-12. End Citizens United is just one example of many large PACs and companies that backed candidates. Bost was able to be sponsored by AT&T Inc and People’s United Bank. While Bost was able to get endorsements from large companies, Kelly reached the public and left an impression on them. Yet, that is not enough to beat an incumbent.
Recent Siena College/New York Times polls have Bost 48% vote share and Kelly only at 39%. With only 11% undecided, this seat should remain in the GOP’s favor.
by Christina Noeldechen
Kansas 2nd: Steve Watkins vs. Paul Davis
There is an open seat in this district due to the retirement of the Incumbent, Lynn Jenkins. The Democratic challenger, Paul Davis, is a former lawyer and member of the Kansas House of Representatives. The GOP candidate, Steve Watkins is a former army ranger with no prior political experience. The district historically has been dominated by Republicans but in 2018 due to a number of factors like campaign finance and the presence of a strong Democratic challenger, Davis and Watkins have been neck and neck. Taking into consideration all that makes this district competitive, I predict that the Democratic challenger Paul Davis will win the election. Paul Davis has already proven that he can win support from the voters in the Kansas 2nd because he won the district in 2014 when he ran for Governor. This support gave him much needed momentum that has carried him into the 2018 midterm cycle. Davis has great name recognition in the state of Kansas, and already has years of experience under his belt working for the people of Kansas.
The 2nd district, which President Trump won by 18 points in 2016, presents challenges for any Democratic candidate. However, Paul Davis has cleverly managed to get around these obstacles. Davis embarked on a trip to visit every county in the 2nd district, where he focused on talking to as many people as he could. Davis traveled from the military district of Fort Leavenworth, to the more liberal county of Lawrence, where he listened to what was important to the people of Kansas. Here, Davis advocated for bipartisan reform in order to fix the issues that plague our country. This is a strategy that has helped Davis tremendously. By encouraging both parties to work together to achieve real results for the people of the Kansas 2nd, Davis has been able to get more moderate Republicans and unaffiliated voters on his side. This approach even led 36 Republicans from Kansas to announce their support for the Democratic candidate’s campaign. Paul Davis has proved that not only is he connected to the voters of Kansas, but he is willing to work across the aisle to get results.
Campaign finance is an important part of any election, and Paul Davis has shown that he has no problems getting people to support his campaign. In August of 2018 Davis has already raise $1.6 million, which is more than double what Steve Watkins had raised. A large majority of that money was donated by the people of Kansas. This money was crucial in giving Davis the necessary platform to spread his message to the people of the Kansas 2nd. Paul Davis has outperformed Steve Watkins in every aspect. He successfully fended off all negative ads that were thrown his way, and he has proved to the people of Kansas that he is not the, “out of touch liberal”, that the GOP claims he is.
by McKenna Donegan
Kansas 3rd: Kevin Yoder (Incumbent) vs. Sharice Davids
Sharice Davids will win the congressional election for the third district in Kansas. As of now, Davids is up by nine points over Yoder. Although this district leans Republican, voters appear to favor Davids over Yoder. Davids has more of an advantage than Yoder, due to campaign finance, the unpopularity of Donald Trump, and the LGBTQ community.
Sharice Davids’s main advantage is the unpopularity of Donald Trump. It is no secret that constituents are not fond of Trump. It is also not a secret that Yoder and Trump are friendly with each other and support one another. Constituents realize this and some will not vote for Yoder simply because of the mutual support between Yoder and Trump. This advantage clearly helps Davids in her campaign.
In addition to this, the LGBTQ community’s support is helping Davids succeed. She will likely have the support of most Democratic voters in the district. In addition, some open-minded Republicans may support her. There have been very few members of national office that have identified as LGBTQ, and the world has started to become more open to the LGBTQ community.
Lastly, Davids’ campaign finance shows her ambition for office, as her fundraising totals are competitive with Yoder’s. While her money certainly helps her campaign, constituents can see her drive and novel efforts to attract small donations. For example, part of her fundraising efforts includes doing pushups for money.
Yoder has two advantages that I researched, however, they are not as strong as Davids’ advantages. In particular, Yoder’s incumbency advantage and district demographics help him out in the race.
Since Yoder is the incumbent and has the advantage, he is not building his platform from the bottom. He already has a base of supporters, if they have not already left due to the unpopularity of Trump, as many of his supporters have. In this sense, he has the advantage. Davids could have just as much of an advantage if she works hard, which she has proven that she has.
Lastly, Yoder has an advantage because his district leans slightly Republican. This may give him more supporters than he otherwise would have had. This district lean makes the race more competitive. If the district leaned Democratic, I do not think this race would even be considered competitive. Although his district leans Republican, Trump did not win this district in the 2016 congressional election. This, in addition to the unpopularity of our president, may not mix well for Yoder.
by Gabby D’Alessandro
Maine 2nd: Bruce Poliquin (Incumbent) vs. Jared Golden
As of one week until election day, three polls still show a very competitive race. Cook Political Report rates the district as a toss-up, FiveThirtyEight estimates the district as a lean Democrat, and the New York Times rates it as a toss-up as well. A poll conducted by Siena College and The New York Times between October fifteenth and eighteenth show that Golden and Poliquin are equally tied at forty-one percent.
Maine’s second district has voted for both Former-President Barack Obama and President Trump in presidential election years, showing that it is a district that is not strictly Republican or Democrat. The closeness of these polls shows how the people of Maine are tired of the status-quo and are looking for a change, that change being Jared Golden.
Golden, a representative in the Maine House of Representatives, has the experience that is needed in Washington, D.C. and is also a new voice for the people of Maine with new ideas. Poliquin, however, appears to vote along the same lines as Republican party leaders, such as Speaker Paul Ryan on issues such as healthcare. It is easier to predict that with what is at stake in this election, such as healthcare and the opioid crisis, Golden will win the election and become Maine’s second district congressman.
Many Mainers have died during the opioid epidemic due to lack of healthcare coverage and many people believe that Golden will offer better coverage to all people in Maine who may need it to help fight this crisis. Since Golden believed in expanding health coverage for all people of Maine, including individuals with pre-existing conditions, it will help fight the opioid epidemic by providing treatment to all of those who need it and it will help seniors receive healthcare also. On the other side, Poliquin opposes Golden’s plans and believes in a more privatized health care system which could make it harder for individuals to receive treatment in the current climate. Expensive healthcare premiums are what lead to the death of many of Maine’s citizens since they could not afford private healthcare which would provide the treatment needed to fight opioids.
The Siena College and The New York Times poll discovered that 48% of individuals over the age of 65 are planning on voting for Golden, while only 37% plan to vote for Poliquin, most likely with healthcare in mind. Come November 6, Golden will most likely defeat Incumbent Poliquin. Also, with it being a midterm election year and Republican President Trump’s low approval ratings, many may treat this as a referendum against President Trump and the Republican party and vote against the Republicans, since the current president typically loses seats during the midterms, which will only benefit Golden.
by Kyle Creech
Minnesota 8th: Pete Stauber vs. Joe Radinovich
Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, which has been a long time Democratic stronghold now appears to be waning as Donald Trump was the decisive winner in 2016 and the current race featuring 32-year-old Joe Radinovich and and 52-year-old Pete Stauber could be easily handed to the Republicans. I predict Stauber will win the election by a 7-point margin while current polls show Stauber to have as much as a 15-point lead. The backgrounds of both Radinovich and Stauber provide a very elemental yet essential overview of the race; particularly that Stauber has wide name recognition and is looked upon favorably in areas such as Duluth and Proctor which are otherwise Democratic strongholds. Radinovich is a quality candidate in that he is a former state representative but lacks name recognition across the vast 250-mile district. Despite this however, he does have the backing of over a dozen unions which is a critical issue of the district given the importance of mining and steel production.
Demographically the district is structurally built to favor the Republicans considering it is a rural and less educated district as well as more impoverished as compared to the rest of the state. The district also has counties that are extremely divergent in nature, primarily across issues that are part of the stereotypical liberal platform. As such, the Democratic party has been forced to make concessions in the district, particularly in regards to tariffs.
The influence of the President cannot be understated as research is showing that the influence of Trump could be the strongest ever seen in recent history. Combining this with the fact the constituency is Republican in general demographic and the advantage Stauber has in Duluth and Proctor which should normally be Democratic strongholds, whichever candidate Trump endorses (Stauber) should have a favorable advantage.
With the increasing polarization of the general electorate we would expect to see the district favor a specific party down the ballot instead of a particular candidate but direct studies of the district show that voters are voting candidate over party, an anomaly not shared with the majority of the country. In addition to this, with a Gubernatorial and two Senatorial elections also on the ballot turnout is expected to be much higher than usual; if the same electorate as 2016 goes to the polls (it appears by all measures he will) Stauber will have a clear advantage.
Campaign finance has also shown to have a clear impact on the competitiveness of the district as Stauber is outspending Radinovich by $6 million and Stauber has received the endorsements of both Donald Trump and Mike Pence. Radinovich was however the first to get a campaign ad out during the primaries which should have given the candidate lacking name recognition a slight bump in that category.
Considering each of the factors present in the 8th district this cycle, Stauber should be firmly planted to be one of, if not the only candidate to flip a seat from Democratically controlled to Republican in 2018.
by Matt Levine
New York 19th: John Faso (Incumbent) vs. Antonio Delgado
Antonio Delgado will win this election. Based on the district make up and the policies that both candidates are running on, Delgado actually fits the mold better than Faso. The 19th district is furious about Faso’s vote repealing and replacing health care and I think that could potential be the deciding factor as to whether he will win or not. I do believe that turnout will also be another important factor, but Delgado has done a sufficient job rallying the core Democrats in the district. The Republicans have taken out a number of negative ads that have created uproar which could ultimately be detrimental to Faso in the long run. Considering all of the factors above, Antonio Delgado will unseat John Faso and win the election.
Delgado’s infiltration into the election and his potential that he has shown thus far in running such a competitive campaign gives way to a possibility of Faso losing. One of the factors that is not in Delgado’s favor is the participation of third party candidates. There are more left leaning candidates running on a third party ticket than there are conservatives which could definitely take away votes from Delgado. He does not seem concerned about this but it should be noted.
Delgado’s platform is just conservative enough to attract a certain type of conservative voter away from Faso and Trump. His gun control principles are not out of the ordinary. He knows people in his district will not want to lose their gun rights so he is bending to their majority while also criticizing his opponent for being too far right and being too close with the NRA, which prevents Faso from being an independent thinker. On other issues such as immigration and women’s rights Delgado has held a traditionally Democratic position while also sprinkling in rhetoric that could appease some moderate Republicans who dislike the way Trump has handled immigration and women’s issues.
Currently FiveThirtyEight has Delgado ahead by a narrow margin of 3 in 5 chance of winning, and they are forecasting his vote share to be 49.2% compared to Faso’s forecasted vote share of 47.9% This race is clearly extremely close and is based on very similar ideologies to appease a homogeneous constituency. Delgado has been fighting an uphill battle this whole campaign and has been very successful. I believe that his fundraising, which was more than double what Faso raised, could have a major effect on this election. They both have a similar amount cash left to spend—around $700,000—which Delgado could use to make one last hard push for the seat.
All in all, I do not think that Faso’s voting record truly represented the values of the district and that can be seen in his vote against health care. That has been criticized immensely and forces people to question whether or not he should really be their representative. Based off of this evidence, Antonio Delgado will win this election by a narrow margin.
by Jake Miller