WASHINGTON -- For the first time this election cycle, a Republican tops the list of the 10 most vulnerable House members.
California Rep. Mike Garcia takes the No. 1 spot after winning a May special election for a seat President Donald Trump lost in 2016. The list now features the same number of Republicans and Democrats, as Trump struggles in competitive districts across the country amid an ongoing pandemic and economic crisis.
Bolstered by massive campaign war chests, House Democrats are more bullish than ever that they will grow their majority by defeating vulnerable Republicans and winning a slew of open-seat races. Republicans acknowledge their path to the majority is shrinking.
Two Republicans, New York's John Katko and Nebraska's Don Bacon, are also new to the list of vulnerable members. Katko holds a seat Trump lost, while Bacon's district narrowly backed the president. Katko and Bacon face rematches against 2018 opponents, but Democrats argue 2020 may be shaping up to be an even better year for them than when they retook the House.
To make room for the GOP entrants, a few Democrats have fallen off the list, including Utah freshman Ben McAdams and longtime Minnesota Rep. Collin C. Peterson, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee. Republicans still see both lawmakers as vulnerable. But Peterson, in particular, has proved he can woo his district's Republicans to split their tickets and send him back to Washington.
The 2016 presidential results in these districts were factored into the rankings, along with conversations with strategists on both sides of the aisle and race ratings from Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.
Garcia won a May 12 special election to replace former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill by 10 points, but the fall electorate in this district outside Los Angeles is expected to look much less Republican. Garcia once again faces state Assemblywoman Christy Smith. And even though he had $738,000 on hand as of June 30, to $403,000 for Smith, a surge in turnout in November compared to the special election could be a problem for him in a seat Trump lost in 2016. Garcia is also the only Republican incumbent running in a district where Hillary Clinton won more than 50% of the vote.
New Mexico's 2nd District, in the arid and sparsely populated southern half of the state, is among the most rural of the Democratic-held seats Trump carried in 2016. That could make it harder for Torres Small, a water rights lawyer who has built a strong local profile, to hold on after her narrow 2018 victory. She faces a rematch with Republican former state Rep. Yvette Herrell, who has doubled down on her support for Trump. Like many vulnerable Democrats, Torres Small has amassed a formidable war chest, with $3.9 million in the bank on June 30, compared with the $379,000 Herrell had on hand after emerging from a bitter primary.
Rep. Kendra Horn has been a top Republican target since her surprise 2018 victory in an Oklahoma City-area district Republicans had held for more than 40 years. But her position has slightly strengthened in recent months, mainly because of Trump's problems in suburbs. She will face a formidable opponent no matter who wins the Aug. 25 runoff for the Republican nomination. That race features businesswoman Terry Neese, who has run a standard pro-Trump campaign, against state Sen. Stephanie Bice, who has pitched herself as a moderate while also working to woo the Trump voters she needs to secure the GOP nod. Horn had $2.6 million on hand on June 30, which will go far in the region's cheap advertising market. But outside groups will do their best to make sure voters see a fair share of anti-Horn attacks once the primary is over.
Democrat Joe Cunningham has been stressing his moderate appeal since narrowly winning this longtime Republican seat in 2018. But Republicans argue the pitch falls flat in a district that backed Trump by double digits. His opposition to offshore drilling helped him win in 2018, but it might be harder to draw a contrast against Republican Nancy Mace on the issue. As a state lawmaker, she has sponsored legislation opposing it. And powerful Republicans in the state appear to be consolidating around Mace after a bruising GOP primary. Still, Democrats think the suburbs of Charleston and the affluent Hilton Head area will break their way in November, especially with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham facing a formidable challenge that could draw out Democrats already eager to express their opposition to Trump. Cunningham has a clear fundraising advantage, with $3 million in the bank on June 30 compared with Mace's $745,000. He has been using it to hammer Mace on the airwaves.