The 99 House Districts That Will Determine Dems’ Fate
There’s a lot on the line in 2020, but 99 seats now held by House Democrats will likely determine who occupies the White House, sits in the Senate Majority Leader’s office, and holds the gavel in the House of Representatives’ chamber. Some are nail-biter swing districts, and some are cakewalks where the outcome of the race is not in doubt. But each in their own way has an outsized influence on the contests that will shape America’s immediate political future. That is to say, all House districts are about equal in population but not in electoral relevance. In this paper, we rank the 99 districts on a five-point political Richter scale that measures how much these races can potentially shake up the political landscape.
- 2018 House Flip: These are districts that Democrats flipped from red to blue in the 2018 cycle and gave Democrats the House majority. There are 43 districts that fit this description (including Conor Lamb’s March 2018 special election). (+1 point)
- 2018 Close Call: These are districts where the Democratic margin of victory for House in 2018 was in the single-digits. There are 40 districts that fit this description. (+1 point)
- Trump District: These are districts that have a Democratic House incumbent that also voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016. There are 31 districts that fit this description. (+1 point)
- 2020 Presidential Battlegrounds: These are Democratic House districts located in Presidential swing states. This includes 70 Democratic House seats in 14 states where the state flipped from 2012 to 2016 and/or the presidential margin was inside 5 points in either of those two presidential elections (AZ, CO, FL, IA, ME, MI, MN, OH, PA, NC, NH, NV, VA, WI). (+1 point)
- 2020 Senate Battlegrounds: These are House districts located in Presidential Battlegrounds states that feature a 2020 Senate race or a state with an incumbent Senator of the party opposite the typical Presidential trends of the state. There are 39 districts that fit this description. (+1 point)
Five Point Races
These are possibly the eight most important districts in the country, all held by freshmen and seven held by women. They all flipped a district from red to blue in a tight race in a district that voted for Trump in 2016. Each are located in a 2020 Presidential and Senate battleground state. Every voter in these districts will make a meaningful choice for President, Senate, and House when they go to the polls in 2020. There is not enough money, volunteer time, and attention that can go into these districts.
The districts that fit into this category are IA01 (Abby Finkenauer), IA03 (Cindy Axne), ME02 (Jared Golden), MI08 (Elissa Slotkin), MI11 (Haley Stevens), MN02 (Angie Craig), VA02 (Elaine Luria), and VA07 (Abigail Spanberger).
Some of these areas are to the right of the median of the state—think MI08 or VA07—and a Democratic statewide candidate could win the state without necessarily winning that district. But this is a good reminder that simply increasing Democratic-friendly turnout in safe blue districts and squeaking out a statewide victory could have the effect of losing Democrats some critical swing House districts.
Golden’s ME02 is uniquely important, because Maine awards electoral votes by Congressional district, so when Trump won ME02 in 2016, he was awarded with an electoral vote.
Unsurprisingly, all eight Members in these districts are members of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) Frontline Program designed to protect vulnerable incumbents. They tend to be fairly moderate, with six of the eight being members of the moderate New Democrat Coalition.
Four Point Races
There are four total districts that received four points—though two different types.
2018 Close Call + Trump District + Presidential Battleground + Senate Battleground
Three districts are similar to those that garnered five points except that Democratic House candidates managed to win them in the 2016 cycle. These three districts are AZ01 (Tom O’Halleran), MN07 (Collin Peterson), and NH01 (Chris Pappas). O’Halleran and Peterson were incumbents heading into 2018, and Pappas won a competitive open seat vacated by another Democrat.
O’Halleran and Peterson were two of the few Democrats who held Romney-Trump districts going into 2018, and their personal popularities and brands in their districts have allowed them to hold this tough territory. Pappas’ district is an Obama-Trump district that could well swing back to Democrats at all levels in 2020, and making sure it does is vital to delivering a Democratic President, Senate, and House.
All three of these members are a New Dem, a Blue Dog or both. O’Halleran and Pappas are part of DCCC Frontline program, but Peterson has historically chosen not to join.
2018 House Flip + 2018 Close Call + Presidential Battleground + Senate Battleground
Only one district fits this category—AZ02 (Ann Kirkpatrick). This district is usually close at the Congressional level and has flipped back and forth over the last decade, but it is one of the just over a dozen Romney-Clinton districts in the country. This will undoubtedly be a competitive place in 2020 with its huge implications for the Presidency, Senate, and House, but Trump may serve as a drag on the rest of the Republican ticket.
Kirkpatrick is a member of the moderate New Democrat Coalition but is not a member of DCCC Frontline program, a possible indication of how badly Trump might do in this district.
Three Point Races
There are 20 total districts that received three points—though six different types.
2018 House Flip + 2018 Close Call + Trump District
Eleven districts are extremely competitive at the House level, are essential to holding the House majority, but have no meaningful bearing at the Presidential or Senate level. A few are in states that could conceivably be won by either party in a landslide (Georgia for Democrats, New Mexico for Republicans), but if that is happening, the night is a bloodbath for one of the two parties, and rules are out the window.
These districts are GA06 (Lucy McBath), IL14 (Lauren Underwood), NJ02 (Jeff Van Drew), NJ03 (Andy Kim), NM02 (Xochitl Torres-Small), NY11 (Max Rose), NY19 (Antonio Delgado), NY22 (Anthony Brindisi), OK05 (Kendra Horn), SC01 (Joe Cunningham), and UT04 (Ben McAdams).
To stay in office, these Members need as much help as those whose districts got five points, but they do not have the benefit of a trickle-down effect from other federal contests. For the Members from Republican states, that means they are truly on their own, and they might very well be the only Democrat capable of winning their district at any level up and down the ticket.
Seven of the 11 are members of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, including all four from red states. All 11 are members of the DCCC Frontline program.
2018 House Flip + Presidential Battleground + Senate Battleground
These districts are all represented by freshmen who flipped a Clinton district from Republicans in 2018 in a blowout fashion. They are also all located in swing states. Winning these districts up and down the ballot by large margins is critical to delivering a Democratic Presidency, Senate, and House.
The districts are CO06 (Jason Crow), MN03 (Dean Phillips), and VA10 (Jennifer Wexton).
Interesting, only Crow is a member of the DCCC’s Frontline program. All three are members of the moderate New Democrat Coalition.
2018 House Flip + 2018 Close Call + Presidential Battleground
These are two South Florida districts that tend to vote Democratic for President but are very competitive at the House level.
Those two districts are FL26 (Debbie Mucarsel-Powell) and FL27 (Donna Shalala). If Democrats are going to have any chance of winning Florida at the Presidential level, they will need to win both of these districts by substantial margins. Florida does not host a Senate election in 2020, though if it did, these districts would be key to winning there as well.
Both incumbents are members of the New Democrat Coalition, but only Mucarsel-Powell is a DCCC Frontliner. Shalala never joined the DCCC Red-to-Blue target list in the 2018 cycle.
2018 Close Call + Trump District + Presidential Battleground
These are two districts that are a bit dissimilar but ended up with the same three points. The two districts are NV03 (Susie Lee) and PA08 (Matt Cartwright).
Both are obviously in Presidential battleground states, but neither of these purple states has a Senate election in 2020.
Trump won both districts in 2016. NV03 is more of a typical battleground swing district that was close both times, while PA08 swung from a double-digit Obama district to one that voted for Trump by almost double digits. If a Democrat wins either of these districts at the Presidential level, they probably carry the state.
Cartwright is a multi-year incumbent and a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Lee is a freshmen who held an open Democratic district and is a New Democrat Coalition member. Both are members of the DCCC Frontline program.
2018 House Flip + Trump District + Presidential Battleground
This district was odd to categorize, as the Pennsylvania redraw changed the lines right after a special election. The district is PA17 (Conor Lamb). Lamb flipped a Republican district in a March 2018 special election by a razor-thin margin, and he then defeated a fellow incumbent in a blowout last November based on the current district lines. We did not code this as a close race because of Lamb’s resounding recent victory, but we coded it as a flip to note that he still picked up a district that Republicans held in 2016.
Lamb is a member of the DCCC Frontline program but is not a member of any House ideological caucus.
Trump District + Presidential Battleground + Senate Battleground
Technically, this district gets three points, though it might honestly be treated as a five. The district is IA02 (Dave Loebsack). The incumbent has won in handily in recent elections thanks to his personal popularity, but Loebsack is retiring in 2020, so it will now be a competitive open seat that Democrats could lose. Trump won it in 2016, and it being Iowa, the Presidency and Senate might be on the line.
Two Point Races
There are 40 districts that got two points, and they fall into six different categories.
Presidential Battleground + Senate Battleground
These are 22 safe Democratic districts that are in Presidential swing states with Senate elections in 2020. A Democrat couldn’t lose a House general election if they tried in these places, but juicing turnout in these districts actually matters up the ballot for cementing Democratic power in Washington.
The districts are AZ03 (Raul Grijalva), AZ07 (Ruben Gallego), AZ09 (Greg Stanton), CO01 (Diana DeGette), CO02 (Joe Neguse), CO07 (Ed Perlmutter), ME01 (Chellie Pingree), MI05 (Dan Kildee), MI09 (Andy Levin), MI12 (Debbie Dingell), MI13 (Rashida Tlaib), MI14 (Brenda Lawrence), MN04 (Betty McCollum), MN05 (Ilhan Omar), NC01 (G.K. Butterfield), NC04 (David Price), NC12 (Alma Adams), NH02 (Ann Kuster), VA03 (Bobby Scott), VA04 (Donald McEachin), VA08 (Don Beyer), and VA11 (Gerry Connolly).
Unsurprisingly, none of members of the DCCC Frontline program. Exactly half are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus while seven are New Democrat Coalition members. Two (Lawrence and Beyer) participate in both of those groups.
2018 House Flip + 2018 Close Call
These are 12 districts that voted for Clinton and a House Republican in 2016 but then flipped Democratic in 2018 as a check on Trump. In these districts, the statewide elections won’t likely be competitive (though Texas could be shifting Democratic faster than our criteria can account for), so what matters most on the federal level is reelecting the House Democrat to preserve the majority.
The districts are CA10 (Josh Harder), CA21 (TJ Cox), CA25 (Katie Hill), CA39 (Gil Cisneros), CA45 (Katie Porter), CA48 (Harley Rouda), IL06 (Sean Casten), KS03 (Sharice Davids), NJ07 (Tom Malinowski), TX07 (Lizzie Fletcher), TX32 (Colin Allred), and WA08 (Kim Schrier).
All of these districts could be competitive again in 2020, though Trump may be a drag that hurts Republicans’ chances of flipping these ancestral Republican districts back. Most of them are wealthier suburban areas, though CA10 and CA21 do not fit that mold—instead, they had generally popular Republican incumbents who were tough to defeat until Trump proved too difficult a headwind for them to overcome.
All but two of these twelve members are part of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, while three of the Californians are Congressional Progressive Caucus members. Hill and Cisneros are members of both.
All twelve are members of the DCCC Frontline program.
2018 House Flip + Presidential Battleground
All of these districts are in Pennsylvania and will have varying degrees of competitiveness thanks to redistricting.
The three districts are PA05 (Mary Gay Scanlon), PA06 (Chrissy Houlahan), and PA07 (Susan Wild).
Scanlon and Houlahan’s districts in suburban Philadelphia should be safe at the House level in 2020 and neither is in the DCCC Frontline program, but winning by large margins there is critical for Democrats to take back Pennsylvania statewide in 2020—which is key to winning the Presidency.
Wild’s district is also a swing seat, and she is part of the DCCC Frontline program.
Scanlon is a Congressional Progressive Caucus member, while the other two are New Democrats.
2018 Close Call + Presidential Battleground
Only one district had this combination—NV04 (Steven Horsford). This is a key district in a swing state that Horsford was able to hold in an open seat election.
Horsford is part of the DCCC Frontline program, as well as both the New Democrat Coalition and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
2018 House Flip + Trump District
This district was a bit of a fluke to not get three points and be categorized up with the 11 districts that were Trump Districts, Flips, and also Close Calls. However, Republicans ran a terrible candidate in 2018, and Democrats were easily able to knock off NJ11 (Mikie Sherrill).
Sherrill should expect a more credible challenger in 2020, and this is a critical seat to defend.
She is part of the DCCC Frontline program and is a New Democrat Coalition member.
Trump District + Presidential Battleground
If one district determines the next President, it might be WI03 (Ron Kind). WI03 is an Obama-Trump district in an Obama-Trump state—arguably the tipping point state of 2020.
Kind is a longtime incumbent and was able to win by a large margin in 2018 thanks to his personal popularity, but don’t let that fool anyone how important this district is.
If Kind, a New Democrat Coalition member, can win by a strong margin and translate his support to Democrats winning the district at the Presidential level that might be the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Kind is not a member of DCCC Frontline.
One Point Races
There are 27 districts that got one point, falling into four categories but with the bulk in the first.
Presidential Battleground Only
There are 22 districts in the Presidential Battleground Only bucket. They are FL05 (Al Lawson), FL07 (Stephanie Murphy), FL09 (Darren Soto), FL10 (Val Demings), FL13 (Charlie Crist), FL14 (Kathy Castor), FL20 (Alcee Hastings), FL21 (Louis Frankel), FL22 (Ted Deutch), FL23 (Debbie Wasserman Schultz), FL24 (Frederica Wilson), NV01 (Dina Titus), OH03 (Joyce Beatty), OH09 (Marcy Kaptur), OH11 (Marcia Fudge), OH13 (Tim Ryan), PA02 (Brendan Boyle), PA03 (Dwight Evans), PA04 (Madeline Dean), PA18 (Mike Doyle), WI02 (Mark Pocan), and WI04 (Gwen Moore).
None of these Members are part of the DCCC Frontline program, but like the Presidential Battleground + Senate Battleground group above, every Democratic vote that can be squeezed out of these safe Democratic districts would go a long way toward electing a Democratic President.
Nine of them are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and eight of them are members of the moderate New Democrat Coalition. Three of them are in both groups (Soto, Boyle, Dean). Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Pocan and Blue Dog co-chair Murphy both fall into this category.
Trump District Only
These are three popular Democratic members who won reelection by large margins in 2020 in a swing district in a safe Democratic state.
The three districts are IL17 (Cheri Bustos), NJ05 (Josh Gottheimer), and NY18 (Sean Patrick Maloney). None of these districts can be taken for granted, but all three stand a good chance of reelection due to their personal brand.
All three are members of the New Democrat Coalition. Only Gottheimer is in the DCCC Frontline program.
2018 House Flip Only
This is a district that voted for Clinton and was trending Democratic, but Trump broke open the dams for a large win in 2018. The district is CA49 (Mike Levin).Levin should be fine in 2020, but he is a member of the DCCC Frontline program, as well as the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Senate Battleground Only
The only case of a district getting a Senate Battleground point but not a Presidential Battleground point is AL07 (Terri Sewell).
Turnout in this district will be a huge determining factor in whether Sen. Doug Jones can win reelection in 2020. Famously, he won his 2017 special election by winning this Congressional district while losing the other six, thanks to turnout disparities and a blowout margin in AL07.
Sewell is a member of the New Democrat Coalition.
The point of this analysis is not to say that only 99 Members or districts are important. But it does show that in the vast majority of Democratic-held House seats, one can turn a blue place bluer, but it wouldn’t accomplish much either there or statewide when it comes to helping Democrats gain power.
In our current system, there are places where structural realities make getting more Democratic votes fruitless in the big scheme of creating a Democratic federal government trifecta. If you want to see Democrats make progress on anything at the federal level in the next decade, you should pay close attention to the ninety-nine districts where gaining votes will deliver greater victories.