One indication of how well House Republican members and hopefuls will fare in November lies in one of the seats that may flip in the House: Oklahoma’s 5th District, where Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn won in an upset during the 2018 “blue wave.”
Republicans have held the seat for decades, and President Trump won the Oklahoma City-based district by nearly 14 points in 2016. If the GOP can’t unseat her, it’s a troubling indication for the party’s chances in House races across the country.
Horn has structural advantages — her Republican challenger won’t be decided until an Aug. 25 runoff primary election, forcing GOP rivals to spend money on campaigning against each other, rather than her, for another month. All the while, she has a $2.4 million campaign war chest to deploy.
The two remaining Republican candidates vying to take her on are businesswoman Terry Neese, who won 36.5% in the state’s June 30 primary, and state Sen. Stephanie Bice, who won 25.4%. As of June 10, Neese had $353,000 in her account and Bice had $229,000, making either heavily dependent on help on outside political groups to match Horn’s spending.
While the path for Republicans taking back the House is not impossible, it is narrow. Republicans would need a net gain of about 18 seats to win back the House majority they lost in 2018 after eight years.
And their chances are narrowing more, according to various analyst ratings of key House races. Republican leaders and consultants hold out hope that the party won’t take too much a beating in November, with President Trump trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in a series of swing-state and national polls.
A year ago, the Cook Political Report rated 17 Democratic-held seats as toss-ups and 5 Republican-held seats as toss-ups. In February, the number of Democratic-held seats that were toss-ups increased to 19, a good sign for Republicans. But in its most recent rating, following the coronavirus pandemic and mass protests on racism in policing, the picture is looking less rosy for Republicans: 16 Democratic-held seats are toss-ups compared to 6 for Republicans.
Ratings from Inside Elections show a similar pattern. It had nine seats, seven Democratic-held and two Republican-held, rated as toss-ups on Feb. 21, along with nine that tilt Democratic and seven that tilt Republican. In its June 2 ratings, the number of Democratic-held toss-up seats decreased to four as more Democratic-held seats became safer bets for the party to keep.
Republican operatives downplay the ratings, believing they are more based on personal bias than on reality. Cook Political Report, for instance, rates dozens of districts as “lean Democratic” or “likely Democratic” that it also analyzes as having stronger voter preferences toward Republicans than the few seats it rates as toss-ups.
But largely, down-ballot House candidates must campaign in the shadow of President Trump, whose approval rating is ticking down. It is difficult for candidates in individual House races to outperform the president in their districts by a significant enough percentage to win if he performs poorly in those areas.
Part of the party’s trouble is that it did not recruit high-level candidates to run in all the districts that they hoped to target first-term Democrats in districts where Trump won a majority of the vote. The obscure Republican nominee to take on first-term Democratic Rep. Antonio Delgado in New York’s 19th District, Kyle Van De Water, had just over $2,000 in cash on hand at the start of June and had raised just under $15,000 over the course of his whole campaign. Delgado, meanwhile, has $2.7 million in the bank.
Republicans, though, are hopeful that the economy will pick up and unemployment will tick down in the next few months before the election. And there are often surprises in House elections, in which a scandal can quickly sink a vulnerable candidate.
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