Why you should care
Because the direction of the country is at stake.
Anyone notice how Donald Trump’s campaign looks more bloodied now than Negan’s victims in the recent season premiere of The Walking Dead? The fight for the U.S. Senate and House, though? Very much alive. But exactly how alive is the question du jour.
On the one hand, this scandal-ridden campaign season “feels just like 2006,” says Tony Gaughan, a Drake University law professor who predicts Democrats will take back both chambers. Other experts argue far fewer seats will switch from red to blue; University of Virginia political scientist Kyle Kondik, for one, argues 12 to 15 seats will turn. While OZY has previously highlighted some of the cream-of-the-crop candidates for Congress, including likely California senator Kamala Harris, we’ve compiled a more comprehensive cheat sheet of top races to watch this Election Day.
Nevada Senate and 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts
No candidate is feeling the millstone of Donald Trump more than U.S. Senate candidate Joe Heck. The Army reservist and physician earned accolades as a Republican who built inroads with Nevada’s Latino business community, and never trailed once in polls going back to July — but since Trump’s Access Hollywood tape was released, Heck’s been down in every poll but one. He’s taken back his support for Trump, which could depress his Election Day tally from his base, while his opponent, former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, has rallied in-state Latinos against Trump and around her history-making attempt to become the first Latina U.S. senator.
The race has huge implications for whether Republicans can maintain their Senate majority, but some down-ballot fights are also fascinating. Nevada’s 3rd and 4th Districts — which each include Las Vegas — are both in OpenSecrets.com’s top 10 for most expensive U.S. House races, nearing $30 million in combined campaign/outside group spending. In the 3rd, Harry Reid–backed Jacky Rosen, a computer programmer, heads off against businessman Danny Tarkanian, the son of a legendary basketball coach who is trying to end his days as a political bridesmaid (he’s previously run for office — unsuccessfully — four times).
Florida 7th Congressional District
The Florida redistricting fiasco that culminated with new maps last December could claim its first scalp in this Orlando district, where Republican John Mica is vying for a 13th term but has seen surprising resistance from Stephanie Murphy, an unheralded businesswoman and national security specialist. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has called it “the most competitive” district in Florida and, as the heart of the crucial middle Florida belt that Trump needs to win, the fireworks here could be more explosive than those at nearby Universal Studios.
Minnesota 3rd Congressional District and Colorado 6th Congressional District
Even as cities increasingly become Democratic dens and rural Republicans continue to vote red, the suburbs tend to be the place where conservatives go to make up lost ground. They promise no respite this year, though. Incumbents like Erik Paulsen (outside Minneapolis) and Mike Coffman (near Denver) seem stranded. Both moderates have disavowed Trump, with Coffman even demanding the mogul “step aside” after the billionaire’s sexual banter came to light. But their female Democratic opponents, Terri Bonoff and Morgan Carroll, respectively, have tracked closely thanks to Trump’s alienation of wide swaths of well-educated suburban women — likely leaving their rival future GOP hopefuls without a home in the burbs.
Ohio 8th Congressional District
After winning a special runoff this summer, congressional newcomer Warren Davidson now seems like a sure bet at winning this Republican-heavy district near Cincinnati in November. Davidson replaces John Boehner, the famously even-keeled speaker of the house who faced an insurgency from the tea party–esque House Freedom Caucus. And, once elected, Davidson immediately joined his predecessor’s nemesis group, which will almost certainly exert their new power over pushing out current House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Pennsylvania Senate and 16th Congressional District
Even before the Irish-Catholic Al Gore protégée became the Democratic nominee, Senate challenger Katie McGinty was a progressive with hard-charging gravitas … and eyebrow-raising views on fracking, as OZY wrote in February. While she’s seen as a “generic Democrat,” as Kondik puts it, he adds that might be perfectly fine in a (former) swing state that has Hillary Clinton up by at least 5 points. Still, incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey remains highly popular — even as he continues to refuse to say whether or not he’ll vote for Trump.
Another person to track: Democrat Christina Hartman, in the 16th, a ruby-red district outside Philly that is suddenly in play after Hartman pulled within just a few points of Republican Lloyd Smucker. The race is within striking distance after previously being called “Safely Republican” by the Cook Political Report, and if she prevails, it could signify a massive Clinton rout.
New York 24th Congressional District
Many Republicans have decided to “abandon ship” now that Trump’s campaign is treading water. And rather than argue his points, they’ve made the case that a GOP House and Senate are needed to stand up to a Clinton presidency. That strategy is working wonders here in this Syracuse district, where Clinton leads Trump by high double digits in many polls — and yet Republican Rep. John Katko is favored over Democrat Colleen Deacon by 23 points in a recent study. If voters split their ticket nationally, Republicans may actually get to keep their majorities in Congress as a consolation prize.