This year, Americans will go to the polls in President Joe Biden’s first Midterm Election. Pundits have speculated for some time that Republicans will pick up seats in both the House of Representatives and Senate. In a previous article, I focused on predicting Senate races. Now, we will take a look at some battleground house races to watch this year. The Nonpartisan Cook Political Report currently ranks 13 house seats (7 held by Democrats and 6 by Republicans) as tossups.
Of those, 6 in particular really stand out as the most likely to flip, including 3 held by each party. The incumbents are currently Cindy Axne (D-IA), Jared Golden (D-ME), Elaine Luria (D-VA), David Valadao (R-CA), Peter Meijer (R-MI), and Michelle Steel (R-CA). All of these incumbents were narrowly elected in 2020. Now, each of them faces a difficult path to reelection. Even the GOP candidates, who will be running in a year favoring Republican candidates across the country may struggle. So let’s dive into these 6 races and who may have the upper hand come November.
Cindy Axne (IA-03)
Cindy Axne, who along with former Representative Abby Finkenauer, became the first woman elected to Congress from Iowa in 2018. Finkenauer narrowly lost reelection in 2020, while Axne narrowly won. Now Axne is facing a more difficult environment in a year that will likely be favorable towards Republicans. She currently has no major challengers on the Democratic side and is a safe bet to lock up the primary. On the Republican side, there are currently four candidates vying to take her on.
These include State Senator Zach Nunn of Bondurant, Nicole Hasso of Johnston, former State Representative Mary Ann Hanusa of Council Bluffs, and Gary Leffler of West Des Moines. Nunn is currently the frontrunner, raking in the most donations at 232,000 as of the third quarter of 2021. Although Axne still leads all candidates in total fundraising, with $1.8 million for 2021. This race, just as 2020 was, promises to be extremely competitive. But for the sake of a prediction, I would say Nunn is the most likely GOP nominee to face Axne. And I predict he will narrowly defeat her in a good year for Republicans.
Jared Golden (ME-02)
Maine’s 2nd Congressional District is one of the few in America that voted for former President Donald Trump but also elected a Democratic Representative. Jared Golden, now seeking his third term in office, has one opponent in the Democratic Primary: Michael Sutton, a Progressive former State House candidate. On the Republican side, former Congressman Bruce Poliquin, who Golden defeated in 2018, is running again. Also vying for the GOP nod are Caratunk Selectman Liz Caruso, Amry Veteran Sean Joyce of Newburgh, businessman Garret Swazey of Bangor, and State Representative Mike Perkins of Oakland.
Poliquin, the current GOP frontrunner, is the most well-known and well-funded Republican candidate in the race. However, party officials are somewhat skeptical that he can take down a moderate Democrat twice elected in a district Trump won. Swazey, one of Poliquin’s challengers, said that the former Congressman “doesn’t really represent Maine”, so perhaps there is some appetite for a fresh face. For my prediction, I will say Poliquin ultimately gets the GOP nomination and is narrowly defeated by Golden once again.
Elaine Luria (VA-02)
Another potentially vulnerable Democratic incumbent is Elaine Luria of Virginia. Luria is a two-term Representative of a district spanning all of Virginia Beach as well as Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Peninsula. She was reelected by a slim margin in 2020, receiving 51% of the vote to former Congressman Scott Taylor’s 45%. Now, Luria faces a much more difficult path to reelection in an area that recently supported newly minted Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin despite narrowly voting for Biden in 2020. Luria is facing one primary opponent thus far, Navy Veteran Neil Smith.
Assuming she triumphs there, one of 4 current GOP candidates awaits her in November. These include State Senator Jennifer Kiggans, veteran Tommy Altman, former prosecutor Andy Baan, and veteran Jarome Ball. Kiggans is the favorite so far, but the field is far from settled in advance of the June 21st Primary. Polling via FiveThirtyEight shows that Luria’s newly drawn district now favors the GOP by 6 points, up from 2 previously. Knowing this, I will predict Kiggens defeats Luria by a slim margin.
David Valadao (CA-22)
On the Republican side of things, Congressman David Valadao of the San Joaquin Valley-based 21st Congressional District is seeking another term in office in the newly drawn 22nd Congressional District. Parts of this district were formally represented by Conservative Congressman Devin Nunes, although he stepped down at the end of the year to become the CEO of former President Trump’s new media company. That means that there will be a special election held on April 5 to replace him. Several Democrats and Republicans are vying for that position. However, Valadao is contending for the district come November 2022 and is not part of the special election.
Other candidates running in the June 7 GOP Primary include State Senator Andreas Borgeas and former FBI Agent Michael Maher. On the Democratic side, disabled veteran Eric Garcia, Central Valley Water Quality Control Board Operations Manager Lourin Hubbard, and businessman Jorge Sanchez Hernandez are in the race. Whoever wins the special election will serve out the remainder of Nunes’ term. But in order to be eligible for the November election, the victor would have to run in the June Primary. This is a district favoring Democrats, but the year favors Republicans, so I will say Valadao ultimately wins the GOP nomination and the race in November.
Peter Meijer (MI-03)
Moderate Republican Congressman Peter Meijer is seeking a second term in office after narrowly defeating Democrat Hillary Scholten in 2020. Meijer, a frequent critic of Trump, has already seen the former President endorse a primary challenger to him. John Gibbs, Trump’s former Acting Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, has his backing. Other Republicans challenging Meijer include America First candidate Audra Johnson and attorney Gabriella Manolache of Grand Rapids. On the Democratic side, the only announced candidate thus far is the aforementioned Scholten.
The former Democratic candidate got an unexpected boost from redistricting earlier this year when the Democratic-leaning city of Muskegon was included in the 3rd district. As a result of this, the primary and general election in Meijer’s district promises to be fascinating. This is especially true because one of Meijer’s challengers, (Gibbs), is a well-known and formidable candidate to the incumbent Congressman. Ultimately, Meijer will probably win the primary, but the general election may be more difficult in a Democratic-leaning district. So, I will predict Scholten ultimately defeats Meijer in November.
Michelle Steel (CA-45)
Congresswoman Michelle Steel of Orange County (currently representing the 48th Congressional District) announced recently that she would be running in the newly drawn 45th district. This will include Westminster, Garden Grove, Fountain Valley, and Midway City among other areas. Currently, there is a crowded field of Republican candidates vying for the seat. Other than Steel, business owner Brian Burley, Navy Veteran Shawn Collins, veteran Terry Dale, attorney Christopher Gonzalez, and several others are duking it out for the GOP nomination.
On the Democratic side, only Mt. San Antonio Community College Board of Trustees President Jay Chen is in the race. Current Democratic Congresswoman Katie Porter plans to run in the 47th District which does not encompass her current region. The 45th district, as currently constructed, leans Democratic by less than 1 point. Considering other factors, including the GOP-friendly environment in 2022, Steel probably has the inside track on winning this seat. As such, I will predict Steel defeats Chen this November.
The House Roundup
All things considered, 2022 promises to feature dozens of competitive House races and potentially a few nail-biters. The six races highlighted above could truly go either way, they are that close. The predicted winners of Nunn, Golden, Kiggans, Valadao, Scholten, and Steel could just as easily be reversed. In fact, of the 13 races the Cook Political Report rates as tossups, none are easy to predict. The most likely outcome for Republican candidates across the country is a gain of about 8-10 of those toss-up seats.
That’s more than enough for the GOP to take back the house. But if they wish to approach a true “shellacking” of House Democrats, they are probably going to need to win all of those races. Is it possible? Yes, but only time will tell how these and other Congressional races shake out. I for one will be closely watching which candidates win primaries this summer. This is because the quality of candidates is just as important as the environment in which they are running in. So with the Midterms approaching, grab your popcorn.