If House Democrats have any hope of salvaging their slim majority in 2022, or even just limiting GOP gains, it will be thanks to candidates like Salas. He is part of a group aiming to win about a dozen Republican-held House seats that Joe Biden won in 2020 — perhaps the only truly vulnerable GOP districts this fall.
In a midterm political environment leaning so heavily against the Democrats, the party will have to win a big chunk of it to have any chance of staying in power next year. Republicans need a net gain of just five seats to secure a majority, and the GOP’s target slate includes more than 10 Democratic districts that Donald Trump carried in 2020.
Strong national headwinds have stifled Democratic recruiting in many places, and some potential candidates have chosen to wait for a more promising year. But party operatives landed top Democratic candidates in many of the districts Biden won, thanks in part to favorable new district lines. They are state legislators, military veterans, and public school educators, among others.
“The redistricting was obviously bad for Democrats in Ohio, but it’s been great in Cincinnati,” said Democrat Greg Landsman, an early education advocate turned Cincinnati City Council member who takes on the Rep. GOP. Steve Chabot in 2022.
Chabot has been protected for the past decade by a gerrymander who cut Cincinnati in half. But the newly drawn neighborhood unites the city, transforming the seat from a Trump carried by 3 points in 2020 to a Biden won by 9 points. “This is probably the best pickup opportunity Democrats have in 2022. He’s never had to show up [in a] remote district as competitive,” Landsman said of Chabot.
The district of Salas also became more favorable to his party, getting rid of part of the home base of Valadao.
House Democratic strategists consider Landsman and Salas among their top eight hopes to flip a district this year. All were won by Biden in 2020 – although rising inflation and falling Biden popularity have made national Republican operatives far less worried than the 2020 numbers would warrant.
Even so, Democrats insist they are on the attack. And several of the party’s targets are in newly redrawn districts that voted for Biden by double digits, giving the party some hope even in a more hostile environment.
Perhaps the Democrats’ best target is in central Illinois, where the party has turned the GOP representative. Rodney Davis“Springfield-area district in a single Biden carried by 11 points. Davis jumped to a nearby seat — and a primary against another Republican incumbent, paving the way for Democrat Nikki Budzinski, a former adviser to Gov. JB Pritzker.
Another high-profile Democratic target is in western Michigan, where the Republican Rep. Pierre Meijer is now in a district that voted for Biden by almost 9 points. And in southern New Mexico, Las Cruces Councilman Gabe Vasquez, a former aide to the senator. Martin Heinrich (DN.M.), takes on GOP Rep. Yvette Herrel in a seat redesigned by state Democrats to slant more to the left.
In Cincinnati, Landsman won his primary last week without competition, allowing him to devote all his efforts against Chabot, who he edged in the last quarter. Democrats also expect another rookie on Tuesday, Nebraska State Sen. Tony Vargas, to clear his primary on Tuesday and focus on GOP Rep. Don Bacon, who represents Biden’s district. won in Omaha.
In interviews, many of these recruits insisted that they were undeterred by the ominous political environment as they felt their backgrounds were particularly suited to their home territory.
Salas, for example, racked up huge margins of victory in elections for his seat in the California State Assembly, drawing cross-voters by opposing his own party on issues such as opposition gas tax and support for increased police funding.
And in Nebraska, Vargas, the son of immigrants who became a public school science teacher, lost his father, a machinist, to Covid-19. He was outraged that Bacon voted against a pandemic relief package.
“We need working-class people who also have experience to get things done,” Vargas said.
Bacon’s last opponent was a self-proclaimed socialist who lost to him in two consecutive elections after the incumbent portrayed her as too left-wing for the swing neighborhood. In contrast, Vargas touts his bipartisan streak in the state legislature: “I got to do a lot of things across the aisle.”
While some Democrats in Biden-GOP districts are skating through the primaries, others have been more controversial. In the Los Angeles area, Christy Smith is looking for her third game against Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) after losing the top two.
But some National Democrats are pushing for top candidate Quaye Quartey, a Navy intelligence officer. He and his supporters claim he is a better competitor against Garcia.
“He and I are both Naval Academy graduates, ex-officers – although I outclass him. We’re both people of color, we’re both first-generation Americans,” Quartey said in an interview, as he compared their biographies.
The seat, which Republicans unexpectedly won in a 2020 special election, went to Biden by double digits in 2020, as Garcia retained the seat by just 333 votes last fall.
“The last two cycles, with all due respect to the former contender, we haven’t been successful,” Quartey said when asked about the race against Smith.
Still, while the territory Biden won isn’t solid ground for Republicans, it also means many incumbents have experience winning elections in tougher environments than they might encounter in 2022. Garcia et al. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) — who was one of only three Republicans from districts won by Hillary Clinton to survive the 2018 Democratic wave — each already has just under $2 million in the bank.
The Democrat believes his likely candidate against Fitzpatrick, Ashley Ehasz, has a compelling profile as an Army veteran — but his campaign had just $90,000 available in April.
And Democrats are a bit less optimistic about the seats Biden won by a smaller margin. Democratic doctor Asif Mahmood challenges the GOP representative. Young Kim in an Orange County seat that Biden won by just 2 points. Navy veteran Jay Chen is slightly better placed in Republican representation. michelle steelBiden’s neighboring district, which Biden won by 6 points.
In addition to California, Democrats had high hopes for New York — where party state lawmakers had drawn a lopsided gerrymander. But the state high court threw out the map, scrambling plans to turn at least three GOP-held seats into Biden-strong districts.
A district in upstate New York, owned by the retired GOP representative. John Katko, is likely to remain a great Democratic-leaning pickup opportunity. Lawyer Josh Riley and veteran Francis Conole run there.
But an open seat on Long Island and another GOP-held district on Staten Island will likely be far less favorable to Democrats according to the new court-drawn map. That’s bad news for former Rep. Max Rose (DN.Y.), a Purple Heart-winning fight vet who is seeking a rematch with the GOP Rep. Nicole Malliotakis on Staten Island.
Rose is one of a handful of Democratic candidates who are trying this election yet again after a previous unsuccessful bid – in hopes they can secure a victory in a slightly better seat.
Democrats are also throwing their support behind Hillary Scholten, a former DOJ attorney, as she prepares to take on Meijer in her newly redesigned district.
The freshman Republican once said his vote to impeach former President Donald Trump may have been “political suicide” — but in addition to a GOP primary, he faces a new competitive district. The new lines, drawn by a nonpartisan commission, encompass parts of Grand Rapids that Scholten easily won in 2020 and add voters from other Democratic strongholds, like Grand Valley State University, which has 20,000 students. .
“We’re going to target each of those voters and make sure they know they not only have a chance to influence that seat,” Scholten said, but also have a “nationally significant” impact on the battle for the House.