Examining Competitive US House Races in the South

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #107 | By: Ian Milden | November 6, 2023
Photo taken from: cnn.com


Policy Summary:

Democrats lost their majority in the House of Representatives in the 2022 mid-term elections. However, the small size of the Republican majority leaves Democrats with a path to re-take the House majority. This brief will take an early look at some of the races in the South.

Policy Analysis:

Republicans shocked many pundits by only winning a four-seat majority in the House of Representatives during the midterm elections. The South has largely not been friendly to Democrats in recent election cycles due to Republicans’ control of the redistricting process and increasing hostility to the Democratic Party among white southern voters since the 1960s, so districts that can be targeted are few and far between.

Virginia’s second district was one of the few seats where a Democratic incumbent was defeated for re-election. Jen Kiggans (R-VA) defeated Elaine Luria (D-VA) in 2022 to win the seat. The seat is a swing district based on the coast of Virginia. The district includes multiple military installations, so veterans have been successful in recent versions of this district.

There are a pair of districts in Florida that Democrats have recently held that could be competitive if Democrats are interested in competing for them again. The 13th District, which is based in Pinellas County, was vacated by Charlie Crist (D-FL) when he ran for governor. Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL) won the vacant seat and will run for reelection. The district lines were redrawn to be a little more favorable to Republicans, which may push it further down the priority list for national Democratic organizations.

Democrats could also target Florida’s 27th district, which is in the Miami area. It is currently represented by Congresswoman Maria Salazar (R-FL). However, Democrats have performed poorly in the Miami area during the last two election cycles. The poor performance in Miami has had an effect on statewide races, and Democrats have responded by investing in other elections outside of Florida, so I would be surprised if they make a serious effort to flip this seat.

South Texas is becoming contested territory. Democrats hold two districts here, the 28th (represented by Henry Cuellar) and the 34th (represented by Vicente Gonzalez), but Republicans took over the neighboring 15th district in 2022 (Monica De La Cruz is the representative). Democrats had no issue holding these districts until recent election cycles. The challenges Democrats are facing in these districts are driven by changes in voting patterns by Hispanic voters. If Democrats continue to lose voters in these south Texas districts, that will hurt their chances of competing in statewide elections.

There are a few other notable seats that Democrats will have to defend. Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) represents the 7th district in Virginia. This district runs from northern Virginia to Fredericksburg. Spanberger has won close races since winning this seat in 2018, though Republicans such as Eric Cantor and Dave Brat have held recent versions of this seat. While Spanberger is reportedly considering a run for Governor in 2025, she is running for reelection

Democrats will also have to defend an open seat in Virginia’s 10th district, where Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) is retiring to focus on her health issues. The seat is based in the northern Virginia suburbs near Washington DC, which is becoming friendlier territory for Democratic candidates. It is unclear who the nominees will be in this district.

Democrats won several seats in North Carolina after a court ruled that Republicans could not proceed with another heavily gerrymandered map. Republicans have filed a lawsuit to allow the Republican-controlled state legislature to redraw the maps with a heavy Republican gerrymander. Republicans recently took a majority on the state Supreme Court after the state legislature made state Supreme Court elections partisan, and the new Republican majority voted to allow the state legislature to draw gerrymandered maps. If Republicans implement a gerrymander, Democrats could lose three or four US House seats in North Carolina.

Democrats have had some good news regarding redistricting in the South. In the case Allen vs Milligan, the Supreme Court ruled that Alabama’s current congressional map was illegally gerrymandered based on race. Court-ordered redistricting will likely create a district in Alabama that Democrats can at least compete in if it isn’t a safe seat for Democrats. Alabama Republicans’ attempts to avoid compliance with the Supreme Court’s ruling have not fared well in subsequent federal court hearings.

Louisiana will also be required to redraw its Congressional maps to create a second majority-black district after the Supreme Court declined to take up Louisiana’s appeal of a lower court ruling. A federal court ruled that Georgia’s congressional district maps violated the Voting Rights Act and ordered the maps to be redrawn in the coming weeks. It is unclear what the partisan impact will be, though Republicans will likely make every effort to avoid losing seats. Other larger southern states may have similarly drawn maps, which could result in more court-ordered redistricting, though there is a substantial chance that other southern states may not be ordered to redraw their maps until after the 2024 elections.

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