Examining Competitive House Races in the Midwest

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #109 | By: Ian Milden | November 20, 2023
Photo taken from: theguardian.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 Midwest.

Policy Analysis:

Republicans shocked many pundits by only winning a four-seat majority in the House of Representatives during the midterm elections. There are a handful of seats in this region that Democrats can target, but the Democratic Party will need to make significant efforts to recruit the right candidates and support their campaigns. The Democratic Party has a recent history of not doing that in some of these districts in recent election cycles.

Nebraska’s second Congressional district supported Joe Biden’s Presidential Campaign in 2020, but it chose to send Congressman Don Bacon (R-NE) back to the House of Representatives. The second district is based around Omaha and has been a swing district for the last decade. Bacon won the seat in 2016 by defeating Congressman Brad Ashford (D-NE). Efforts to unseat Congressman Bacon have not been successful due to nominating the wrong candidate and limited national support for the Democratic nominee. Congressman Bacon won reelection in 2022 by less than 7,000 votes. Bacon’s moderate profile and his military background appeal to the district, which has an air force base within its boundaries, so the candidate that Democrats recruit to run in this district needs to be sensitive to that.

Iowa’s first, second, and third districts were all under the control of Democrats after the 2018 elections, but Republicans have recaptured these seats. They are now held by Congresswoman Marianette Miller-Meeks (R-IA-01), Congresswoman Ashley Hinson (R-IA-02), and Congressman Zach Nunn (R-IA-03). Democrats have struggled to find the right mix of policy and messaging strategy to appeal to rural voters for several election cycles. Democrats are still capable of competing in Iowa, but poor performances have deterred the national party from investing substantial resources in the state. The 3rd district was the closest race in 2022, though Democrats were defending incumbent Congresswoman Cindy Axne (D-IA). Axne lost by slightly more than 2,000 votes in 2022.

Wisconsin’s third Congressional district flipped to Republican control in 2022 when Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI) retired. This is a district in the Southwestern part of the state. Derrick Van Orden (R-WI) won the open seat with less than 52% of the vote in 2022. Van Orden had a number of controversies that popped up during the campaign, including a report that he was among the rioters outside the capitol building on January 6th, 2021. Democrats invested very little in trying to retain the seat after Congressman Kind retired. The state supreme court recently gained a liberal majority, so a lawsuit could lead to changes in this district or others in the state of Wisconsin.

Michigan’s 10th district, which contains some of the suburbs north of Detroit, had a very competitive race in 2022. John James (R-MI) won the seat by less than 3,000 votes in 2022. Democrats did not expect the race to be that competitive last year, so they will likely invest in that district if they find a good candidate. Suburban voters have increasingly left the Republican Party in recent years due to concerns about the Republicans’ style of governing and the Republican Party’s focus on social issues.

Democrats will also have a few important seats to defend in the Midwest. Michigan’s 7th district, which is based in Lansing, will have an open seat race after Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) decided to run for the open U.S. Senate seat. The 7th district is a swing district with a slight Republican lean. Democrats will need to recruit a very good candidate if they plan on retaining this seat. Slotkin’s national security background and aggressive campaigning in areas that typically voted for Republicans helped her win close elections.

Redistricting made Michigan’s 8th district, which runs from Flint to Bay City, into a competitive district. The district is currently represented by Congressman Dan Kildee (D-MI). Congressman Kildee won comfortably in 2022, but this is a race to keep an eye on if Republicans recruit a good candidate.

Illinois 17th District has been competitive in recent election cycles. Eric Sorenson (D-IL) won the seat in 2022 by about 8,000 votes after the seat was vacated by the retirement of Congressman Cheri Bustos (D-IL). Sorensen is running for reelection. This is a rural district in western Illinois, which is not an archetypical district for Democrats to be winning in.

One more issue to note is that Ohio’s congressional maps are currently facing a legal challenge for not complying with the state constitution’s new prohibitions on partisan gerrymandering. It is unclear what the resolution will be at this time for the 2024 elections.

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