US House Challenger Candidates With a Lead

Is already seeing eight 2020 US House challengers unseat their incumbent opponents, obviously all in the primaries, a precursor to a larger number of incumbents losing their seats in the general election? 

In typical election years, well over 90% of incumbents who seek re-election win. Therefore, eight members denied re-nomination in their own party primary elections is an unusually high number. What’s more, turning to the general election, 22 House incumbents have trailed in at least one poll since July began.

Below is the list of incumbents, alphabetically by state, who are facing what appear to be the most competitive challengers in the country.  All challengers have led the incumbent in at least one political poll of their race. Tomorrow, we will cover the remaining eleven.

Alaska At-Large

Alyse Galvin ran in 2018 and saw similar polling numbers even as late as October 29. Rep. Don Young* (R-Ft. Yukon) would still go onto win the race 53-46%. Ms. Galvin is one of the many close finishers returning for a re-match this year.

  • Public Policy Polling (7/7-8); Galvin margin: +2 points
  • 2016 Presidential: Trump: 51-37% 

Arizona 6th

Rep. David Schweikert (R-Fountain Hills/Scottsdale) has pleaded to eleven ethics violations relating to using his government resources for political purposes in addition to campaign finance irregularities. With the district becoming more Democratic in addition to his personal situation, Rep. Schweikert faces his toughest re-election campaign against physician Hiral Tipirneni who twice ran close races in the adjoining 8th CD.

  • Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (8/6-12); Tipirneni margin: +3 points
  • 2016 Presidential: Trump: 52-42% 

California 25th

One of the most recent polls found for this House study finds Rep. Mike Garcia* (R-Santa Clarita), who won his seat in a May 12 special election and surprisingly taking a seat back from the Democrats, trailing the woman he defeated four months ago, state Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Newhall). With California going heavily Democratic in the presidential election, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that this race again becomes a toss-up despite Rep. Garcia’s ten-point win with a high special election turnout.

  • Normington Petts (9/21-23); Smith margin: +3 points
  • 2016 Presidential: Clinton: 50-44% 

Florida 27th

This is a re-match of the 2018 open seat campaign that saw former Health & Human Services Secretary and President of the University of Miami Rep. Donna Shalala top former Spanish language television news reporter Maria Elvira Salazar. Ms. Shalala’s victory margin was 52-46%. The only public poll released so far came in early September and produced a surprising result with Ms. Salazar pulling slightly ahead.  

  • 1892 Polling (9/2-6); Salazar margin: +3 points
  • 2016 Presidential: Clinton: 58-39% 

Illinois 13th

In yet another re-match of a close race, Rep. Rodney Davis* slipped past businesswoman Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, 50.4 – 49.6%, two years ago, a difference of only 2,058 votes of more than 270,000 ballots cast. The summer polling suggests the 2020 outcome will be equally as tight.

  • GBAO Research (9/17-20); Davis margin: +1 point
  • RMG Research (7/27-8/7); Dirksen Londrigan margin: +2 points
  • 2016 Presidential: Trump: 50-44% 

Iowa 3rd

Freshman Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Des Moines) unseated two-term Republican Congressman David Young* 48-47% in 2018. The 2020 early summer numbers gave Mr. Young a boost in his quest for a return to the House, but the latest available polling results produce an advantage for the new incumbent. Still, this race has the potential to again come down to a small number of votes.

  • Monmouth University (7/25-8/3); Axne margin: +6 points
  • Tarrance Group (7/7-9); Young margin: +1 point
  • 2016 Presidential: Trump: 48-45% 

Michigan 6th

Rep. Fred Upton* (R-St. Joseph), originally elected to his southwestern Michigan seat in 1986, scored only 63% of the vote in this year’s Republican primary even though his opponent spent no money. This immediately suggested his 50-46% re-election victory in 2018 was no fluke. A competitive race is underway here against st. Rep. Jon Hoadley, but the latest trends suggest Mr. Upton is improving his political position.

  • LOC Wick (8/25-28); Upton margin: +6 points
  • RMG Research (7/30-8/6); Hoadley margin: +4 points
  • 2016 Presidential: Trump: 51-43% 

Minnesota 1st

The 1st District of Minnesota is one of only two 2018 House results that produced a Republican conversion of a non-redistricted Democratic seat, and this election by only 1,315 votes of over 291,000 ballots cast. Former Defense Department official Dan Feehan returns for a re-match with Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-Blue Earth/Rochester), and another close contest is expected despite this being a majority Trump district in 2016.

  • Public Policy Polling (9/10-11); Margin: Even
  • RMG Research (7/31-8/7); Hagedorn margin: +3 points
  • Victoria Research (7/19-23); Meehan margin: +2 points
  • 2016 Presidential: Trump: 53-38% 

Minnesota 7th

The 7th District in the Land of 10,000 Lakes is the strongest Trump congressional district in the United States that elects a Democrat to the House. Not only did the one publicly released poll here show former Lt. Governor and State Senate President Michelle Fischbach leading 15-term Rep. Collin Peterson, but Republican primary turnout exceeded the Democratic participation figure by more than 9,100 votes. More data will undoubtedly soon be forthcoming from this campaign.

  • Tarrance Group (8/2-5); Fischbach margin: +10 points
  • 2016 Presidential: Trump: 62-31% 

Missouri 2nd

Rep. Ann Wagner* (R-Ballwin) won a close re-election in 2018 with a 51-47% victory against a local Democratic attorney. This year, she faces two-term state Senator Jill Schupp from their suburban St. Louis congressional district. Though the 2nd was drawn as a Republican seat, the district has moved closer to the political center in the last election and the polling suggests we will see another tight congressional finish here this year.

  • Normington Petts (9/10-14); Margin: Even 
  • Public Policy Polling (8/13-14); Schupp margin: +3 points
  • 2016 Presidential: Trump: 53-42% 

Nebraska 2nd

Yet another rerun from 2018, the Omaha regional congressional district performs as a marginal seat. In one of two states that split their electoral votes, winning the 2nd District is a must for the Trump campaign. Rep. Don Bacon* (R-Papillion) was first elected here in 2016, defeating one-term incumbent Brad Ashford (D-Omaha). Yet to break 51% of the vote, Rep. Bacon is again embroiled in another tough campaign against Kara Eastman, which will be heavily influenced by how the presidential campaign actually unfolds.

  • Global Strategy Group (9/14-16); Margin: Even
  • Global Strategy Group (7/27-29); Eastman margin: +5 percentage points
  • Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (6/30-7/5); Eastman margin: +1 percentage point
  • 2016 Presidential: Trump: 48-46% 

New Jersey 2nd

Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis Township/Atlantic City) was elected as a Democrat in 2018 but changed parties a year later. He now faces the general electorate for the first time as a Republican. At this point, we see two consecutive polls giving challenger Amy Kennedy, the wife of former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), leads at the outer edges of the polling margin of error. We will see a great deal of action here in the closing days.

  • Public Policy Polling (9/14-17); Kennedy margin: +5 points
  • ALG (9/14-15); Kennedy margin: +4 points
  • 2016 Presidential: Trump: 51-46% 

New Jersey 7th

The 7th Congressional District of New Jersey, which stretches from the Pennsylvania border to the outskirts of Newark, has been a Republican seat since 1980 until two years ago when freshman Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Rocky Hill) unseated five-term veteran Leonard Lance (R). State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr., whose father served as Governor for two terms from 1982-1990, returns for another race for federal office. He first ran for the 7th District in 2000, and then the US Senate in 2006, losing both times. Mr. Kean has served in the New Jersey legislature for 19 years. Though we’ve only seen one public poll here, this appears to be a toss-up race and more data should soon become available.

  • National Republican Congressional Committee (6/24-26); Kean margin: +2 points
  • 2016 Presidential: Clinton: 49-47% 

New Mexico 2nd

This is a re-match of the 2018 open seat campaign that saw political newcomer Xochitl Torres Small (D-Las Cruces) slip past then-state Rep. Yvette Herrell by a 51-49% count. Ms. Herrell returns with a strong primary victory over New Mexico Oil & Gas Association president Claire Chase, a candidate who many believed would be a stronger opponent for the Congresswoman. Ms. Herrell did take the early general election lead, but the later polling has slightly favored the incumbent. The 2nd District is a must-win for Republicans if they are to be competitive for majority status.

  • Research & Polling (8/26-9/2); Small margin: +2 points
  • Tarrance Group (7/7-9); Margin: Even
  • Public Opinion Strategies (12/18-19); Herrell margin: +2 
  • 2016 Presidential: Trump: 50-40% 

New York 1st

Three-term Rep. Lee Zeldin* (R-Shirley) has done well in what is commonly a swing/lean R east Long Island district. The constituency here, however, does have a history of unseating its incumbents after a period of time, usually eight to ten years. Therefore, no member can be considered totally safe in this New York CD. Democrats recruited college professor Nancy Goroff to take a shot at Rep. Zeldin this year, and she is proving to be a competitive candidate. Mr. Zeldin remains in the favorite’s position, but the lack of a presidential presence in the state could adversely affect Republican turnout.

  • Tulchin Research (8/5-10); Goroff margin: +2 points
  • Global Strategy Group (8/3-5); Zeldin margin: +5 points
  • Public Policy Polling (7/14-15); Zeldin margin: +7 points
  • 2016 Presidential: Trump: 54-42% 

New York 24th

The 24th District, anchored in Syracuse and one of just three congressional districts that Hillary Clinton where a Republican now represents, was competitive in 2018. Three-term Rep. John Katko* (R-Syracuse) defeated college professor Dana Balter, 52-46%, despite the challenger spending almost $2.7 million. She returns for a re-match in a presidential year hoping to capitalize on a probable Joe Biden victory in this district. Pollsters are paying a lot of attention to this race, and we can expect to see several more published polls in October.

  • GBAO (8/23-25); Balter margin: +2 points
  • Public Opinion Strategies (8/12-15); Katko margin: +11 points 
  • Global Strategy Group (8/3-5); Katko margin: +5 points
  • RMG Research (7/29-8/4); Katko margin: +3 points
  • Public Policy Polling (7/14-15); Katko margin: +7 points
  • Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (6/18-22); Balter margin: +3 points
  • 2016 Presidential: Clinton: 49-45% 

Ohio 1st

Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Cincinnati) was first elected in 1994 and lost the seat in 2008. He regained it in the Republican landslide of 2010, and then had another close race two years ago. This year he faces healthcare company executive Kate Schroder (D) who had raised $1.4 million through the end of June. The Cincinnati seat is another that is becoming political marginal, so the 2020 outcome is clearly in play. Rep. Chabot’s past campaign treasurer is under federal investigation, which has allowed the local media to hit him with negative news stories and tarnish his personal image.

  • Normington Petts (8/30-9/3); Schroder margin: +4 points
  • Lake Research (7/13-15); Schroder margin: +1 point
  • Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (6/29-7/2); Chabot margin: +5 points
  • 2016 Presidential: Trump: 51-45% 

Oklahoma 5th

Oklahoma’s 5th District is another must-win for Republicans, as the seat was lost to the Democrats two years ago for the first time since 1972. Freshman Rep. Kendra Horn (D-Oklahoma City) stands for re-election against state Sen. Stephanie Bice* (R-Oklahoma City) who came through a tough run-off campaign at the end of June. President Trump should again win here, which will help Ms. Bice, but this is another metropolitan district that is becoming less Republican.

  • Sooner Poll (9/2-10); Bice (R) margin: +1 point
  • Normington Petts (8/31-9/3); Horn margin: +8 points
  • Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (8/5-9); Horn margin: +5 points
  • 2016 Presidential: Trump: 53-40%

Pennsylvania’s 10th

The Pennsylvania state Supreme Court changing the congressional map in 2017, which had a major effect upon this south-central Pennsylvania CD. The addition of Harrisburg and all of Dauphin County has made the seat much more competitive as Rep. Scott Perry’s (R-Dillsburg/Harrisburg) 2018 victory spread of just 51-49% suggests. This year, he faces term-limited State Auditor Eugene DePasquale (D) who has won two statewide elections. The latest poll, just released, gives the challenger a seven-point lead over Rep. Perry, which clearly makes this a key Democratic conversion opportunity.

  • Pennsylvania Survey Research (9/23-24); DePasquale margin: +7 points
  • Pulse Research (8/18-9/3); Perry margin: +3 points
  • GBAO (8/30-9/1); DePasquale margin: +4 points
  • 2016 Presidential: Trump: 52-43% 

Texas 21st

This central Texas district that includes parts of Austin, San Antonio, and the Texas Hill Country, is also becoming closer than in past years. After a tight win for freshman incumbent Chip Roy* (R-Austin), 50-48%, after long-time incumbent Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio) retired, former gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis moved into this district and is making a move to unseat Mr. Roy, who is Sen. Ted Cruz’s former chief of staff. Combined, the two candidates raised more than $7 million through June 30th, with the preponderance ($4.6 million) coming from Ms. Davis. Outside organizations have also been pummeling the district media markets with heavy advertising. The seat should still remain Republican, but the outcome is sure to be close meaning that an upset is distinctly possible.

  • Garin Hart Yang Research (8/31-9/4); Davis margin: +1 point
  • 2016 Presidential: Trump: 52-42% 

Utah 4th

Freshman Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Salt Lake City) unseated two-term Rep. Mia Love (R) by a scant 694 votes of almost 270,000 ballots cast in 2018. Earlier in the summer, former NFL football player and Salt Lake City businessman Burgess Owens (R) jumped out to a relatively strong lead. The trends have swung back toward Rep. McAdams, but the voting history here suggests we will again see a close race. Utah has switched, for the first time, to an all-mail format, similar to Oregon, Colorado, and Washington. How this change will affect overall turnout remains to be seen. President Trump’s margin was low here in 2016 because Independent Evan McMullen recorded 23% of the vote.

  • RMG Research (9/7-12); McAdams margin: +4 points
  • Lighthouse Research (8/31-9/12); McAdams margin: +11 points
  • RMG Research (7/27-8/1); Margin: Even
  • Moore Information (7/8-11); Owens margin: +9 points
  • 2016 Presidential: Trump: 39-32% 

Virginia 2nd

Freshman Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Norfolk) unseated then-freshman Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Virginia Beach) after negative publicity surfaced, and later charges, that Taylor campaign operatives had secretly recruited a rump candidate on the Independent ballot line in order to draw votes away from Luria. The result: Rep. Taylor fell to her in the 2018 general election, 51-49%. Mr. Taylor was originally in the 2020 US Senate race, but then switched back to the 2nd District when it became clear that his challenge to Sen. Mark Warner (D) was hopeless. Despite an even poll in July, the trends are clearly in Rep. Luria’s favor and a challenger victory here appears unlikely.

  • Tarrance Group (7/14-16); Margin: Even
  • 2016 Presidential: Trump: 49-45% 


* denotes that AGC PAC has made a contribution to the candidate.