There are only 11 Democrats holding the 33 seats in this particular congressional cycle. By the luck of the draw, this batch doesn’t have many swing states- Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida all get a rest this cycle. In 2014 when these “Class 2” seats was up, Democrats got decimated. Incumbents lost in Alaska, North Carolina, Colorado, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Open seats were lost in Iowa, West Virginia, and Georgia. It was a damn bloodbath. Hindsight, though, is 2020. And in 2020, we’ll have a chance to win some of those seats back, and if we are extraordinarily lucky, get back the Senate in the process.

Of the 11 Democratic seats, I project the following 6 to run for re-election without complications: Tom Udall (New Mexico); Jeff Merkley (Oregon); Gary Peters (Michigan); Mark Warner (Virginia); Al Franken (Minnesota); and Chris Coons (Delaware). Although Warner had a glass jaw in 2014, barely winning what should have been a landslide against a joke of an opponent, I ultimately think that each of them should have a fairly easy ride to re-election. Maybe Peters is in the most danger, but if Michigan only barely went Republican under extraordinary circumstances in 2016, a good, careful, constituent-oriented campaign should win the day.

But only 6 Democratic seats with surefire incumbents running? That’s…um…not a lot. See, one issue is that lots of Democrats in this cycle are nearing a plausible retiring age. Of those whom I don’t expect to run again are:

New Hampshire: Jeanne Shaheen survived- barely- against not-really-from-New-Hampshire Scott Brown in 2014. She’ll be 73 on Election Day 2020, and could very well decide to step down. Amazingly, New Hampshire had two Democratic senators for the first time since the late 1970s. Who will succeed her? As loath as I am to break up New Hampshire’s all-female congressional delegation, I pick Chris Pappas. He’ll be a mere 40 years old come 2020, and has served very ably on New Hampshire’s executive council. He’d have a tough race- I’d be shocked if Kelly Ayotte doesn’t try to win New Hampshire’s other senate seat. But if he prevails, Pappas would be the first openly gay man in the U.S. Senate.

Illinois: Dick Durbin will be just shy of 76, and the Senate Minority Whip- having seen his onetime junior senator Barack Obama become president- might hang up his hat. If so, expect a massive bloodbath in the Democratic primaries. Attorney general Lisa Madigan is probably likely to run and probably likely to win. But I want to throw my endorsement to Representative Cheri Bustos instead. As one of the rare Democrats serving Illinois in congress from outside of the Chicago area, downstaters need assurances that Chicago doesn’t run the whole state- much as Kristin Gillibrand was an olive branch to upstate New York.

Massachusetts: Ed Markey has been in congress since 1976, and he’ll be in his mid-70s by the next presidential election. Retiring then and now will allow him to almost certainly hand off his Senate seat to another Democrat. While Joseph Kennedy III is waiting in the wings, I think the future of the party is in better hands with Seth Moulton. He’s done a terrific job as a congressman, and is an Iraq veteran who doesn’t like to brag about his service. Moulton is widely regarded as the future of the Democratic Party in the Bay State, and I’m not inclined to disagree.

Rhode Island: Jack Reed always seems to be in the conversation for Secretary of Defense, and has always turned down the chance. Reed will be 70 on election day, and after 24 years in the Senate may decide to call it a day- perhaps waiting for a call to higher office. Should this spot open up, I’d place my bets on Jorge Elorza. The Providence mayor has helped dig the city out of its financial hole and is an avid cyclist. If chosen, he too would make history: the first Latin-American senator to represent New England.

Special cases: 2020 is also a presidential election year. I don’t want to reveal too much about my 2020 presidential election post for this series, but let’s imagine for a moment that Kirstin Gillibrand and Cory Booker decide not to run for re-election to the Senate and to focus on their presidential race instead. There’s already articles about a Chelsea Clinton vs. Caroline Kennedy showdown, and I hope to god that doesn’t happen. I’d prefer Christine Quinn, the speaker of the New York City Council and has recently served as CEO of an organization aiding homeless women in New York City. For New Jersey, it’s Josh Gottheimer, who took out an incumbent in a Republican-leaning district that Trump carried. As a speechwriter and strong fundraiser, he’ll have plenty of advantages if this spot becomes available.

Otherwise, we’ve got 22 seats controlled by Republicans. So let’s get down to it.

Alabama: So this seat now belongs to Luther Strange, the man who sounds like a DC-Marvel villain mash-up and was appointed to fill Jeff Sessions’s Senate seat when he became attorney general. Going up against a Republican during an election year in Alabama spells almost certain defeat, but I’d like to see what Walter Maddox, the mayor of Tuscaloosa, can do. His job is technically non-partisan, but his Democratic sympathies are an open secret. He earned a great deal of praise in the aftermath of the 2011 tornado that decimated his city.

Alaska: Dan Sullivan narrowly beat Mark Begich back in 2014, returning this seat to the Republicans. In this situation, I’m inclined to gamble- on Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins. He’ll be 30 years old- barely- when the election rolls around, but he’s already rewritten the rule book on grassroots campaigning in unfriendly Alaska. He took on a powerful incumbent- the Finance Committee chair in the Alaska House, and beat him. He went door to door in a house district the size of New Jersey- often by plane or ferry- to meet his constituents, and then took on oil companies once elected.

Arkansas: Ah, geez. Look- unless he primaries Donald Trump and forfeits his Senate seat, Tom Cotton is pretty sure to win this seat as well- his recent Town Hall debacle notwithstanding. Connor Eldridge is a good candidate on paper- moderate on a lot of social issues, an economic populist in the right ways- but if he barely made a dent against the nondescript John Boozman, I don’t see him taking out a bona fide conservative rock star like Cotton. But he has as good a chance as anyone I can name- he just needs some national support for this race.

Colorado: Mark Udall lost what should have been a winnable race here in 2014. Cory Gardner is touted as an up-and-coming Republican personality, but the right opponent can defeat him, especially in a presidential election year. I believe that right opponent is Denver mayor Michael Hancock. Under his mayoralty, Denver has continued to grow in its role as an attractive regional powerhouse. Having spent part of his childhood homeless, Hancock has worked hard to make sure that Denver’s prosperity is shared. Light rail lines have grown connecting downtown Denver to its distant airport, affordable housing units have been built, and a think tank called the Denver Peak Academy was founded to find creative, cost-saving solutions to the city’s problems. For his efforts, Governing magazine named him one of its 2016 Public Officials of the Year.

Georgia: Like Arizona, Georgia is a state that is trending blue, but at a glacial pace. Statewide office holders who could appeal to the wide public are scarce, but I think a second chance should be given to Jason Carter. In a very red year with terrible turnout, in a blue-trending red state, Carter took on an incumbent governor and still kept the loss within double digits. And he’s no mere legacy pick- he is a state senator, a prominent ethics reformer, and like his great-grandmother Miss Lillian, served in the Peace Corps. In a more favorable climate, Carter can take on not-especially-strong incumbent David Perdue.

Iowa: Joni Ernst, whose shocking pig-castrating ads nonetheless seemed palatable to Iowans, is up for re-election. I searched high and low for a possible contender before arriving at Todd Prichard. Iowa Starting Line says this about him: “On paper, Prichard, 43, fits many of the qualities Democrats say they want more of in their statewide candidates: an Iraq War veteran, younger, represents rural Iowa, and personally understands working-class issues. That certainly sounds to many like the profile of a Democrat who could win back the blue-collar and rural voters that moved away from the party in recent years.” That’s a guy with a winning resume and a constituent-friendly approach. Let’s make sure that Joni Ernst is German for “one-term senator.”

Kentucky: If we are lucky, Mitch McConnell will finally decide to hang it up in 2020. He’s been there since 1984, and is fifth in seniority. Dealing with President Trump and doing damage control will probably make the then-78-year-old retreat into retirement. Greg Fischer might be a fantastic candidate to make a play for the open seat, where Democrats have actually run fairly competitive races in 2008, 2010, and 2014. His small business roots- he invented a commonly-used beverage dispenser- and his good work as mayor of Louisville make him poised to be competitive.

Louisiana: So, Louisiana elected a Democrat to a statewide office in 2015, but it happened under an unusual set of circumstances. Can it happen again? It’s a tough order, but I’d like to see Mitch Landrieu try. His older sister Mary lost this seat in 2014- a bad year to run as a Democrat in a Deep South state. Governing magazine named the New Orleans mayor one of their Public Officials of the Year for 2015. He’s overseen the proud city’s rebuilding process, and business development in the city is now twice what it was per capita before Hurricane Katrina.

Maine: Whither Susan Collins? She might end up governor of Maine; she’d be the prohibitive favorite if she ran in 2018, and would have the luxury of appointing her successor to the Senate. On the other hand, after 24 years in the Senate, she might opt to retire as well- possibly ending the tradition of moderate Republicanism in so doing. Either way, I don’t expect her to be running for a fifth term. Ergo, I’m happy to support Hannah Pingree. She’s a genuine progressive, will be 44 years old in 2020, and was the Speaker of Maine’s House while in her early 30s. Since I started following U.S. politics in 2005, we haven’t had a progressive Democrat in the Senate, and I’d love to see Pingree take that role.

Mississippi: I’ll bet you a shiny nickel that Thad Cochran retires, after a long career that began when Jimmy Carter was in the White House. It’s an open seat, but I’m inclined to think Chris McDaniel, the Tea Partier who nearly primaried Cochran in 2014, will try again.  Not too many Democrats can get elected in a statewide election, but Jim Hood has. Believe it or not, Mississippi has a Democrat attorney general- and it’s him. He’s a personable, gun-owning, Bible-reading good-ol’-boy. We’ll see if that’s enough. Governing magazine calls him “The Last Democrat in Dixie”; in some ways, he’s the end of his tradition as much as Susan Collins is her’s.

Montana: Although it inclines very much toward Republicans in presidential races, Democrats have been successful- all things considered- in this rural, but in some ways extremely populist- state. Despite some maneuvering that included sending Max Baucus to serve as Ambassador to China, Republicans gained this seat. Incumbent Steve Daines should expect to face a robust challenge. And I believe he will in the form of Steve Bullock. He was elected governor twice, each time during a presidential election year where Romney and Trump respectively won Montana by landslide margins. Bullock knows how to communicate with rural voters and would make this seat a strong choice to flip to blue.

Nebraska: Ben Sasse made a name for himself when he became one of the most vocal critics of Donald Trump in the Republican Party- so much so that some thought he would mount a third-party challenge. And yet, Sasse continues to vote for Trump’s policies; fivethrityeight actually measures his record as voting with Trump’s position 100% of the time! Although Sasse is still a prohibitive favorite, I have an unconventional suggestion- Omaha police chief Todd Schmaderer. Like many Nebraska offices, this one is non-partisan, so I’m not even sure that he is actually a Democrat. And yet, he’s excelled at bridging frayed relations between the police and the community, even evincing some empathy for Black Lives Matter.

North Carolina: I honestly thought that Kay Hagan would pull off re-election in this state in 2014. Thom Tillis ended up winning, though, and will defend this seat in 2020. We need a strong opponent to take out an incumbent in a right-leaning swing state. And I want Anthony Foxx to do that job. The former mayor of Charlotte presided over a strong economy and robust environmental measures in his city before going on to serve as Secretary of Transportation. But the South has never elected a black Democrat to the Senate. Ever. I say it’s time to break that nasty tradition.

South Carolina: I wonder how things will turn out for Lindsey Graham. Long derided as the Robin to John McCain’s Batman, he faces the daily mortification of voting ‘yea’ for nominees put forth by a man who gave out his private cell phone number on live television. If we’re going to make a play for South Carolina, I have another candidate to test the waters of black Democrats in the Deep South. He’s retired Major General Abraham Turner. His military service dates back to 1976, he once worked for U.S. Strategic Command, and even has bipartisan credentials, having served as Nikki Haley’s Executive Director of the Department of Employment and Workforce. He joined dozens of retired high-ranking military personnel in endorsing Hillary Clinton in 2016.

South Dakota: Two-term governor Mike Rounds was elected in 2014 under the shadow of a scandal involving money-funneling in the state’s green-cards-for-investment policy. Rounds’s popularity has peaks and valleys in South Dakota- it always has. But South Dakotans have a reputation for throwing a senator out if they get “too Washington,” as Tom Daschle, George McGovern, and Larry Pressler have all learned. So let’s pick somebody not Washington at all; I’d suggest someone like Alisha Vincent, head of Dakota Wesleyan’s George McGovern Center. The GMC is devoted to public service, combatting hunger, and fostering strong community involvement. That’s exactly the tone that must be struck- hearkening back to traditional, commonly accepted ideas, that can help Democrats win again in the prairie.

Texas: So, John Cornyn is up. A lot of how this race goes depends on whether Democrats can make gains in the Lone Star State as its demographic slowly move in their favor. I would argue that it’s time for Julian Castro to see if he can’t fulfill his destiny. He was the Democrats’ “next rising star” – now held by Pete Buttigieg- a position once held by Cory Booker, Barack Obama, Harold Ford, and others. The former San Antonio mayor and Secretary of HUD will be able to get lots of outside help and fundraising necessary to pull off an upset like this. But will Texas be ready for Castro by that point in time?

Tennessee: It’s difficult to see into the future for this seat. Lamar Alexander will be 80 in 2020 and may very well have retirement on his mind. Rumors abound that Peyton Manning will run for this seat, but who knows if they will materialize. Megan Barry, the mayor of Nashville, is well positioned to make a go of it. She’s earned a reputation as a bipartisan problem-solver seeking common ground- and depending on how the country’s fault lines move in the coming years, that might be enough to eek out a win in Tennessee.

West Virginia: Shelly Moore-Capito graduated from the House to the Senate in 2014, taking the seat that had long been Jay Rockefeller’s. In so doing, she became the first Republican senator to represent West Virginia since the 1940s. Although the state gave Donald Trump one of his widest margins, it has often elected Democrats to statewide offices in the recent past, although this trend is fading fast. Carte Goodwin made a fine impression during his short tenure in the Senate, when he was appointed to fill the seat of the legendary Robert Byrd upon his death. He developed a reputation as an executive problem solver, serving as chair of the school-building authority, and helping to mastermind mine rescue operations.

Wyoming: Yikes. Another tough one. Mike Enzi will be 76 and having been in the Senate since 1997, is one more guy on the retirement watch list. Liz Cheney made a play for his seat, but I think popular governor Matt Mead will run- and is the prohibitive favorite to win. In case of the unexpected, though, we should put forward a strong candidate in this most forbidding of climates. Laurie Nichols, the president of the University of Wyoming, would represent the state well in Washington. As she’s weathered large budget cuts that hurt her university, she is in a good position to challenge the conservative proclivity to gut education, the arts, and public television.

So, lots of pickup opportunities, but many of them are in very unfriendly states. But a bad enough political climate- which I think is what we are heading for- can make any seat competitive. Stay tuned as we address the presidential race in 2020 next time.

At last, we’ve finished our journey through the 2018 off-year elections. We’ve looked at some vulnerable house seats, looked at ways to preserve as many Senate seats as possible in a very challenging year, and scouted out some primo prospects for perhaps the weakest area for progressives– the 50 gubernatorial mansions. Now we’ve arrived at 2019 and 2020. I’ll begin by looking at the gubernatorial elections set for those two years- before we branch out to the really exciting stuff– taking back some of those seats we lost in 2014 and then looking at winning the presidency.

Starting with the elections in the off-off-year of 2019:

Kentucky: If ever a state shot itself in the foot, this is it. The Bluegrass State had a popular Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, despite being blood red in presidential elections. It had one of the most successful implementations of Obamacare on the state level through the KYnect system. Yet when 2015 rolled around and Beshear’s two terms were up, the state picked Matt Bevin, a Tea Party businessman who had unsuccessfully primaried Mitch McConnell the year before, over former state attorney general Jack Conway. With buyers’ remorse, Bevin started dismantling KYnect and cut benefits in a poor, under-educated state. Well, winter’s coming, Bevin. Last time anybody checked, his approval rating was in the thirties. And Kentucky actually has a shockingly high number of registered Democrats, albeit of the conservative, Southern populist variety. Andy Beshear, the son of the previous governor and current state attorney general, is by far the best candidate. He even sued Bevin over mid-cycle cuts to the university system, and has handily won statewide election.

Louisiana: A perfect Gulf of Mexico storm led to John Bel Edwards becoming governor following the 2015 election in this state. Term-limited incumbent Bobby Jindal had grown unpopular due to state education budget cuts (sensing a pattern?) and his opponent in the general election, David Vitter, was embroiled in a prostitution scandal. Edwards, in contrast, was anti-abortion, critical of Obama in all the ways appropriate for a very red state, and ran on…once again, southern populism. The task is simple- re-elect him.

Mississippi: Oh, Mississippi. Can a state whose public image is still pockmarked by racialized violence and Jim Crow elect a Democratic governor in the post-Obama age? If Trump is unpopular enough, maybe. If the candidate is good enough, maybe. My selection is therefore Brandon Presley, who seems like he was genetically engineered in a laboratory to break the Republican death grip on Mississippi politics. He is popular- having served as a small town mayor and a public service commissioner who helped open up rural parts of the state to internet access. He is a Baptist. He’s young- he’d be only 42 on Election Day, 2019. Oh, and he’s a distant relative of Elvis Presley. With Phil Bryant obliged to leave after one term, Presley might make a race of it in a tough state where voting almost always runs along racialized lines.

And now– the 2020 gubernatorial elections, taking place simultaneously with the presidential and congressional elections.

Vermont and New Hampshire: These two states are the only ones left which vote for their governors every two years (this practice actually used to be the norm in the U.S.!) If both still have their Republican governors in 2020, I’d say let’s change candidates from 2018. Vermont could use David Zuckerman, the current lieutenant governor who is actually a member of the Progressive Party and an organic farmer. For New Hampshire, state senator Dan Feltes would be a strong candidate- he’s young and is an effective legislator from the Concord area. He’s worked as a legal advocate for veterans, the poor, and victims of domestic violence. His bipartisanship and civility make him someone to watch out for in an almost evenly divided state.

Delaware: Since I first started following politics in 2005, Delaware has had a Democratic governor, and he or she has always gotten elected handily. Absent some horrific unforeseen scandal, John Carney should win re-election in a cakewalk.

Indiana: The time has come. The hour has arrived. For Pete Buttigieg, the 30-something mayor of South Bend, the opportunity to enter the national stage is nigh. He’s done amazing things in this Rust Belt town, and his practicality, vision, and military service, give him the profile of what it may take to succeed in Indiana for 21st century progressives. He’s been touted as the next great young Democrat, and it’s time to see if he can make good on that promise.

Missouri: Hillary Clinton’s polling collapse during the final 10 days of the campaign severely hurt the prospects of candidates in red and swing states down-ballot. Chris Koster, the state’s former attorney general, led nearly all polling, but ultimately lost by 5 points. In a different electoral environment, he might very well pull off a victory, but Missouri isn’t getting any bluer.

Montana: Like Delaware, this state has had a Democratic governor since I started following politics- except Montana is very red state in most other respects.  While Brian Schweitzer is technically eligible to run again- governors can only serve two consecutive terms- I think the party should go in another direction. Ellie Hill is in her early 40s and is a longtime state legislator from Missoula. She’s extremely social-justice oriented and earlier in her career helped support the Poverello Center to provide food and shelter to Montana’s homeless. Hill is a progressive visionary and has the chance to help make that vision work in the mountain west.

Utah: If the goal is to give the mountain west a choice and not an echo, a question emerges: can a lesbian non-Mormon be elected governor? Let’s find out. Jackie Biskupski is the current mayor of Salt Lake City, and a strong advocate for clean energy. She is also, like Hill, committing to alleviating homelessness.

Washington: The Evergreen State hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1980- although a few of those elections were disarmingly close. Jay Inslee is hanging it up after two terms in office, leading to an opening for Bob Ferguson. The state attorney general has been a strong consumer advocate and most recently made the news by initiating a challenge to Mr. Trump’s executive order 13769. This triggered the judicial smackdown of the travel ban- and might be enough to make Ferguson a progressive hero in a state increasingly distrustful of establishment politicians. As a noted chess master, Ferguson plays the long game.

So these are my gubernatorial picks. I’m not totally happy with them- only two women and no persons of colour- but each one is capable and can push their respective states in a healthier direction. Next time? Let’s take back the Senate in 2020.

Yikes…this series has already gone longer than I ever intended it to. And the end isn’t even in sight. This is the final post on retaking some House districts before we move to 2020 and its gubernatorial, senatorial, and especially presidential elections. For this post, I’ve construed the “West” broadly here, meaning obviously the Pacific coast, but also the Rocky Mountains and the “prairie states,” whose eastern halves often share more of a character with the Midwest. While the South and Midwest included many stretches and hail-Mary candidates, there are actually more likely pickups in this final section on the House. Take a look at California- fully 20% of all Democrats in the House come from this single state, but even then it has a number of very close, evenly matched districts with Republican incumbents. So without any further ado, let’s begin.

Alaska (at large): Don Young has represented this district since 1973, and since then, he’s become the crown prince of pork-barrel spending in a state with some of the wackiest politics in the union. Only in 2008 did he face credible opposition, winning by a scant 5 points; he might have lost if Sarah Palin wasn’t on the national ticket that year. Who was his challenger that year? Why that would be current Anchorage mayor Ethan Berkowitz. You’d never guess it but Alaska is technically one of the more urban states in the country; over 50% of its population lives in the Anchorage metro area, giving Berkowitz the base of support he needs to challenge this bearded barnacle of an incumbent.

Arizona- 02: Any foreseeable map for taking back the House has to make a play for this district, which is mostly urban and covers much of the Tucson area. Matt Heinz, who ran for this seat in 2016, deserves another shot. He’s a medical doctor pushing 40, worked for Health and Human Services in Washington, and is a strong supporter of using Arizona to develop solar energy. His ties to Obamacare will surely be less of a liability in 2018 as the G.O.P. struggles to articulate a replacement.

California- 10: This particular district is dead even on the Cook PVI, and contains almost equal numbers of white and Hispanic voters. To nudge this district over the edge, I suggest looking for a disaffected Republican who hails from this area: Ann Veneman, George W. Bush’s secretary of agriculture. Veneman is a strong supporter of UNICEF, same-sex marriage, international aid, of humanitarian relief, and women’s health.  In short, the modern Republican Party bears no resemblance to her views any longer. Like my suggestion with Christine Todd Whitman in New Jersey, perhaps someone can convince her to run as a Democrat-caucusing independent, with Democrats promising not to run someone of their own.

California- 21: Like the Dubuque district in Iowa and the Syracuse district in upstate New York, this one is listed as D+5 but still has a Republican congressman, David Valadao. The 21st went for Hillary by around 15 points, and is 70% Hispanic, which makes me think it is likely to fall if its candidate gets the right support. So even though Emilio Huerta lost the election in 2016, I think he should get another shot. (And yes, he’s Dolores’s son.) Huerta, who is a labor lawyer and a United Farm Workers veteran, has just the right profile for this district.

California- 25: The Simi Valley area is covered by this district, which is also listed as evenly matched in its partisan makeup. Hannah-Beth Jackson is an experienced hand who has represented this district for many years in California’s state assembly. She was the author of California’s nation-leading Fair Pay Act, and the Consumer Federation of California has named her its Legislator of the Year.

California- 39: This is a pretty crazy district, listed as R+5 although less than 40% of its population is white. It’s affluent, Republican-leaning, and could very well vote for someone like Ian Calderon. He’s a bit of a scion in California dynastic politics, but that at least means that he won’t have to worry about name recognition or fund-raising. He is a noteworthy advocate of childhood education and has recently jumped into the fray over immigration, making sure his constituents know their rights in the midst of intensified ICE raids. He’s not an ideal candidate, but his youth and brand name can help make this race competitive.

California- 45: Mimi Walters is a Republican who is high on any Democratic list of possible takeovers. Based in Orange County, the district has veered to the left in recent years, having gone from supporting Meg Whitman and Mitt Romney to supporting Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris. I would recommend Ferial Govashiri as the candidate. This young Iranian-American was also Barack Obama’s personal aide during his second term, and is as well-suited as any thirty-something I can think of to weigh in on issues of national significance.

California- 48: The 48th covers the coastal, and frankly more conservative, parts of Orange County. Democrats haven’t done well here historically, but Clinton beat out Trump and those trends should continue, given the district’s demographics. Deborah Cook was mayor of Huntingdon Beach and made the closest race of it in this district back in 2008; I think she would be the best candidate. Presently, she serves as a director of the Post-Carbon Institute, and fits in nicely with the environmentalism of coastal California.

California- 49: The closest congressional race in 2016 was right in this district. Darrell Issa’s countless, pointless, fruitless investigations of the Obama administration hurt his popularity here, but not enough to oust him. Doug Applegate remains a prohibitive favorite in 2018; the former Marine would be a good fit for a district that includes Camp Pendleton and his business background is in the general tenor of the San Diego suburbs.

Colorado- 06: Republican Mike Coffman is, on paper, a strong candidate for a district like this that is slightly more Democratic than the nation on average, which covers the city of Aurora and some of Denver’s eastern suburbs. Coffman was secretary of state for Colorado and a former Marine. Well, Coffman was a strong candidate…up until a week or two ago. Footage of him escaping a gathering with constituents in a library went viral, as angry voters accosted him about the hasty repeal of Obamacare. All things considered, this may be a career-immolating mistake. Advantage Morgan Carroll, a strong candidate who should have gotten greater support and traction when she ran for this seat last year. Her staunch environmentalism and penchant for legislation limiting the influence of lobbyists   will probably fit nicely with the issues that will illuminate 2018.

Kansas- 03: Covering the Kansas City metro area, this district still favors Republicans on a congressional level, but narrowly picked Clinton over Trump in the presidential race. But an anti-incumbent wind is probably going to sweep the prairie; Sam Brownback continues to be one of the nation’s most unpopular governors, and the historical Republican domination of Kansas might well be challenged. Kelly Kultala ran for lieutenant governor in 2010, serves on the local library board, and once represented this area in the Kansas state senate.

Montana- at large: With Ryan Zinke appointed to serve as secretary of the interior, whoever gets this seat will not have much incumbency on their side. Amanda Curtis is an anomaly- a thirty-something math teacher and state legislator with a nose ring. When Matt Walsh unexpectedly left the Senate race mid-campaign, Curtis stepped in. And while she lost- in a very Republican year and without the chance to prepare- she’d be a great candidate going forward. Most successful Montana Democrats are centrists, but Curtis isn’t. She supports gun control- her brother died at 16 playing Russian roulette- and was an ardent Bernie supporter. And yet- crazy works in Montana! It regularly elects iconoclastic, anti-corporate Democrats to congress.

Nebraska- 02: Only a handful of districts held by a Democratic incumbent fell to Republicans in 2016; it seems that if you could keep your district in 2014, you could keep it any year! Unfortunately, a solid congressman, Ben Ashford, lost his seat, which covers much of the Omaha metro area. Pete Festersen, the head of Omaha’s city council, would probably be the best opportunity to win back this seat- he’s young, likeable, and will benefit from the technically nonpartisan nature of the city council.

Nevada- 02: Every single district in the Silver State is competitive, although the 2nd leans decidedly to the right. Covering Reno and Carson City, though, its demographics may very well push it into the blue column, as Nevada as a whole has experienced over the last decade. Opportunity may be knocking for state assemblywoman and former Miss Nevada Teresa Benitez-Thompson of Reno.

South Dakota- at large: Maybe this seems unrealistic. And yet, South Dakota elected a Democratic congresswoman four times in the last 12 years- and at one point had an all-Democratic congressional delegation. Indeed, the party seems fluctuate between being competitive in the state and being a cipher. This seat will not have an incumbent running, as Kristi Noem intends to run for governor. As much as I try to avoid dynastic picks, the South Dakota Democratic Party is in terrible shape, but Brendan Johnson has what it takes to win. His own father’s political career in congress was cut short by a stroke that led him to pass up re-election in 2014. Brendan, meanwhile, has served ably as U.S. Attorney for South Dakota.

Utah- 04: During redistricting, Republicans took the surprisingly progressive Salt Lake City and divided it into two districts dominated by conservative Mormon-heavy suburbs. Of Utah’s four districts, the 4th is the most competitive on paper and is currently served by Mia Love, a black woman who is widely touted as an up-and-coming Republican. But this district has elected a Democrat before, and it might yet again. 42-year-old Ben McAdams is the Democrats’ best prospect in this deepest of red states. Mormon antipathy to Trump will probably only continue to mount- look at the trouble Jason Chaffetz, in an even more conservative district, ran into in his own town hall this week! As the mayor of Salt Lake County, he’s earned good reviews across the board, and has even advocated for workplace protections for gay and lesbian persons in Utah- an act of no small bravery.

Washington- 03: Southwest Washington state is represented by this district. Its current representative, Jaime Herrera Beutler, is one of the leading latina Republicans. A worthy opponent, though, may be found in Vancouver, Washington’s mayor, Timothy Leavitt.

Washington- 08: This looks like such an attractive target. It’s suburban Seattle- ergo fewer tech moguls, lots of 20-something evangelical pastors with hipster beards. Dave Reichert has represented this affluent, very Romney-ish district for years, and nobody has taken him out yet. But Washington as a whole is only getting bluer, and the right candidate can beat him.  For the last spot on my last post on congressmen, I’m going to give in to temptation and pick a celebrity. Seattle’s own- Ken Jennings. Sharp, politically aware, and a good citizen, he’d be great in congress. Wouldn’t this be amazing? The campaign ads write themselves. You could get Alex Trebek to ask, “This west coast-congressman voted with Donald Trump 80% of the time,” with an enthusiastic Jennings buzzing in with “Who is Dave Reichert?” I desperately want this to happen.



If the 2016 election taught us anything, it was a hard lesson in not taking any demographic, any region for granted. Election Night unfolded in a way few foresaw, as Michigan and Wisconsin- two states that voted for Gore and Kerry- tipped Republican. In a way, there is a certain sense to it- these two states have been devastated by deindustrialization, kneecapped by the decline of labor unionism, and are case studies in white flight from city centers. They, of all places, would be vulnerable to economic nationalism, and vague promises of restoring America to greatness. These are areas that would see some corners of modern progressivism as smug and unconcerned with their livelihoods.

That- to employ Midwestern sentence structure- needs fixed. I’ve chosen thoughtful, uniquely midwestern candidates who can channel much of populism’s hopefulness and authenticity without it’s bleaker elements of nativism and insularity.


Illinois- 06: Chicago’s redoubtably Republican suburbs have shown signs of cracking- especially against populist nominees. For example, although Romney carried the district in 2012, it swung hard to Hillary, and suggests that it’s historic business-friendly conservatism may be fraying. (For reference, Dupage County, where part of this district is situated, was once called “the Orange County of the Midwest” was carried by Clinton.) All of this means that Peter Roskam might very well be in trouble. Wheaton College, the intellectual center of modern evangelicalism, is located within this district, and I believe that the successful candidate will need to be conversant in the suburban Christianity that is slowly, tentatively, recognizing the message of social justice inherent in the gospels. I therefore pick Karen McCormack as my choice to run, although she hasn’t made any overtures in that direction. As a Wheaton sociologist, she studies the effect of home foreclosure on families- a matter of no small importance to this district. Moreover, she helped start a Peace and Social Justice minor at Wheaton, and is an expert at persuading evangelical audiences on the necessity of peacemaking, economic fairness, and empathizing with those in need.

Illinois- 12: The 12th takes up much of southwest Illinois, hugging the Missouri border. While in earlier times, this district was heavily Democratic, it moved decisively to Donald Trump, favoring him by ten points over Hillary Clinton. Yet, it’s listed as dead even on the Cook PVI, and I believe that former lieutenant governor Sheila Simon can make this race competitive. Governor Rauner’s travails have made people forget Governor Quinn’s. Her reputation for getting things done and her deep connections to Illinois politics- she’s former senator Paul Simon’s daughter- give her an added advantage.

Illinois- 13: This is another theoretically dead-even district that is nonetheless historically Republican. As a strong proponent of getting more scientists to run for office, I support the unlikely candidacy of Leellen Solter, who is the director of the Illinois Natural History Survey at the University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana.

Illinois- 14: The 14th consists of Chicago’s exurbs, up to the Wisconsin border. Steve Chirico, the new mayor of Naperville, would be my pick to represent this area. His success as a small business owner and his keen focus on teamwork and cooperation has the potential to translate into some crossover votes from this district’s Romney supporters.

Indiana- 02: For the last couple of years, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, has been touted as perhaps the nation’s premier up-and-coming Democrat. I’m going to save him for a later installment, and suggest that Jackie Walorski be challenged by Brendan Mullen. Mullen ran for this seat in 2012 and lost to Walorski by a percentage point and a half. This West Point vet has the potential to win this seat in a Democratic year and keep it Democratic. He’s a good fit for this working-class, post-industrial district. Like Senator Joe Donnelly, who once held this seat, he is cautiously pro-life and opposed to most forms of gun control.

Iowa- 01: Midwestern, rural, religious, and overwhelmingly white, Iowa took a sharp dive from being slightly more Democratic than the nation as a whole in the last two elections to  going for Donald Trump by nearly 10 points in 2016. Despite being rated D+5 by Cook’s PVI index, this district is held by a Republican, Rod Blum of Dubuque. More than any other state perhaps, Iowa needs to build a Democratic bench to challenge its Republican governor and two Republican senators in what is still by many metrics a swing state. She’s the same age as Taylor Swift, but state legislator Abby Finkenauer could have what it takes to win back this district. She’s wise beyond her years- focused, driven, a gifted orator, skilled at crafting a narrative, and learned on a few key issues, such as student debt.

Iowa- 03: I love that Iowa is one of the least gerrymandered states in the country. It makes all four of its districts compact and competitive. The 3rd covers Iowa’s southwest quadrant and is listed as dead even on the Cook PVI. My pick is former Iowa House member Ed Fallon. Fallon is a politician for people who don’t really like politicians. The Des Moines resident is a solid progressive, a multi-instrumentalist, and a former community organizer. He made a noble try at the Democratic nomination for governor in 2006, falling to the well-funded Chet Culver, whose dad had been a senator from Iowa in the 1970s. He has lately been active in climate change activism and was a strong supporter of Sanders during the Iowa caucuses.

Michigan- 03: Historically, this Grand Rapids-based district is about Republican as it gets. Gerald Ford was once the congressman from this area, as was one of my favorite Republicans of the 1980s, Paul Henry. Presently, the district is represented by a big wheel- the young Tea Party acolyte Justin Amash. How to win such an uphill battle near Battle Creek? I’d look to Rosalynn Bliss, the new mayor of Grand Rapids- and the first woman ever to serve in that office. She is technically non-partisan (which helps in a Republican district) but a lot of signals- her admiration for Debbie Stabenow, her background as a social worker- suggest a left-of-center orientation. Her record can also appeal to erstwhile social conservatives- she helped shut down a number of the region’s strip clubs.

Michigan- 06: Taking up southwest Michigan, this district leans ever so slightly Republican, and could be won with the right candidate. Enter Kalamazoo native Eric Fanning– a defense specialist who served as Obama’s final Secretary of the Army, the acting Secretary of the Air Force and as chief of staff to the Secretary of Defense.

Michigan- 07: Southeastern Michigan- as well as the capital of Lansing- are encompassed by the 7th district. This is prime Rust Belt territory- it went from supporting Obama by 6 points in 2008 to supporting Trump by 17 points in 2016, a remarkable change for only eight years. Nevertheless, where the lash is strongest, the backlash is greatest. Before losing his seat to Tim Walberg in 2010, Mark Schauer had a promising career ahead of him- and he’s probably chomping at the bit to resume that career. He made a good fight of his gubernatorial race against Rick Snyder in 2014, losing by only four points against an incumbent Republican governor in a heavily Republican year. He’s hitting all the right populist notes, and his opposition to right-to-work will serve him well in heretofore heavily-unionized Michigan.

Michigan- 08: The 8th covers much of Lansing and some of the Detroit exurbs.For a while, Suzanna Shkreli, a first-generation Albanian-American was making a race of it, before incumbent Mike Bishop pulled ahead in this very Trump-friendly district. As buyer’s remorse afflicts the upper midwest, Shkreli deserves a second chance to take this seat. At only 29- and already an assistant prosecutor of Macomb County- she’ll have a long career to look forward to.

Michigan- 11: The suburban parts of Wayne County are covered by this district- which has a notably high 8% Asian population. David Curson has what it takes to win the 11th- in fact, he’s done it before. When its previous representative, Thaddeus McCotter, left office, Curson won a special election before opting not to run for a full term in 2012. Although he’ll be 70 years old- a tough age for a freshman congressman- his work with United Auto Workers harkens closer a more wholesome idea of what made America great- full employment, workers’ rights, and a robust labor movement.

Minnesota- 02: Angie Craig made a good race of this in 2016, losing to Jason Lewis by only 1.8%. I would be inclined to look elsewhere next time, however. Why not Ally LaTourelle? Her work with BioEconomy Partners has helped make Minnesota a center for clean energy and economic development. Her message is one that would resonant in the suburban areas of the Twin Cities, where her district is located. Her credo that environmentalism and economic development can reinforce- rather than short-circuit- each other is a winning message.

Minnesota- 03: This district also covers the Twin City suburbs and a piece of St. Paul. While I’ve tried to include as few scions as possible (which is harder than it looks), I’m going to make a glad exception here. David Wellstone is the son of Paul Wellstone, the progressive icon who perished in a plane crash over a decade ago. The elder Wellstone remains an icon among the left today- his conscientious vote against the Iraq War, and his legendary grassroots campaigning remain models that can be used today. Paul is back in the game and starting to engage in politics again, most notably as a mental health advocate. And if he follows his father’s playbook, he can help spur the next chapter of the DFL’s good, solid work in Minnesota.

Ohio- 01: This is a forbidding congressional district by all outward signs. Steve Chabot has held it for 20 out of the last 22 years. He was beaten in 2008, though, and he can be beaten again- and hopefully stay beaten. And P.G. Sittenfield is the man to do it.  Only 32 years old, he serves on the Cincinnati City Council, founded the city’s Community Learning Center, and is a board member for a food bank. He’s popular, young, and is widely regarded as one of the most promising young Democrats in a key swing state.

Ohio- 10: Covering a chunk of southwest Ohio, the 10th is a mashup of Rust Belt and Appalachian tendencies. It’s challenging, but I’ll bet Dayton mayor Nan Whaley could win. Her work to revitalize the downtown and bring in business investment will impress independent voters, while her work to make the city more bicycle friendly will surely make  the city’s hipsters and Bernie Bros delighted. More importantly, she’s committed to a diverse, open, welcoming Dayton- and it has helped make the city an emblem of Rust Belt revival.

Ohio- 16: John Boccierei was elected to this district in 2008 and was voted out in 2010. But his opponent, Jim Renacci, is a bastion of free-market conservatism that is an increasingly difficult sell in this region. Boccierei’s work in the Ohio state legislature and his tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq still make him a candidate to beat.

Wisconsin- 06: There are suburbs aplenty in this district, which covers the outlying areas of Milwaukee, Madison, and Green Bay. Town politics and bread-and-butter issues play big here, creating an opportunity for Manitowoc mayor Justin Nickels. Nickels is a wunderkind- he was first elected mayor when he was 22 years old, and just turned 30 this month. Yet he is a serious policy wonk, and can get a message out effectively in an environment when Wisconsin’s suburbs are tilting strongly toward a Scott Walker-ish right.

Wisconsin- 07: This is a gigantic district, nearly taking up the northern half of the state. In times past, this was the domain of long-time congressman David Obey, who opted not to run in 2010. Since then, the district is represented by Sean Duffy, a model of the Tea Party-aligned, Grover Norquist-affiliated Republicanism. A pleasant alternative is provided by state assemblyman Nick Milroy of Superior, Wisconsin- who is also a biology professor and a fisherman of some renown.

Wisconsin- 08: There aren’t many Democratic state legislators who represent an area other than Madison or Milwaukee. But 34-year-old Amanda Stuck is one of them, representing Appleton and specializing in environmental and housing issues. In a theoretically competitive state assembly district, she didn’t even get a challenger in 2016 and was re-elected unopposed.

Wisconsin- 01: Hold on a minute; I’m not quite done yet. If we are really going to think seriously about winning the House of Representatives, we need to consider a challenge to Paul Ryan’s district, which might be thought of as Milwaukee’s suburbs and Chicago’s exurbs. On paper, this district is only slightly more Republican than the nation as a whole; in 2008, it voted for Obama and in 2012, it only went for Mitt Romney by about five points- despite Paul Ryan being on the ticket! And don’t think this is impossible- sitting Speakers have lost re-election campaigns before. Given the toxicity of Trump’s policies in well-educated and upwardly mobile suburbs, and given Paul Ryan’s heretofore ineffective attempts to rein the president in, Paul Ryan can and should face a serious, well-funded, conscientiously progressive challenge. I have two sterling candidates in mind. Wisconsin will rue re-electing Ron Johnson to the Senate in place of progressive superhero Russ Feingold. Feingold is a master of grassroots campaigning and a conscientious man- the only senator who voted against the PATRIOT Act. As a Jaynesville native, he could run a very credible challenge to Paul Ryan. My other idea might take you by surprise, but makes sense the more you think about it. And that’s Mark Ruffalo, who is also a native of this part of Wisconsin. Buffalo has rewritten the book on celebrity political activism, following a Bernie-ish model of social media engagement and forming The Solutions Project to move the U.S. toward a clean energy future. Wisconsin was the cradle of modern progressivism in America- and either one of these men can nudge the Badger State back to its destiny by nudging Paul Ryan out of a congressional seat he takes for granted.

We now turn our attention to that most vexing of America’s regions, the South. It has gone from being dominated by Jim Crow-enabling Dixiecrats in the 1950s to being competitive in the 1970s and 1980s in terms of House and Senate elections, to becoming the bedrock of GOP support from the Newt Gingrich revolution of 1994 onward. Many districts in the South, even under the best of conceivable circumstances, are simply not in play. Yet not all is lost. Many parts of the South are trending toward Democrats, particularly in places with younger and more diverse populations. Suburbs in Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida offer some of the most promising opportunities- at least on a national level. And remember, in 2016, Clinton-Kaine did better in Georgia than in Ohio, in Texas than Iowa, and in Virginia than Minnesota. So here are some of the most competitive districts in the South- along with my suggestions of some candidates that can win them.

Florida- 02: This is definitely a district favorable to Republicans; although it has a piece of Tallahassee, it also encompasses much of the state’s conservative panhandle. Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum could make a race out of it, however. At only 37, he is one of the party’s brightest young talents. In his capacity as mayor, he has refurbished civic life in Tallahassee, sponsoring mentorship programs, championing early childhood education, and working to reduce criminal recidivism. Interestingly, Gillum may have his sights higher than a mere congress seat- he is being encouraged to run for governor, and was reportedly on Hillary Clinton’s original list of vice-presidential choices.

Florida- 15: This district is also friendly to the GOP, but I’d think that many Republican voters would give due consideration to United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, whose jurisdiction covers the middle section of Florida. He’s got bipartisan credentials- including pursuing corruption charges against a Democratic congresswoman.

Florida- 18: Pat Murphy was expected to win Florida’s Senate race last year, until Marco Rubio decided to seek re-election after all, and ended up winning handily. Murphy’s old congressional district was then won by a Republican. But in 2018, Murphy is poised to make another run for the 18th, which covers much of Palm Beach. At only 33 years of age, Murphy has a great career ahead of him if he gets a couple more lucky breaks.

Florida- 25: On paper, the 25th, 26th, and 27th districts look competitive. Yet each of them is currently controlled by Republican congressmen, and each is home to a large population of Cuban-Americans. While younger Cubans are questioning their parents’ historic alliance with the G.O.P., movement in this direction can be encouraged by some good candidates. Mario Diaz-Balart is a Miami institution, but in a big election, popular incumbents can fall. This is especially so if the Trump administration continues to alienate Hispanic voters. I have chosen a candidate who can mobilize an impressive grassroots army and reframe the conversation. Lucas Benitez helped found the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to end the exploitation of field workers in the region’s tomato farms. From there, he launched the Campaign for Fair Food, a massive grassroots campaign that successfully got several restaurant chains to agree to purchase tomatoes only from certified, approved growers who paid fair wages. He’s a Cesar Chavez for the 21st century.

Florida- 26: Key West, the Everglades, and south Miami are all covered by this district. I only have one Kennedy in my list of congressional prospects, and it’s this one. For years, Anthony Kennedy Shriver has been a bastion of Miami civic life. Like his mother Eunice, he is an activist for the mentally handicapped; he has chaired the Best Buddies organization, which helps the developmentally disabled win friends and make connections.

Florida- 27: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is another true Florida institution, but she might face a close race- especially if someone like Guillermo Fernandez challenges her. Fernandez was the head of the Latin Builders Association. He’s one of Miami’s most highly regarded businessmen and his construction industry ties are in the best entrepreneurial spirit.

Kentucky- 06: The Cook PVI rates this as Republican +9, but Kentucky is a weird state. It elected a Democratic governor twice- by landslides- in 2007 and 2011, and still has a greater percentage of registered Democrats than many blue states. In fact, this district was held by a Democrat, Ben Chandler, for a decade up to 2012. Former Kentucky secretary of state Allison Grimes would be a solid choice to take on incumbent Andy Barr. She lost a highly touted Senate race against Mitch McConnell back in 2014, but one should keep in mind that 1) she was up against the freaking Senate then-Minority Leader, and 2) it was a deeply Republican year in a deeply Republican state. When she isn’t required to distance herself from President Obama, she’d be a formidable candidate.

South Carolina- 07: This race may be another pipe dream, but the Palmetto State is slowly trending blue, and becoming better educated, more suburban, and more like legit swing states North Carolina and Virginia. This district itself is new, apportioned after the 2010 census, and so its incumbent, Tom Rice, hasn’t had the time to become a part of the furniture. Vincent Sheheen, a state legislator who made his two races against Nikki Haley far more competitive than they should have been, could have what it takes to win.

Texas- 23: Amazingly, this district’s population is two-thirds Hispanic and still has a Republican congressman. Encompassing part of San Antonio to part of El Paso, it’s a massive district- about the size of West Virginia- and should be part of any attempt to get progressives the House Majority. While I’ve tried to avoid picky gimmicky celebrities, I think the best choice would be San Antonio Spurs legend David Robinson. If this seems kooky, hear me out: Robinson is one of the very best citizens and teammates in NBA history- a Naval Academy grad, always soft-spoken, polite, and thoughtful. Since he retired, he’s worked hard to set up a school for inner-city kids in San Antonio and has learned a lot about finance and administration along the way. There’s nobody in NBA history I’d be happier with as a neighbor, as a fellow citizen, as my representative, than David Robinson. I surely hope he’d consider a run.

Virginia- 02: Generally, we can divine a trend from the 2016 election: Donald Trump’s message played out very well in the Rust Belt, in Appalachia, and in already blood-red sections of the South. It was most heavily resisted in suburbs- including many suburbs that were friendly to Mitt Romney four years earlier, in places with growing minority populations, and in areas with high levels of college graduates and jobs that supported them. Into this mix, Virginia’s 2nd district, covering much of Virginia Beach, should be considered in play. It’s only slightly more Republican than the nation as a whole, I have the perfect candidate in mind. Given the strong naval presence in this area, Rear Admiral Gretchen Herbert would be a compelling candidate. Lately the head of Naval Cyber Forces, her postings on the Virginia shore and mastery of national defense issues would make her the candidate to beat. She’s also clearly not timid about getting into the political fray, having joined 94 other high-ranking military officials in endorsing Hillary Clinton.

Virginia- 05: Difficult to win even in good circumstances, this district runs like a thick vertical line through the middle of Virginia and was once held by Tom Perriello, who was my pick to become Virginia’s next governor. Presently, however, I think a strong case could be made for a man who went from obscurity into a figure of national stature during the DNC– Charlottesville resident Khzir Khan. (It speaks volumes that Khan lives in the same town as Monticello.) You may remember him as at the man who tragically lost his son in Iraq, challenged Donald Trump’s anti-Islamic rhetoric, and stood up for the Americanism of his country’s Muslim community.

Virginia- 07: This looks like an extremely Republican district- Cook’s PVI lists it as R+10. Keep in mind that it’s representative is David Bratt- the Tea Party enthusiast who successfully primaried Eric Cantor for not being conservative enough. This district is fairly well-to-do, highly educated, and unlikely to sustain this kind of foolishness for long. Kelly Thomassen could make a solid run in a tough race. She is presently the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and her long history of working with Terry McAullife and Mark Warner would give her the inside track.

Virginia- 10: Political junkies watch this district with great interest, it’s a rare dead even on the Cook PVI and it is often described as a swing district among swing districts. Republican Barbara Comstock won in a close race last year, and she might have her eyes on higher office, perhaps challenging Tim Kaine in 2018. Whether or not this is a fight for an open seat, Aneesh Chopra is well suited for this affluent, highly suburban congressional district. Chopra has served as the Chief Technology Officer of the United States, and is an expert on making government more responsive to innovation.

So…not as many competitive districts as some of the other regions we will explore. This is partly because some sections of the South are prohibitively bad for progressives. But moreover, two states that were competitive in last year’s the presidential election, North Carolina and Georgia, do not have any true swing districts due to both partisan gerrymandering and a certain amount of racial and political “self-gerrymandering.” If Roy Cooper is able to hold on in the 2020 election, his governorship can serve as an effective leverage to carve out some more fairly drawn districts in what may well become America’s premier swing state.

Welcome to the third installment of our series on rebuilding the strength of the Democratic Party in preparation for 2018. In our first post in the series, we explored several optimal chances to win governorships in competitive states. In the second, we looked at far more difficult prospects- keeping a batch of seats that are already overwhelmingly Democratic in progressive hands.

For this installment, we turn to the House of Representatives, which has been under Republican control since the 2010 midterm elections. Here, progressives are playing the game on a board designed by the opposition: Republicans controlled many of the state legislatures that drew the congressional districts after the 2010 census. For that reason, very few truly competitive “swing” districts exist, so taking back the House will require strong candidates, peerless fundraising, listening to constituents, and most importantly of all, fervent grassroots activity. We need to make phone calls, knock on doors, donate, drive people to the polls, and do the sorts of things that can swing elections. To win the House, we need to keep the seats we have, and win 25 additional seats. That is a very challenging objective, but here is my roadmap for accomplishing this task.

To help this process along, I’m making some endorsements for House candidates. In all, I have identified 74 pick-up opportunities. Since that would make for a very long and unwieldy post, I’m dividing it into four posts, looking at one segment of the country in particular: the Northeast, the South, the Midwest, and finally the Prairie and West Coast. Today, we explore the Northeast. In doing my research for this, I was surprised at how many Republicans held fairly neutral congressional districts, especially in what I regard as safe “blue” states: New York and New Jersey. But it’s a good example of how Trumpism has made its greatest inroads in Rust Belt areas with lots of discouraged, frustrated, and anxious blue-collar workers.

So without further ado, here are the Northeastern districts that I believe are winnable- and the candidates that can help win them.

Maine 2: It might surprise you to know that one of the most rural congressional districts in the nation isn’t on the prairies or the mountain states- it’s right in the northeast. Maine’s 2nd covers most of the state outside of the Portland metro area and its “Vacationland” south coast. For years, Michael Michaud held onto this district easily, but when he ran for governor in 2014, Bruce Poliquin ran for the empty seat and won it. In fact, it’s the only congressional district in New England held by a Republican. To make matters worse, Donald Trump won the 2nd congressional district and it’s accompanying electoral vote, since Maine apportions theirs by congressional district. There has recently been a movement to encourage scientists to run for office, and in such a rural and environmentally-conscious district, I think that’s a wise choice. My pick is Jacquelyn Gill, a professor of biology and ecology at University of Maine, Orono. As an expert on climate change, she’s in a great position to become a strong public voice from one of the most naturally beautiful congressional districts in the country.

New York- 1: The eastern half of Trumpy Long Island leans slightly Republican, but if the public sours against him, this can be a prime pickup opportunity. As a former state senator, Brian X. Foley has succeeded in winning in historically Republican territory and is a devoted advocate for victims of domestic violence.

New York- 11: This downstate district is also slightly Republican as per the Cook PVI index, and comprises Staten Island and parts of a couple other boroughs. My endorsement goes to Matthew Titone. As a lawyer and state assemblyman, adoption and LGBT issues are his stock and trade, and would work well in a fiscally-conservative/socially liberal area such as this.

New York- 19: I am all for giving worthy candidates a second chance. The fightin’ 19th winds down much of the Hudson river valley, and I’d love to see a rematch between professor and campaign finance reform activist Zephyr Teachout and incumbent John Faso.

New York-21: I grew up in this district, which covers much of the Adirondack Mountains as  well as my home town of Gloversville. After a few terms of a Democratic congressman, this seat fell to Elise Stefanik, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. She’s a Paul Ryan protege and a very tough candidate to beat, even in a district that is theoretically evenly matched between Republicans and Democrats. I pick former congressman Scott Murphy, who is still young, sharp, and a conscientious venture capitalist who knows more about creating jobs than Stefanik ever will.

New York- 22: This district is on many peoples’ watch list of pickup opportunities, and incumbent Claudia Tenney is looking shaky and may not win in a year favorable to Democrats. In such a situation, I would be inclined to give a second chance to Kim Myers, who ran a close race in 2016.

New York- 23: Tom Reed is slowly losing steam and not listening to constituents. In fact, a professor at my old college, Houghton, has been trying to get a hold of him for months now to no avail, as she documents in her very thoughtful blog, “May I Call You Tom?.” I’d love for this professor to run for office, but if she doesn’t, I’d like to suggest an out-of-the-box pick for this district, which winds through the affluent Rochester suburbs down to the poverty-stricken Southern Tier.  Svante Myrick would be a terrific candidate who could attract loads of positive publicity. His tenure as mayor of Ithaca has been nothing short of incredible, and he was even a finalist for the World Mayor Award. The only question is- can he connect to rural voters?

New York- 24: This is a slightly Democratic-leaning district which nonetheless has a Republican incumbent. Since it contains most of the Syracause metro area, I don’t see how one could go wrong with Syracuse mayor Stephanie Miner as a challenger. She is a dynamic speaker, as you can see from her talk to the women’s march in Seneca Falls last month. She’s made no bones about opposing Trump’s policies on refugees, and would be a feisty, dynamic, and conscientious candidate.

New York- 27: The 27th serves many of Buffalo’s north suburbs as well as Niagara County. Its congressman, Chris Collins, was one of the first to endorse Donald Trump’s candidacy in the primaries, and his fortunes are, for better or worse, now yoked to his. It’s a tough district for Democrats- Jack Kemp covered much of the same territory for many years, as Barry Goldwater’s running mate William Miller did before him. So we need to bring out the big guns. There aren’t many Buffalonians who were more revered than the late journalist Tim Russert, and we need to bring his young son Luke– a solid journalist in his own right- to harness Buffalo’s blizzard-like rage against economic injustice.

Pennsylvania- 06: This bizarre, gerrymandered monstrosity of  a district meanders across the exurbs and smaller cities orbiting around Philadelphia. Judy Schwank could be a compelling candidate that could make inroads into its agricultural areas; she’s a professor whose scholarship focuses on agricultural and responsible land use. She also sits in the Pennsylvania State Senate, and has been elected to office from competitive Berks County.

Pennsylvania- 07: The 7th also leans- ever so slightly- Republican, and could easily be won under good conditions. Like the 6th, it is heavily gerrymandered and barely contiguous. Katie McGinty, who lost in a squeaker of an election to Pat Toomey in last year’s Senate race, would be a terrific candidate who should be able to generate the money and the interest to take out incumbent Pat Meehan.

Pennsylvania- 08: Covering much of suburban Bucks County, this is yet another district designed to give the Republicans a slight advantage. Patrick Murphy held this seat for a while, then lost in 2010, but he’s an even stronger candidate today. He served as Undersecretary for the Army, developing a close rapport with soldiers and becoming a champion on veterans’ issues.

Pennsylvania- 15: Lehigh Valley is nestled in this congressional district, one of the areas most hostile to environmentalism, and heavily dependent on fracking and coal. It’s representative, Charlie Dent, is one of the most sensible Republicans in Congress, but he still needs a challenger. (With apologies to my friend Chris, who once worked at one of his offices.) Jennifer Mann. She has represented the city for 14 years in the Pennsylvania House, and has recently moved into the private sector with a consulting company.

Pennsylvania- 16: I also feel bad about suggesting a challenger to this seat– I went to college with the nephew of its new congressman, Lloyd Smucker. Nevertheless, enter Ephrata native Lindsay Holst, who has covered digital strategy for the White House the last several years, and was recently named one of the 50 most beautiful people on Capitol Hill.

Pennsylvania- 18: According to the Cook PVI index, Republicans enjoy a six-point advantage in this district, all other things being equal. It’s rural, it’s 96% white, it borders West Virginia, and its congressman, Tim Murphy, has rarely faced a serious challenger. In such a scenario, I would pick Rick Fernandez. Never heard of him? He’s the director of the Fred Rogers Center at St. Vincent College in Latrobe. And he would be perfectly poised to bring Mister Rogers’s values of neighborliness, kindness, peace, and social justice to Washington. Especially in an era where PBS is in danger of encroaching privitization.

New Jersey- 02: The second district of the Garden State hugs much of Atlantic City and south Jersey. Frank Lobiondo has represented this seat since the Gingrich Revolution way back in 1994. He might meet his match in Bob Andrzejczak, who is only 30 years old, a Purple Heart recipient who unfortunately lost his leg in Iraq, and a promising young member of the New Jersey General Assembly.

New Jersey- 03: One recent article called this district a carpetbagger’s paradise, unable to attract candidates- from either party- with substantive ties to the area. Although it is heavily urban and covers much of south-central Jersey, it experienced a wild swing– it went from giving 52% of its vote to Obama in 2012 to giving 54% to Trump in 2016. Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt has worked hard to cut down on wasteful bureaucracy and make local government more manageable. She would have a message that would really deliver in this region, which the PVI index lists as tilting +1 Republican.

New Jersey- 07: Although this district is rated Republican +6, its suburban and affluent character makes it a prime takeover opportunity; it voted for Clinton over Trump while re-electing a Republican congressman, Leonard Lance. Seeing as how this is the case, maybe a smart move would be to run…a rogue Republican. Christine Todd Whitman has served as governor of New Jersey and as George W. Bush’s first EPA administrator. But in the intervening years, she has slowly become disillusioned with her party. She wrote a book, It’s My Party Too about the marginalization of moderates such as herself, still supports environmental activism strongly, and hates Donald Trump so much that she bit her lip and endorsed Hillary for president in the general election. Now 70 years old, she might very well make the last act of her political life a conscientious run for Congress as a Democrat-caucusing independent or however she wants to fancy herself.

New Jersey- 11: Since the dawn of the republic, the Frelinghuysen family has loomed large in New Jersey politics. Various members of this dynasty fought in the American Revolution, served as secretary of state, ran as Henry Clay’s running mate, and perennially controlled a seat in Congress. Such is the case with Rodney Frelinghuysen, whose district includes, like the 7th, some of the most affluent areas in the country. My pick to challenge him is another solid educator, Helen Streubert. As the newly minted president of St. Elizabeth College, she oversaw the college’s transition to lay leadership and a co-education model. (It had been the last all-women’s college in New Jersey.) She’s a redoubtable Pope Francis Catholic who could really make waves in New Jersey politics.

I appreciate all the kind comments and constructive feedback on my first addition to this series. I do, though, intend to make one change, which will become more relevant later on in this post. For Texas Governor, I’m going to save William McRaven for later, and suggest…

Mark Cuban: Being filthy rich is no impediment in Texas politics, where populism isn’t quite so…populist. So, why not pick Mark Cuban to run against Tea Party darling Greg Abbott in 2018? Cuban has been expertly trolling Donald Trump, brought an NBA championship to Dallas, and can frame himself as a job creator. Sure, Cuban’s a jackass, but given that we’ve entered the age of inexperienced billionaires with reality shows being viable candidates, for better or worse- let’s roll with it. I’m more comfortable putting him in Texas’s historically not very powerful governorship, and he can open the door for future Democratic wins and carve out a path to victory in a tough state.

So…with that change, let’s move to the Senate in 2018. It sucks. Because Democrats did well in the 2000, 2006, and 2012 elections for this batch of seats, there aren’t very many truly competitive opportunities to flip red seats blue. To the contrary, the Democrats are mostly playing defense, with tough races in states that went to Donald Trump by wide margins: Indiana, West Virginia, North Dakota, Montana, and other unfriendly territories- on top of races in shaky states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. I repeat- this set of races sucks. Team Blue will be lucky if they can cut down the net losses to maybe two or three.

I’m also proceeding with the assumption that there will be some retirements. I tentatively project that Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Dianne Feinstein of California, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Tom Carper of Delaware, possibly Bill Nelson of Florida, and Orrin Hatch of Utah will forgo another run. (All but Hatch are Democrats.) I will therefore treat these as open seats.

There’s no need to cover the Democrats seeking re-election in any depth: they simply need to win. Given the benefits of incumbency, the probable unpopularity of Donald Trump, and the usual midterm doldrums for the party in the White House, I’m not terribly worried. Barring unforeseen developments, things cautiously look good for:

  • Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota- and someone who should be on any short list for vice-president in 2020)
  • Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts)
  • Maria Cantwell (Washington)
  • Martin Heinrich (New Mexico)
  • Bob Casey, Jr. (Pennsylvania)
  • Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin)
  • Sherrod Brown (Ohio- and just the kind of populist that can win Ohio)
  • Debbie Stabenow (Michigan)
  • Tim Kaine (Virginia- oh, what a great V.P. he would have made…)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island)
  • Mazie Hirono (Hawaii)
  • Kirsten Gillibrand (my fantastic senator and possibly presidential timber…)

In the “danger zone”- states that went for Trump by more than ten points- we have:

  • Jon Tester (Montana)- a great, gruff candidate that’s true to his roots. I think he’ll win a third term, but he’s smart enough to not take it for granted.
  • Joe Manchin (West Virginia)- he’s already hedging his bets by voting for some Trump nominees. But Manchin’s already figured out how to win handily in a state that’s trended red at supersonic speed. I think he’s fine too.
  • Joe Donnelly (Indiana)- he got lucky by drawing a ridiculous Tea Party opponent Eric “even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen” Mourdouck. The fact that Evan Bayh lost a race here in 2016 should worry him deeply.
  • Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota)- the only Democrat holding statewide office in the Peace Garden State, Heitkamp’s in a tough spot. A decade ago, North Dakota’s entire congressional delegation was moderate, bet-hedging Democrats like her. But the oil boom- and the inevitable oil bust that followed- changed the calculus drastically.  As Alaska, Oklahoma, and Texas can tell you, nothing kills progressivism quite as quickly as oil.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the projected open seats currently held by Democrats. Here are my endorsements:

California: Dianne Feinstein will be 85 when the 2018 midterms roll around, putting her in Strom Thurmond territory for legislative geriatrics. She’s had a long, and mostly praiseworthy, career; as President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, she told the world about Harvey Milk’s assassination, and was vetted as a running mate by Walter Mondale back in 1984. California has a long bench of politicians hungry for one of the state’s rare openings for higher office. My hope is that it will go to Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti. Garcetti’s done a great job in L.A. and was reportedly one of the people Hillary Clinton looked at as a potential running mate. He’s helped make L.A. more environmentally friendly for bikers and commuters, nurtured a construction boom, and has a Cory Booker-ish adeptness at using social media.

Connecticut: Now, of course, this is only in the scenario that I’m imagining on this blog. You may remember that last time, I suggested that Chris Murphy run for governor in 2012 to clear out the stank of Dan Malloy’s unpopular administration. If that somehow happens, and this seat becomes open, I would happily endorse Carolyn Miles. Miles is the CEO of Fairfield-based Save the Children, one of the world’s most important charities. She’s helped get nutritious food, education, and medical care to countless children both at home and abroad.Recently, People magazine named her among the 25 Women Changing the World.

Delaware: Tom Carper just doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who deserves a fourth-term- a moderate-ish corporate-friendly Democrat from a safe blue state. Assuming Carper, who will be 71, calls it quits, his replacement already represents Delaware in the Congress. I’m talking about Lisa Blunt Rochester, recently elected to Delaware’s at-large district. She is resolute in her support of refugees and a staunch critic of Donald Trump’s treatment of women. If elected, she would be only the third African-American woman to serve in the Senate.

Florida: Bill Nelson may very well run for re-election, but he’s now well into his seventies, and the astronaut-turned-senator may avoid another race that always seems close and contested. If that’s what happens, I’d suggest Stephanie Murphy, who was just elected to Florida’s Orlando-based 7th district. She took out an incumbent in a Republican-leaning district, no small accomplishment in 2016, when Trump carried Florida. Murphy has a fascinating biography, including a harrowing childhood escape from Vietnam and rescue by the U.S. Navy. A national security specialist, she’d be a great addition to the Senate.

Maryland: Cardin will be 75 when this midterms roll around, and after two terms in the Senate, he may want to hang it up. Although an institution in Chesapeake politics, his vote against the Iran deal will not endear him to a party base mobilized by the 2016 primaries and a hotly contested Senate primary race. Maryland has become one of the most Democratic states in the country over the last few decades, and it’s probable that whoever gets nominated by that party will succeed Cardin. It’s only fair that it should go to Donna Edwards, who lost said Senate primary to Chris Van Hollen last year. If elected, Edwards will join the ranks of the Senate’s most redoubtable progressives. She brings grassroots chops as a community activist and is strongly against the Citizens United decision.

Missouri: I love Claire McCaskill- feisty, forthright, and sensible. But with her health scare last year, she may want to avoid a third term in the Senate, and pass things off to a Democratic successor in a year with favorable tailwinds. That being the case, Jason Kander surely deserves another shot at the Senate. Kander ran 15 points ahead of Hillary Clinton in Missouri, losing to powerful incumbent Roy Blunt by only 3 points. The Secretary of State of Missouri- who assembled and dissembled a rifle during one television ad- had a bright future and can help rebuild the Show-Me State’s moribund Democratic Party.

New Jersey: Bob Menendez is a crook. Even if he does run for the Senate again ,he deserves a hearty primary challenge. Either way you slice it, I strongly recommend Steve Fulop. He’ll be only 41 when 2018 runs around, and he’s already carved out a terrific career as Jersey City’s mayor. Under his leadership, he’s revived the city’s parks, bolstered it’s artistic community, and oversaw a $15 minimum wage for all city employees- in addition to his masterful handling of Hurricane Sandy.

Vermont: Bernie is showing no signs of slowing down, but he will be 77 in 2018, and might want to oversee his revolution in a different capacity. His approval rating is one of the highest in the country, and no doubt, he’ll want to hand off his seat to someone of a similar disposition to himself. I’d recommend his chief of staff, Michaeleen Crowell. Her public visibility has only increased during a primary campaign that exceeded everyone’s expectations- and even played Hillary during Bernie’s debate prep. She shares much of her boss’s commitment to social democracy while being much more of a serious policy wonk. Although it’s one of the most leftist states in the country, Vermont has never been represented by a woman in Congress- Crowell would be the first.

What about playing offense then- seats that are currently played by Republicans? Unfortunately, only one and a half- Nevada and Arizona- look even remotely realistic. But I think every seat should be in play, so here are my picks.

Arizona: Flecks of reasonableness and a certain anti-Trump demeanor have characterized Jeff Flake’s first term in the Senate. But Arizona is slowly tilting blue- Romney won the state by 9 points, while Trump won by only 3.5. In such an environment, we need a heavy hitter, and I strongly recommend that Democrats recruit Mark Kelly. Kelly has been an astronaut, and has been in the news recently as scientists compare his body’s readings with his twin brother’s, who recently spent an entire year in space. Of course, he was most visible as the husband of Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman who survived a near-fatal assassination attempt. Since then, Kelly has surfaced as her caretaker, an author, a public speaker, and a strong advocate for sensible gun laws- while still owning firearms himself. He’d be a terrific candidate and a good way to inaugurate a more Democratic era in Arizona.

Mississippi: “Hey, you for eight years, ran the naaaaavy, so here’s my number, so call me Mabus.” Roger Wicker has this seat more or less locked up, but Ray Mabus would be a very formidable candidate in bad circumstances. He was the last Democratic governor of Mississippi, spent eight years as Secretary of the Navy, and was Ambassador to Saudi Arabia for part of the Clinton administration. But he’s in a tough spot, given that 1) Mississippi has virtually no white Democrats outside of the Ole Miss campus, and 2) Nostradamus actually made some prophecies about a mysterious guy named Mabus. Eerie.

Nebraska: When this batch of seats was up in 2012, Nebraska was the only one that switched from blue to red, when Deb Fischer beat out former senator Bob Kerrey for Ben Nelson’s open seat. Nobody knows yet whether Fischer is running, and whether or not she does, this will be a tough race for Democrats. Nevertheless, Kate Sullivan would be my pick. She’s one of the only Democrats in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature to not hail from either Omaha or Lincoln, and it’s crucial that the party expand beyond the state’s only two real metros.

Nevada: This is the only ostensibly solid pickup opportunity for Democrats on the map, and even that is far from a sure thing. Republican Dean Heller won a close race against a flawed Democratic candidate in 2012. In 2018, he will have all the benefits of incumbency, but his profile isn’t high enough to render him unbeatable. Ruben Kihuen would be a formidable opponent, however. He won Nevada’s swing-y 4th district in 2016- and was one of the few congressional candidates to successfully take out an incumbent that year. That augers well for Kihuen, and at 36, he has a long career ahead of him.

Tennessee: Bob Corker is up for re-election, and he’s likely to cruise into another term. Tennessee is, of course, solidly Republican, and Corker is the chair of the prestigious Foreign Relations Committee. But what happens if, say, Rex Tillerson’s conflicts of interest with Russia become burdensome and Corker replaces him as Secretary of State? Then the seat could potentially become competitive. In that case, Megan Barry, the first female mayor of Nashville, could make a serious run. She’s an enthusiastic booster for her city and her state, and is pointedly good at criticizing Trump while remaining authentically Tennessean. Even in the best of circumstances, this is a long shot, but Barry is the best choice.

Texas: The last thing Ted Cruz expects is a serious challenge for re-election in 2018. I’d love for the aforementioned William McRaven to take him on. Cruz’s irresponsibility and callousness need to face their consequences. He nearly sent us off the fiscal cliff, and endorsed Donald Trump after he threatened to reveal incriminating information about his wife and implied that his father took part in the JFK assassination. Compare Cruz’s sanctimonious and joyless strict constitutionalism with McRaven’s real sense of accomplishment and sacrifice- as you may know from the last installment, McRaven was the admiral who oversaw Operation Neptune Spear that took out Osama bin Laden. Even in Texas, this race shouldn’t be close.

Utah: Is Orrin Hatch running for an 8th term? Or isn’t he? Either way, this seat probably won’t be competitive. The only question will be whether someone reasonable like Jon Huntsman runs or someone unreasonable like Jason Chaffetz. The best we can do, I think, is former congressman Jim Matheson– for years, the only Democrat to represent Utah in Washington. Realistically, Utah’s fourth congressional district race ought to be more competitive.

Wyoming: Another long shot among long shots. John Barrasso is running for another term, and there really is no bench to challenge him. Pete Gossar would probably be the best choice. He is a former University of Wyoming football hero and currently the head of the state’s board of education. Incidentally, his brother is an arch-conservative congressman from Arizona who boycotted Pope Francis’s address to Congress because he was afraid he might talk about climate change.

And that’s where we are. Again, the 2018 midterms look like a dumpster fire for Democrats in 2018, even if everything goes their way. They are simply defending too many competitive seats, and there aren’t many pickup opportunities to be had. But I think these choices, if nominated, could cut down on losses, make gains where possible, embolden a grassroots army, and lay the groundwork for an effective challenge to President Trump. For my next post, I intend to look at candidates for the House in 2018, exploring swing districts in four regions: the Northeast, the Midwest and Prairie, the South, and the West.