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.