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Democrats’ path to keep the House has gotten tougher

It all depends on remaining mail ballots in several key states.

An illustration of the houses of Congress floating in the air over a hand poised to catch them. Christina Animashaun/Vox
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

The Republican advantage in the contest for control of the House of Representatives expanded Sunday, as key races still have not been called but the path to a Democratic majority now appears more difficult.

To win a majority, a party needs 218 seats. Until Sunday, Republican candidates led in 221 districts and Democrats led in 214. But on Sunday, a Republican pulled ahead in one district where a Democrat had led (Arizona’s First District). So as of Monday morning, the GOP led in 222 districts, and Democrats led in 213.

That means that to hold their majority, Democrats need to gain the lead in five of the 10 uncalled House races where Republicans are currently ahead — as well as holding on to their own leads, some of which are quite narrow.

Yet in some contests Democrats were optimistic about, the trends were not in their favor as more mail ballots were counted Sunday. For instance, the Democratic nominee in California’s 27th District, Christy Smith, tweeted that she would likely lose (though the race remains uncalled). And one more race, Oregon’s Fifth District, was called for Republicans. To turn this around, Democrats would need an extraordinary stroke of good fortune in the remaining uncalled races.

The key contests Democrats might hope to flip

There are 10 uncalled House contests where Republicans currently lead, and for a majority, Democrats would need to win five of those.

In two of these races, the vast majority of the count is finished, but there may be a relatively small amount of remaining absentee ballots, and potential “cures” for rejected mail ballots could become an issue. These are Colorado’s Third District, where Rep. Lauren Boebert (R) leads by a little over a thousand votes, and New York’s 22nd District, where Republican Brandon Williams leads by nearly 4,000 votes.

The other contests are about late-arriving mail ballots. Two are in Arizona: In Arizona’s Sixth District, Republican Juan Ciscomani’s lead over Democrat Kirsten Engel is about a 0.5 percentage point margin. But Republicans got good news in Arizona’s First District Sunday, when Rep. David Schweikert (R), who had previously been trailing, pulled ahead by several hundred votes.

The remaining six uncalled races where Republicans lead are in California:

  • The California 13th District’s open seat contest looks promising for Democrats to flip since as of Monday morning, Republican John Duarte was leading by only a tiny margin over Democrat Adam Gray (less than 100 votes), and just over 60 percent of the vote was counted.
  • Rep. David Valadao (R) represents California’s 22nd District, which Joe Biden won handily, and he has been through this before. In 2018, he led his Democratic challenger by 8 points on election night, but as the mail count slowly came in, that lead vanished, and he fell behind on November 26 and wouldn’t regain his lead. (He won the seat back in 2020.) This time his lead already shrank from 8 points to 5 points. Will history repeat itself?
  • California’s Third District and California’s 41st District both narrowly went for Trump in 2020, and Republican candidates Kevin Kiley (CA-03) and Rep. Ken Calvert (CA-41) have single-digit leads, with about half of the vote uncounted. Democrats had been particularly hopeful about flipping Calvert’s race, but it went in the wrong direction for them as more ballots were counted this weekend, and Calvert’s lead expanded.
  • Finally, California’s 27th District and 45th District feature Republican incumbents — Mike Garcia (CA-27) and Michelle Steel (CA-45) — who represent districts Biden won but who currently lead handily. Garcia’s Democratic challenger, Christy Smith did not get what she needed in the count over the weekend, so on Sunday she tweeted that “when all the votes are in it’s likely Garcia holds the seat.”

Democrats would also need to hold on in their own tight races

Having five contests flip where Republicans currently lead isn’t exactly easy, but it is possible considering how close some of those races are and how many mail ballots haven’t been counted.

Yet the extra challenge Democrats face is that they need to hold on to their own leads, including in some very tight races. (They have already seen three of those leads slip away in recent days.)

The districts where Democratic leads may be a bit shaky include:

  • Colorado’s Eighth District, which was newly created after redistricting. Yadira Caraveo (D) initially led the count, but the race since tightened dramatically, and she’s now ahead by just 0.73 percentage points.
  • Oregon’s Sixth District, a new Democratic-leaning district that saw a bitter and expensive primary fight won by Andrea Salinas (D). Salinas leads her GOP opponent by about 1.7 percentage points, with about 40 percent of the vote uncounted.

Democrats did get some good news Saturday in Washington’s Third District, when Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez (D) was called the winner over Trump-endorsed Joe Kent (R). This is a major upset in a Republican-leaning district where the incumbent, Trump-critical Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R), failed to advance from the top-two primary.

In addition, Rep. Mary Peltola (D-AK) currently leads Alaska’s at-large district and Rep. Jared Golden leads Maine’s Second District, but their fates will be decided by ranked-choice voting, after lower-performing candidates in those races are eliminated and their ballots are reallocated to the voters’ second choice.

Still, though the vote counting trends for Democrats looked ominous over the weekend, it’s not clear when the House will be called for Republicans — it really depends on when these districts manage to count their votes, and it could take several more weeks.

Update, November 14, 10:15 am: This story was originally published on November 10 and has been updated with election calls and race counts.