Republicans are favored by forecasters to win the House in November’s midterm elections, and they’ve now got a slight lead when voters say who they would rather send to Congress.
Just how big a majority they’re able to get, however, will hinge on dozens of battleground districts, including those with vulnerable Democratic incumbents and new open seats that are now in play because of redistricting. In some of these places, Republicans cut into their own momentum by nominating far-right candidates that are more extreme, and in others, Democrats could still see voters energized over the issue of abortion rights.
Given all that, it’s understandable if it’s hard to get your head around all the potential outcomes, and to know which races you should really pay attention to in the fight for the congressional majority.
But there are a few common dynamics, and candidates who exemplify them, that are worth watching in the closing weeks. We’ve broken down who they are, where they are, and how competitive their races are according to the Cook Political Report, below.
The diverse Republican recruits who could flip battleground districts
After the 2020 election, Republicans learned an important lesson: In nearly all the battleground districts they flipped, the race was won by a woman or person of color. Since then, Republican leaders have ramped up their recruitment of a more diverse pool of candidates, hoping they can broaden the party’s appeal.
“We learned that we could overperform in new kinds of districts by recruiting compelling candidates with interesting stories and different profiles that reflect the districts they are trying to represent,” Calvin Moore, a spokesperson for the Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee endorsed by House Republican leadership, previously told Vox.
Of the 30 most competitive House races this cycle, according to Cook Political Report, at least 15 Republican candidates are women or people of color. These candidates span the ideological spectrum, including some like Rep. Mayra Flores in Texas who are aligned with the Trumpier wings of the party, and others — like former Cranston, Rhode Island, Mayor Allan Fung — who identify as more moderate. The outcomes of these races will be key to Republicans’ chances of flipping the House, and they’ll also reveal how effective Republicans’ recruitment strategy is.
Jennifer-Ruth Green in IN-01 (toss-up): Green, a Black and Asian American woman and an Air Force veteran, is challenging Democratic incumbent Frank Mrvan by emphasizing inflation, opposing abortion access, and supporting Trump-backed “America First” policies. Green could test whether Trump ties resonate in a highly contested battleground: She had aligned herself with him during the primary, though she’s now keeping her distance. Mrvan has leaned into his support for unions as well as abortion rights as part of his campaign for a second term.
The northern Indiana district, which includes Gary and its suburbs, has historically skewed Democratic (it’s rated D+7 by FiveThirtyEight). If Republicans win, it would mark the first time in almost a century that the GOP is able to retake the seat, a prospect the party has been more bullish on after Flores won a special election in a traditionally blue Texas seat this summer.
Lori Chavez-DeRemer in OR-05 (lean Republican): The former Happy Valley mayor is vying for an open seat against progressive attorney and emergency response coordinator Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who defeated incumbent Rep. Kurt Schrader in the Democratic primary earlier this year. Chavez-DeRemer is one of a record number of Latina candidates running for House Republican seats in 2022, and hasn’t shied away from emphasizing her conservative bona fides. This race could indicate whether more conservative or progressive messaging resonates with voters in a swing district.
If elected, both candidates would be historic. Chavez-DeRemer would be the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress from Oregon and McLeod-Skinner would be the first openly gay member of the state’s congressional delegation. The northwest Oregon district has a slight Democratic skew (it’s rated D+3 by FiveThirtyEight), but it is among the top pickups Republicans are eyeing.
Mayra Flores in TX-34 (toss-up): Flores, a respiratory therapist, is aiming to maintain the momentum from her special election win this summer, when she became the first Republican to win this Democrat-held district in 150 years. This race could underscore just how much ground Republicans have gained with Latino voters in the Rio Grande Valley if they’re able to replicate Flores’s success. After the special election, Democrats argued that they hadn’t invested as much in the region because the winner of that contest would only hold it for a few months before the general, when they expect it to flip back.
After redistricting, the seat leans heavily Democratic (it is rated D+17 by FiveThirtyEight) and pits Flores against Rep. Vicente González, another incumbent who opted to challenge Flores after his district was redrawn. Flores has backed hard-line policies on border security and abortion, while Gonzalez has argued that he’s a moderate who’s willing to buck his party when needed, including when it comes to supporting oil and gas workers in the region.
The far-right candidates in swing seats
Despite historical and political trends that favor Republicans in these elections, there are multiple swing districts where GOP voters picked an extreme candidate in the primary and jeopardized the party’s chances of retaking that seat.
In some places, like Michigan’s Third District, Democrats contributed to this trend by spending money to boost these candidates, believing that would set up an easier general election contest. Some of these candidates could still win, though, given the factors going in Republicans’ favor and the tightness of these races, but the conservative nature of their positions makes that prospect far less likely.
Republican losses in these races would sting a bit extra, knowing that a new or larger majority may have been within their grasp had they picked other candidates.
John Gibbs in MI-03 (lean Democrat): Gibbs, a Trump-backed political commentator, defeated incumbent Rep. Peter Meijer, a moderate who had voted to impeach the former president during the Republican primary. Democrats took heat for meddling in GOP primaries here more than anywhere else, given Meijer’s willingness to hold Trump accountable, and this race will be one of the most telling on whether Democrats feel those efforts were worthwhile.
Gibbs, a far-right candidate and election denier, has been scrutinized for controversial statements he’s made elevating a conspiracy theory about Democrats, and will compete against attorney Hillary Scholten, who has put her support for abortion access at the forefront of her campaign. The western Michigan district has grown friendlier to Democrats after redistricting (it is rated D+3 by FiveThirtyEight), though it’s still very much a battleground.
J.R. Majewski in OH-09 (lean Democrat): Majewski, an Air Force veteran and Trump acolyte, was at the Capitol during the January 6, 2021, riot, and has recently gotten more scrutiny for embellishing his military record. While Majewski has claimed to have served in Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Air Force has said it’s not able to substantiate that claim.
In a bad sign for Majewski, the House Republican campaign arm has reportedly pulled television advertising for his candidacy following the reporting on his service. Incumbent Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a member of the Appropriations Committee who is the longest-serving woman in the history of the House, is now looking like she could hang on to this northern Ohio seat, which got more Republican-friendly during redistricting. (FiveThirtyEight rates it R+6.)
Sarah Palin in AK-at large (lean Democrat): The Alaska House seat was held for decades by Republican Rep. Don Young, who died earlier this year, but Democrat Mary Peltola flipped it during a special election over the summer, defeating Palin, a former vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor. It’s a big shift in the state, which is still firmly Republican (FiveThirtyEight rates the seat R+15), and one that could signal momentum that Democrats have picked up following the Dobbs decision and the impact of its ranked-choice voting system in weeding out extreme candidates.
Palin is backed by Trump but has lost popularity in the state in the wake of her polarizing run as a vice presidential candidate and her decision to leave the governorship.
The Republicans who opposed Trump
Of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in 2021, just two lawmakers are still in the running this fall, after the rest either opted not to seek reelection or lost their primaries.
The two lawmakers — Reps. David Valadao and Dan Newhouse — represent a dwindling contingency of House Republicans who’ve been vocal opponents of Trump and critics of the January 6 Capitol riot. Similarly, of the 35 Republicans who voted for a bipartisan commission to investigate January 6, only a handful have survived to this point.
If they make it through the general election, these Republicans are likely to be rare moderating voices in a GOP majority even more thoroughly stocked with Trump loyalists.
David Valadao in CA-22 (toss-up): Valadao, a Republican who previously voted to impeach Trump, made it through his primary but is now facing a tough general election race against state Rep. Rudy Salas. This race will determine if one of the last Trump critics standing comes back to Congress, and if Valadao can maintain appeal to Democrats in an increasingly blue district.
The Central Valley district is now more favorable to Democrats after redistricting (it’s rated D+10 by FiveThirtyEight), and Valadao has had to make the case that his ties to the region and support for policies like broadband access are sufficient to keep him in office.
Dan Newhouse in WA-04 (solid Republican): Newhouse is perhaps the only Republican who voted for Trump’s impeachment who is pretty firmly set for reelection. Newhouse’s success indicates that it’s rare but still possible for Republicans to defy Trump and persevere in a conservative district.
This central Washington district remains solidly red (it’s rated R+25 by FiveThirtyEight), and Newhouse is set to coast to a win after he beat back challengers in the primary.
Dusty Johnson in SD (solid Republican): Johnson is also among the few Republicans who confronted Trump and is poised to survive next term. Johnson previously voted for the bipartisan January 6 commission and backed Rep. Liz Cheney, who has been a vocal critic of Trump, to stay in Republican leadership. Johnson is a rare example of a Republican who bucked Trump — though much more mildly than the others on this list — and maintains party support given his backing for conservative policies.
Like Newhouse, he’s set to return to Congress given how Republican his district is (FiveThirtyEight rates it R+32).
The vulnerable Democratic incumbents who could still win
Moderate Democrats, many of whom were elected in Democrats’ wave midterms of 2018, have long understood themselves to be the most vulnerable members of their caucus when the wave looked to be crashing down in the other direction. Their governing styles, policy positions, and opposition to the more liberal parts of their caucus during this Congress have often belied their knowledge of how easily they could be swept out. They’re often called “front-liners” for a reason.
Prospects were looking better for some of these lawmakers earlier this year. The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision had energized the exact parts of their coalition they needed, and favorable redistricting in some states had also given some vulnerable members a bit of wiggle room. Since then, however, Republicans have appeared to pick up more momentum as inflation has persisted, an indication that many of these races will still be extremely tight.
The following three are among those who are in a better position to potentially limit Democrats’ losses. More broadly, though, House moderates could well see their numbers decimated in the case of a Republican wave.
Abigail Spanberger in VA-07 (toss-up): Spanberger first flipped this battleground district in 2018, and it’s become more Democratic after redistricting (FiveThirtyEight rates it D+2). Spanberger has made her support for abortion a key part of this race and has emphatically distanced herself from Democratic leadership, an approach that could be a model for swing seat lawmakers trying to stress their independence.
Spanberger is being challenged by law enforcement official Yesli Vega, who has taken standard conservative policy positions and been criticized for comments she’s made questioning the likelihood of women getting pregnant from rape. The central Virginia district is among those where abortion could play a major role in mobilizing voters.
Dan Kildee in MI-08 (lean Democrat): Kildee is attempting to secure his sixth term in Congress after his district became more contentious after redistricting (it is now rated R+1 by FiveThirtyEight). Kildee’s eastern Michigan district includes Democratic strongholds like Flint and Bay City as well as more conservative suburbs and rural areas.
Kildee has incumbency as well as Biden’s success in the region going for him this fall as he faces Republican challenger Paul Junge, who previously worked for US Citizenship and Immigration Services during Trump’s administration.
Steven Horsford in NV-04 (lean Democrat): Horsford is among the Nevada Democrats staring down a difficult race, though his district has shifted to be safer for Democrats after redistricting (FiveThirtyEight rates the race D+5).
He’s up against veteran and small-business owner Sam Peters and has had a fundraising advantage that could help bolster his run. Horsford has touted policy achievements like the Inflation Reduction Act, while Peters has tried to energize the conservative base and advanced Trump’s claims questioning the 2020 election results.
The new progressives
This group matters less than the previous ones to determine control of Congress since they are all running in safe Democratic seats, but they could play a key role in shaping their own party’s priorities.
Progressives had a very mixed primary season, without the sort of upsets of incumbents that shocked the establishment in the past two cycles. But they came out ahead in a few open seats over more moderate challengers and are set to increase their share of the Democratic caucus, especially if a large number of moderates like the ones in the last category do lose their races.
That would likely push the Democratic caucus to be more aggressive as an opposition party if they lose the majority, and could have long-term implications for the policies the party considers down the line. More progressives in Congress could also add to the pressure that the Biden administration faces to take executive action on issues like climate change and abortion.
Greg Casar in TX-35 (solid Democrat): Casar, an Austin City Council member, is a shoo-in for the general election in his solidly blue Texas district and has backed a number of progressive policies including Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal (FiveThirtyEight rates it D+38).
Summer Lee in PA-12 (likely Democrat): State Rep. Lee narrowly beat a moderate competitor earlier this year to fill the seat of retiring Rep. Mike Doyle. Lee’s candidacy is notable because she’s a staunch progressive running in a tighter district, though it still skews Democratic (FiveThirtyEight rates it D+15). Her success there could show how more left-leaning messaging can still succeed in places that are less blue.
Delia Ramirez in IL-03 (solid Democrat): State House Rep. Ramirez defeated a moderate opponent in the primary and is set to have a strong general election showing in this blue district near Chicago and its suburbs (FiveThirtyEight rates it D+39). Ramirez has sponsored legislation to codify abortion rights in Illinois as a member of the state legislature, and she’s said she’ll continue to push Biden on the issue if elected.
Update, November 3, 2:10 pm ET: This story was originally published on October 10 and has been updated to reflect new ratings for different races.