The House seats Democrats want to flip in 2020 show the growing chasm between the two major parties

Key Points
  • The House Democratic campaign arm releases its list of targeted districts for 2020, with a heavy emphasis on well-educated, diverse suburban areas.
  • Those kinds of areas helped the party win back the House last year, while Republicans consolidated voters in whiter, more rural parts of the country.
Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., walks to a group photo with the women of the 116th Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019.
Susan Walsh | AP

The House Democratic campaign arm's 2020 election battlefield shows a party aiming to extend its reach in the type of well-educated, diverse areas that helped it flip the House last year.

On Monday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee outlined the initial list of 33 districts it plans to target in the next election. Republicans hold 32 of the seats, and one is open amid an investigation into potential election fraud. The districts are spread around the country, but most are concentrated in Texas, New York and Pennsylvania.

After Democrats gained 40 nets seats in November to take a 235-199 majority in the House, the DCCC sees the suburbs as key to expanding the party's advantage. If Democrats flip the campaign arm's targets, it would further sharpen the divide that has emerged in recent years: Democrats making gains with college-educated voters in traditionally Republican areas, and the GOP consolidating white working-class people.

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Many of the races in the targeted districts were close in 2018 — but the DCCC's battlefield stretches beyond those targets. The campaign arm has its sights set on lawmakers facing legal troubles, such as GOP Rep. Chris Collins in New York's 27th District and Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter in California's 50th District. It also hopes to make inroads in states where Trump could have trouble in 2020 if he remains unpopular, such as Pennsylvania.

In a memo released Monday, DCCC Chairwoman Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., wrote that the 2018 elections "revealed several commonalities among districts where Democrats will be most competitive in the 2020 cycle."

"Many of the districts on our list have big suburban populations; many have also experienced rapid population growth in recent years - particularly in diverse communities. This leaves Democrats with a large number of ripe pick-up opportunities," the memo said. The DCCC does not represent the strategy favored by all Democrats, and individual candidates sometimes clash with the organization over the best tactics for a campaign.

With Trump at the top of the ballot in 2020, Democrats will try to defend the House majority after gaining it this year for the first time since 2011. The party won partly due to criticism of Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. President Donald Trump's relatively poor approval rating and the GOP tax law that limited state and local deductions appeared to help Democrats, particularly in suburban areas with highly educated populations.

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The party flipped areas long held by Republicans, from Texas' 32nd District outside of Dallas, to Colorado's 6th District on the outskirts of Denver to New Jersey's 7th and 11th Districts west of New York City. In its list Monday, the DCCC identified several similar seats, such as Georgia's 7th District near Atlanta, Indiana's 5th District outside of Indianapolis and Missouri's 2nd District close to St. Louis.

Some of the districts will prove tough to flip: for example, Rep. Susan Brooks won Indiana's 5th District election by about 13 points last year. Other red seats such as Hunter's and Collins' may only be in reach because of the scandals hanging over the lawmakers.

Still, the DCCC sees affluent districts, combined with rapidly diversifying areas, as where it can find a "new Democratic coalition" in the coming years, according to a DCCC aide who declined to be named.

In a statement, Michael McAdams, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, argued that House Democrats "have shown folks across the country how unfit they are to govern." McAdams pointed to a 70 percent top marginal tax rate floated by N.Y. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the party's opposition to Trump-backed border security plans.

"The policies of Nancy Pelosi's Democratic Party are at complete odds with a majority of Americans, and we look forward to them trying to sell their out-of-step agenda," McAdams said.

The House GOP's campaign arm has already gone on the offensive against numerous freshman House Democrats who won Republican-leaning districts last year. The earliest targets include Reps. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., and Kendra Horn, D-Okla., two of the most improbable 2018 winners.

At the same time, the districts the DCCC did not include on its initial target list tell the story of how supporters of the two major parties have diverged. The campaign arm did not list Minnesota's largely white, rural 8th District, which Republican Rep. Pete Stauber flipped in November after years of Democratic representation. In that area and others with a Democratic tradition such as Illinois' 12th District, voters have increasingly gravitated toward Republicans.

The fact that Democrats would stop focusing on those seats but go after "a bunch of historically Republican districts tells you something about the shifting demographics of both parties," said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of nonpartisan elections forecaster Sabato's Crystal Ball.

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Dave Wasserman, House editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, has framed the growing divide in terms of the Amazon-owned upscale grocery store Whole Foods. When the new Congress started in January, Democrats were set to represent 78 percent of Whole Foods locations, up from 65 percent before the 2018 elections.

The party was also set to represent about 79 percent of Asian-Americans, 72 percent of Latino-Americans, 66 percent of African-Americans, 60 percent of college graduates and only 45 percent of white Americans, Wasserman tweeted in December.

Wasserman tweet

In winning the House, Democrats got a boost by flipping every GOP-held seat in California's traditionally Republican Orange County. The DCCC has a new goal in 2020 that many would consider out of reach: it wants to unseat six House Republicans in red Texas.

Two Democrats — Reps. Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher — beat Republican incumbents in suburban Texas districts. A third, Gina Ortiz-Jones, narrowly lost to Rep. Will Hurd in the Texas' 23rd District, a sprawling area that spans much of the state's border with Mexico.

All of the seats the party eyes in 2020 have one or more things in common: proximity to Austin, San Antonio, Houston or Dallas, a sizable Hispanic or African-American voting population or a highly educated voting base.

Here is the full list of seats the DCCC is targeting:

  • Arizona 6th District, Rep. David Schweikert
  • California 22nd District, Rep. Devin Nunes
  • California 50th District, Rep. Duncan Hunter
  • Colorado 3rd District, Rep. Scott Tipton
  • Florida 15th District, Rep. Ross Spano
  • Florida 18th District, Rep. Brian Mast
  • Georgia 7th District, Rep. Rob Woodall
  • Iowa 4th District, Rep. Steve King
  • Indiana 5th District, Rep. Susan Brooks
  • Kentucky 6th District, Rep. Andy Barr
  • Michigan 6th District, Rep. Fred Upton
  • Minnesota 1st District, Rep. Jim Hagedorn
  • Missouri 2nd District, Rep. Ann Wagner
  • North Carolina 2nd District, Rep. George Holding
  • North Carolina 9th District, open (Republican Mark Harris narrowly leads disputed election over Democrat Dan McCready and Harris has not been seated).
  • North Carolina 13th District, Rep. Ted Budd
  • Nebraska 2nd District, Rep. Don Bacon
  • New York 1st District, Rep. Lee Zeldin
  • New York 2nd District, Rep. Peter King
  • New York 24th District, Rep. John Katko
  • New York 27th District, Rep. Chris Collins
  • Ohio 1st District, Rep. Steve Chabot
  • Pennsylvania 1st District, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick
  • Pennsylvania 10th District, Rep. Scott Perry
  • Pennsylvania 16th District, Rep. Mike Kelly
  • Texas 10th District, Rep. Michael McCaul
  • Texas 21st District, Rep. Chip Roy
  • Texas 22nd District, Rep. Pete Olson
  • Texas 23rd District, Rep. Will Hurd
  • Texas 24th District, Rep. Kenny Marchant
  • Texas 31st District, Rep. John Carter
  • Washington 3rd District, Jaime Herrera Beutler

Correction: Texas' 32nd District is outside of Dallas. An earlier version misstated the location.

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