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Some of the most interesting House races to watch

Democratic wave is "toss up" in midterms

Democrats could potentially retake the House of Representatives this year for the first time since it was won by Republicans in 2010. The most recent CBS Battleground Tracker model shows that Democrats are on track to win some 222 seats in the House, which would give them control of the 435-seat chamber. 

Unlike with the Senate and gubernatorial races, there are far too many House races to create a definitive guide to the most important campaigns. However, there are several interesting races that could determine the balance of the lower chamber, but aren't necessarily the only ones to watch. Here is a rundown of interesting House races from the CBS Battleground Tracker, and why they matter:


Republican candidate: Mike Coffman (incumbent)
Democratic candidate: Jason Crow
CBS News Battleground Tracker Rating: Toss up

Mike Coffman, who was first elected to Congress in 2008, has tried to highlight his independent streak in recent years. Redistricting in 2012 more than doubled the Hispanic population in the district, and increased the Democratic vote share. Barack Obama won his district in 2008 and 2012. Since then, demographic shifts and Democratic leanings of his district have made it increasingly difficult for him to hold onto his seat.

Coffman famously released an ad before the 2016 election that said he would "stand up" to President Trump. Sure enough, Coffman won a tough reelection fight that year even as Hillary Clinton carried his district by nine percentage points. 

Coffman has since called for an independent investigation of potential Russian collusion in the 2016 election in May 2017, before Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe began. However, it's unclear if Coffman's moderate reputation will be enough to save him in November.

Jason Crow is a Democratic candidate who seems as if he was plucked from central casting: he is a young veteran who has made a name for himself as an advocate for veterans affairs, and he has two cute kids to boot. Crow is one of the Democratic Party's top recruits, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is betting that he will be the candidate to topple Coffman. A recent poll by the New York Times Upshot/Siena College found that Crow was 11 points ahead of Coffman.


Republican candidate: Will Hurd (incumbent)
Democratic candidate: Gina Ortiz Jones
CBS News Battleground Tracker Rating: Lean Republican

Rep. Will Hurd has tried very hard to reassure his constituents that he isn't a run-of-the-mill Republican. The biracial former CIA agent has carved a niche for himself as one of the House's most moderate, charismatic, and telegenic Republican members. 

He's criticized Mr. Trump's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, even writing an opinion post for The New York Times alleging that Mr. Trump was being manipulated by Putin. He also knocked the administration policy of separating immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border after visiting a detention center. He even famously took a road trip with Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who is now challenging Sen. Ted Cruz.

However, Hurd is facing a formidable opponent in this famously swing-prone district. Gina Ortiz Jones is an Air Force veteran and former Obama administration official. She is the daughter of an immigrant single mother, which could be appealing in a majority-Hispanic district. She has also outraised Hurd by nearly a two-to-one ratio. The district leans towards Hurd, but Jones has more than a fighting chance.


Republican candidate: Rod Blum (incumbent)
Democratic candidate: Abby Finkenauer
CBS News Battleground Tracker Rating: Edge Democrat

As Iowa's 1st Congressional District goes, so goes the country -- at least in the last three presidential elections. The district voted for Barack Obama by a wide margin in 2008 and 2012, but voted for Mr. Trump by three percentage points in 2016. Unfortunately for incumbent Republican Rep. Rod Blum, his swing seat is on the path Democrats want to take to regain the House.

Blum is facing Abby Finkenauer, a popular state representative. Finkenauer is one of the candidates who's been named to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Red to Blue" list, which is targeting specific seats to flip from Republican to Democratic control. Blum is considered to be one of the most vulnerable Republican House members in the 2018 election, and some are writing him off as a lost cause. Democrats outspent Blum ten-to-one in campaign ads, while no Republican organization has put money toward TV ads that could benefit Blum so far, according to the Des Moines Register.


Republican candidate: Andy Barr (incumbent)
Democratic candidate: Amy McGrath
CBS News Battleground Tracker Rating: Edge Republican

Rep. Andy Barr should be safe. He represents a Kentucky district that voted for Mr. Trump by 15 percentage points, in a state which supported him by 30 percentage points. He crushed his last Democratic opponent, earning 61 percent of the vote in 2016. But Barr is facing a Democratic opponent unlike any other he has ever defeated: Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot and lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps, who kickstarted her campaign with a viral campaign ad.

If Democrats were able to capture Barr's district, it would show that the party has muscle in the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. It would also increase the number of Democrats representing Kentucky in Congress from one to two.

McGrath started her campaign on the offensive, and she hasn't backed off. Barr has responded by going negative relatively early in the general election campaign, releasing an ad in August claiming that McGrath is too liberal for the district. Barr's willingness to attack McGrath may indicate that he is concerned about the challenge she presents. Ultimately, the race will be the test of whether a strong, nationally-admired Democrat is able to win in a deep-red district.


Republican candidate: Leonard Lance (incumbent)
Democratic candidate: Tom Malinowski
CBS News Battleground Tracker Rating: Edge Republican

If you don't live in New Jersey's 7th Congressional District, and possibly even if you do live in that district, you probably haven't heard of Rep. Leonard Lance. The ten-year incumbent presides over a district encompassing large swaths of the state, from the outskirts of Elizabeth close to New York City, wealthier enclaves such as Somerville and Bedminster, home to Mr. Trump's golf club, to the rural farmlands on the border of Pennsylvania. 

It is perhaps this weird geography that has allowed Lance to hold onto this district for so long; while his district as a whole voted for Clinton in 2016 by just over one percentage point, three counties out of the six within the district did not. Lance has defeated Democratic opponents by wide margins in the past, including by 11 points in 2016. However, bullish Democrats now think they have a solid chance to flip Lance's seat.

While New Jersey is considered a blue state on the national level, the middle and western parts of the state are far more conservative than the cities on the border of New York. Many Democrats see the path to taking a majority in the House as running through blue states such as New Jersey, New York and California.

Democrat Tom Malinowski will be facing Lance in November. Malinowski served as the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor during the Obama administration. Much of the national attention focused on New Jersey is directed towards Lance's Republican colleague, Rep. Tom McArthur, who is facing a credible challenge from Democrat Andy Kim. Democrat Mikie Sherrill, who is running for Rep. Rod Frelinghuysen's open seat, is also garnering a lot of national attention. But Lance's seat is in some ways more vulnerable to Democrats, if Malinowski is able to turn out voters outside of Elizabeth and wealthier suburbanites.


Republican candidate: John Faso (incumbent)
Democratic candidate: Antonio Delgado
CBS News Battleground Tracker Rating: Toss up

First-term Republican Rep. John Faso is in a bit of a tricky spot. Mr. Trump carried his district by over 7 percentage points in 2016, and Faso defeated his Democratic opponent with 54 percent of the vote that year. Even so, he has been consistently rated as one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for re-election in 2018, largely because his district voted for Barack Obama twice. Faso broke with his party by not voting for the GOP tax overhaul late last year, but he did support the Republican attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act in 2017.

Faso has been outraised by his Democratic opponent, Antonio Delgado. Faso has recently tried to tarnish Delgado's reputation by criticizing his former career as a rapper. (Delgado is also a Rhodes Scholar and a graduate of Harvard Law School.) Critics accused Faso of race-baiting as he attempted to cast Delgado as an outsider who was inconsistent with the district's values. 

The incumbent has also released campaign ads on Facebook showing heavily tattooed men who appear to be Latino, with the promise that he will keep the gang MS-13 out of the district. The National Republican Campaign Committee released an ad in September that showed Delgado, who is black, rapping and wearing a hoodie. 

Faso is betting that constituents in this rural and overwhelmingly white district, which includes Woodstock and Franklin Roosevelt's summer retreat at Hyde Park, will vote against Delgado. But it's unclear whether the GOP's strategy, which has attracted national attention for its nods to Delgado's race and professional background, will carry him to a second term.

Faso is also facing former "Law & Order: SVU" star Diane Neal, who is running as an independent.

CA-39 (Open)

Republican candidate: Young Kim
Democratic candidate: Gil Cisneros
CBS News Battleground Tracker Rating: Edge Democrat

Although California is often seen as progressive as it gets, it's home to a number of red districts, particularly in Orange County. The county has primarily suburban areas, and many residents are extremely wealthy, tilting it towards the Republican Party. However, demographic changes have shifted the county back in the other direction. Orange County has high Latino and Asian populations. Longtime incumbent Rep. Ed Royce is retiring this year, leaving a seat open in a district where Hillary Clinton won by nine points in 2016. 

National Democrats see this seat as an opportunity to regain a foothold in Orange County, one of the few remaining Republican areas in a state that once launched Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan to national prominence. Former President Barack Obama stumped for Democratic candidate Gil Cisneros, who is running to replace Royce, and six other Orange County Democratic candidates in early September.

Like many other first-time candidates running in 2018, Cisneros is not taking any donations from political action committees, relying solely on small dollar contributions. He is also a Navy veteran and a philanthropist, a career which began after he won the California Mega Millions lottery in 2010. Republican Young Kim is also an ideal candidate for her party, as a small business owner and the first Korean-American woman elected to the state Assembly. In a Monmouth University poll released Tuesday, Kim was leading Cisneros with 46 percent support among all potential voters compared to Cisneros' 42 percent support.


Republican candidate: Claudia Tenney
Democratic candidate: Anthony Brindisi
CBS News Battleground Tracker Rating: Edge Republican

New York's 22nd Congressional District is yet another seat in a blue state that, if captured, could help flip control of the House to the Democrats.

Rep. Claudia Tenney is not afraid to make controversial comments. The first-term Republican's campaign strategy is to tie herself to Trump, and in doing so adopt somewhat of a Trumpian persona

Tenney said in February that many people who commit mass shootings "end up being Democrats, but the media doesn't talk about that." She said the "deep state" was responsible for buying a $31,000 chair for Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. She has called for the jailing of Hillary Clinton in campaign literature. Her Democratic opponent, Anthony Brindisi, is contrasting himself as much as possible with Tenney, and some national Republicans wonder if Tenney has gone too far in her rhetoric.

If Tenney loses, it could show that there is a ceiling for support of Trump-style politics among Republican and independent voters.


Republican candidate: Carlos Curbelo (incumbent)
Democratic candidate: Debbie Mucarsel-Powell
CBS News Battleground Tracker Rating: Toss up

Florida is a bellwether state, and the 26th Congressional District is a bellwether seat.

Unlike Tenney, Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo is working very hard to differentiate himself from the president. The Miami-area Republican is one of the representatives working on legislation to reunite families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border, and has been very critical of Mr. Trump on issues of foreign and domestic policy. However, his district voted for Clinton by 16 percentage points, and now he's facing a tough challenge from Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Mucarsel-Powell is criticizing Curbelo for not being able to get anything done on immigration, despite making it his signature issue. That argument may be convincing in the heavily Hispanic district.

If Curbelo is able to retain his seat, it could show that Republicans can appeal to a more diverse pool of voters.


Republican candidate: Dana Rohrabacher (incumbent)
Democratic candidate: Harley Rouda
CBS News Battleground Tracker Rating: Toss up

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher has long been a controversial congressman, in large part due to his longtime support for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Rohrabacher has also expressed doubt about the reality of climate change and is a hardliner on illegal immigration. He was a staunch opponent of Obama when he was in office.

So flipping Rohrabacher's seat would not only increase Democrats' numbers in the House, but show that voters in the district are more aligned with Democratic ideas than Republican values. It would also deprive Mr. Trump of one of his vocal supporters in the House. For Democrats, the race against Rohrabacher isn't just personal, it's political. Democrat Harley Rouda is running against the incumbent. Rouda is an entrepreneur and first-time candidate.

Correction: This article previously stated that Rep. Tom McArthur's Democratic opponent is Mikie Sherrill. It is Andy Kim. 

Grace Segers

Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.

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