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The races that could decide who controls the House

With just over a month before Election Day, Democrats are more likely to regain the majority in the House of Representatives than not. The most recent CBS Battleground Tracker model shows that Democrats are on track to win some 224 seats in the House, which would give them control of the 435-seat chamber. 

Because every member in the House is up for re-election, there's not exactly a definitive guide to the most important campaigns. There are several interesting races that could determine the balance of the lower chamber, but aren't necessarily the only ones to watch. Here's a rundown of some of the most interesting House races being followed by the CBS Battleground Tracker, and why they matter:

Colorado's 6th Congressional District 

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

Rep. 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 with a family who has made a name for himself as an advocate for veterans affairs. 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.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC supporting a Republican House majority, has also cut off support for Coffman, indicating that some in the GOP see him as a lost cause.

Arkansas's 2nd Congressional District

Republican candidate: French Hill (incumbent)
Democratic candidate: Clarke Tucker
CBS News Battleground Tracker Rating: Edge Republican

It's been a long time since Democrat Bill Clinton emerged on the national stage casting himself as the man from Hope, Arkansas. The once-Democratic state has turned deep red in the past decades, with an all-Republican congressional delegation. However, the state's capital, Little Rock, is about as blue as Arkansas gets anymore -- which is why Rep. French Hill, the Republican congressman who represents Little Rock and its environs, is facing an unexpectedly close race this year. Clarke Tucker is a state representative and cancer survivor, who is running largely on the issue of health care. Hill voted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act last year. Tucker promises to preserve and improve the ACA on his campaign website

Although Tucker is a long shot for this seat, Hill may have some reason for concern.

Iowa's 1st Congressional District

Republican candidate: Rod Blum (incumbent)
Democratic candidate: Abby Finkenauer
CBS News Battleground Tracker Rating: Lean 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. Incumbent Republican Rep. Rod Blum's swing seat is situated 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.

Mr. Trump rallied in Iowa in October to support Blum and other Republican candidates.

Kentucky's 6th Congressional District

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

In a more normal year, Rep. Andy Barr might have been totally 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. And crushed his last Democratic opponent, earning 61 percent of the vote in 2016. 

But Barr is facing a Democratic opponent unlike any of the ones he has defeated: Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot and lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps, who kickstarted her campaign with a viral ad.

McGrath released another viral ad in late September, where she acted as a goalie deflecting criticism from Barr.

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. The New York Times notes that Barr and GOP groups have spent over $3 million on attack ads, a huge total in the fairly inexpensive media market of Lexington. 

While McGrath is pushing back, she is not answering his ads with attack ads of her own. "It's time for a new generation of leaders who aren't afraid to go against the grain and run a campaign that the voters can be proud of," she told the Lexington Herald Leader. 

The race is shaping up as a test of the theory that negative ads win races and also whether a very strong Democratic candidate can make inroads in a deep-red district. And if Republicans can't pull out a win in this Kentucky district, the GOP may be in for a long night. 

California's 39th Congressional District

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

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 that 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 in September, Kim was leading Cisneros with 46 percent support among all potential voters compared to Cisneros' 42 percent support.

Cisneros had been accused of sexual harassment, which Republicans had used as a bludgeon during the campaign, but the woman alleging the harassment recanted earlier in October. 

Virginia's 7th Congressional District

Republican candidate: Dave Brat (incumbent)
Democratic candidate: Abigail Spanberger
CBS News Battleground Tracker Rating: Toss up 

In the 2014 Republican primaries, Dave Brat defeated Rep. Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader and speaker-in-waiting, sailing to victory on a wave of Tea Party enthusiasm. Four years later, the once-insurgent candidate is defending his incumbency against Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA operative.

Spanberger was briefly embroiled in controversy when the U.S. Postal Service accidentally released one of her personnel files. The file had been improperly given to a Republican super PAC. However, she seems to have regained her footing in the race by focusing largely on health care issues.

A Monmouth University poll released Sept. 25 showed Spanberger ahead by five points, with 47 percent support among likely voters compared to 42 percent support for Brat. However, a recent New York Times poll had Brat leading with 47 percent to Spanberger's 43 percent. Brat is still the favorite to win, but it's easy to imagine that the former insurgent could be unseated.

New York's 19th Congressional District

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. He has 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.

Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District

Republican candidate: Jason Lewis (incumbent)
Democratic candidate: Angie Craig
CBS News Battleground Tracker Rating: Edge Democrat

Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District covers the southern portion of the Twin Cities area, which voted for Mr. Trump by barely one point. It's made up of suburbs and rural farmland, and the votes of suburban women are expected to play a key role in the outcome of this race. Lewis, a freshman congressman and former radio talk show host, eked out a victory against Democrat Angie Craig in 2016. Now, the two candidates are in a rematch -- and for the moment, Craig seems to be winning the fight. 

Craig, a former reporter and business executive, would be the first lesbian congresswoman to represent Minnesota. She has outraised Lewis by nearly half a million dollars. She also has a significant edge in what little polling has occurred in the district -- a recent New York Times poll from the end of October showed her 13 points ahead of Lewis. 

Ohio's 1st Congressional District

Republican candidate: Steve Chabot (incumbent)
Democratic candidate: Aftab Pureval
CBS News Battleground Tracker Rating: Toss up

Sixty-five-year-old Rep. Steve Chabot is the GOP incumbent, having served in Congress almost continuously since 1995 (he lost his seat for a single term in 2008 before winning it again in 2010. He's being challenged by a relative political newcomer in Democrat Aftab Pureval, who is the clerk of courts for Hamilton County, elected to the position in 2016.

Mr. Trump stumped for Chabot at a rally in Lebanon, Ohio, on Oct. 12. Chabot has enthusiastically embraced the president, as evidenced by his bombastic speech on the stage with Mr. Trump, where he shouted "God Bless Kanye West!" Meanwhile, Pureval has been endorsed by prominent Democrats such as former President Barack Obama. Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis rallied for Pureval earlier this month.

However, Pureval has gotten into some hot water for allegedly using funds from his county campaign for his congressional race. The Ohio Election Commission is investigating the complaint.

Texas' 7th Congressional District

Republican candidate: John Culberson (incumbent)
Democratic candidate: Lizzie Fletcher
CBS News Battleground Tracker Rating: Toss up

Houston-area Rep. John Culberson is one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the country. He represents some of western Houston's wealthier neighborhoods, but the city's increasing urbanization and the influx of residents from other parts of the country could work against him. The 7th Congressional District narrowly voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Culberson is facing Lizzie Fletcher, a Houston native and lawyer who has outpaced the incumbent in fundraising. Like many other Democratic candidates gunning for Republican seats in red states, Fletcher's campaign is heavily focused on health care. Both candidates have accused each other of misleading the public with advertisements that attack the other on their health care policy.

A New York Times poll recently found that Culberson has 48 percent support among likely voters, while Fletcher has 45 percent. There has been very little polling in the race.

Illinois' 6th Congressional District

Republican candidate: Pete Roskam (incumbent)
Democratic candidate: Sean Casten
CBS News Battleground Tracker Rating: Edge Democrat

Democrats are eager to capture Illinois' 6th Congressional District, which Clinton won by 7 points in 2016. Rep. Pete Roskam is relatively conservative for his wealthy, well-educated suburban district outside of Chicago. He votes in line with the president nearly 95 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight. He also opposes abortion and once called climate change "junk science" -- even though he is currently a member of the House Climate Solutions caucus. Roskam voted for the tax overhaul and to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act in 2017.

Democrat Sean Casten holds views diametrically opposed to Roskam's on climate change, as a scientist and a founder of a clean-energy company. Casten is also one of the Democrats running for office who has been endorsed by Obama.

Although there has been very little polling in the race, a September poll by the New York Times found Casten trailing Roskam by one point.

California's 48th Congressional District

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

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, in recent years, there have been substantial demographic changes, with an influx of Hispanic and Asian immigrants that are shifting parts of the the county toward Democrats. 

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. 

Flipping Rohrabacher's seat would also deprive Mr. Trump of one of his vocal supporters in the House. Democrat Harley Rouda, an entrepreneur and first-time candidate, is running against the incumbent. 

A recent New York Times poll found Rohrabacher and Rouda tied in support among likely voters, 45 to 45.

Florida's 27th Congressional District (Open)

Republican candidate: Maria Elvira Salazar
Democratic candidate: Donna Shalala
CBS News Battleground Tracker Rating: Likely Democrat

Democrat Donna Shalala, who served as President Clinton's Secretary of Health and Human Services, was supposed to win this Miami-area district in a walk. Mr. Trump lost the district by nearly 20 points, and popular Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring this year, leaving the seat vacant. However, Shalala barely eked out a victory in a five-candidate primary, and is facing an unexpected challenge from Maria Elvira Salazar, a Cuban-American journalist who has worked for Spanish-language station Telemundo.

Unlike Shalala, Salazar can speak Spanish, and often gives interviews in both Spanish and English. Shalala is 77, making her one of the oldest first-time House candidates in history, while Salazar is 54. Shalala has also been criticized for her controversial tenure as president of the University of Miami, including her role in dealing with a strike among custodial workers that raoiled the campus. In a poll conducted by Salazar's team released earlier this month, the Republican is leading Shalala by seven points.

Shalala has outspent Salazar on television ads, but money might not be the most important factor in this race. For national Democrats, this race is too close to comfort.

  • Grace Segers

    Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.