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Multiple threats mean there’s no shortage of vulnerable House members

By Mary Ellen McIntire, Stephanie Akin, Kate Ackley, Niels Lesniewski

WASHINGTON — With less than six months to go until Election Day, the 10 most vulnerable House members face different threats. Some face primaries that will settle their fates in the coming months. Others face headwinds that could make it difficult to defend their seats in November, as do some of their colleagues who may be added to future versions of this list.

Republicans see a beneficial climate fueled by high inflation and President Joe Biden’s low popularity. While Democrats acknowledge an unfavorable environment, they argue their candidates are battle-tested and have the campaign cash to win.

Democrats will lose the majority if the GOP picks up a net five seats in November. While redistricting shored up seats for both parties in some states, it also put some incumbents in districts where they will have to fight harder for reelection and created some new districts that will host some of this cycle’s most competitive races. Some of those districts will be among the best pickup opportunities for Democrats, including in California, where a trio of Republicans — Reps. David Valadao, Mike Garcia and Michelle Steel — were edged out of this list by colleagues facing primary challenges. Valadao and Garcia are running in districts that Biden would have won by more than 12 points, while Steel is in a district that would have supported Biden by 6.1 points. Democrats have touted their candidate recruitment in those districts and note their registration advantage over Republicans, who argue they are strong candidates running in a favorable environment.

Also not included are eight incumbents who are paired off against each other in primaries, meaning at least four of them won’t return next year. In Illinois, Democrats Sean Casten and Marie Newman are running against each other in the 6th District, while Republicans Rodney Davis and Mary Miller face off in the 15th. Strategists favor Casten in his race, and say Davis likely has an edge over Miller, although the freshman was endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

In Georgia’s 7th District, Reps. Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux are both running for the Democratic nomination and most strategists give McBath the edge. Democrats Haley Stevens and Andy Levin are running against each other in Michigan’s 11th District in a race that pits the well-funded Stevens against Levin, who has high name recognition in the state.

West Virginia Rep. David B. McKinley became the first incumbent of the cycle to fall when he lost the Republicans primary on Tuesday to Rep. Alex X. Mooney in West Virginia’s 2nd District.

Also not included are candidates who could be vulnerable but whose congressional maps have not been finalized. Ohio Republican Steve Chabot could be running in a redrawn district that would have supported Biden by 8.5 points, but the state’s Supreme Court is still weighing a challenge to the lines even though the primary was held earlier this month. New York’s Nicole Malliotakis, who is expected to run in a rematch with former Democratic Rep. Max Rose, was considered one of the most vulnerable members before a judge tossed out the state’s map. In New Hampshire and Kansas, where Democratic Reps. Chris Pappas and Sharice Davids could be vulnerable, the process is also not completed. And in Florida Democratic Rep. Al Lawson‘s status remains in flux, with a judge on Wednesday throwing out a map that would have dismantled his district.

1. Tom O'Halleran, D-Ariz.

O’Halleran has faced competitive races before, but won his third term in 2020 by 3.2 points when President Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by just 1.7 points under existing district lines. Redistricting makes this Blue Dog Democrat more vulnerable, however, by adding Yavapai County to create a new seat Trump would have won. The House Republican campaign arm has two military veterans, Walt Blackman and Eli Crane, in its “On the Radar” program ahead of the Aug. 2 primary. Crane outraised O’Halleran, $650,000 to $577,000, in the first quarter. But the incumbent ended the quarter with $1.7 million to Crane’s $484,000 and Blackman’s $128,000.

2. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.

Cheney has emerged as the most prominent Republican lawmaker to challenge Trump’s enduring hold on her party. In exchange, she has been abandoned by the national party leaders who once elevated her to the highest-ranking GOP woman in the House as Trump has hefted his full weight against her. But Cheney remains formidable, with a powerful family name and more than a 6-1 cash-on-hand advantage as of March 31 over trial attorney Harriet Hageman. Hageman has endorsements from Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. But she hasn’t cleared the GOP field. And state lawmakers, in a potential sign of allegiance to Cheney, blocked a Trump-backed ban on crossover voting on primary day.

3. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa

House Republicans view the Des Moines-area 3rd District as a top pickup opportunity in their quest to win control of the chamber. Even as the Hawkeye State has trended Republican, Axne, who first won the seat during the anti-Trump 2018 blue wave, has been a strong fundraiser with nearly $2.6 million in the bank as of March 31. State Sen. Zach Nunn, a leading GOP candidate to challenge her, held about $450,000 cash on hand. He is the top fundraiser in the GOP field, but he still faces a June 7 primary. Republicans are confident they can sink Axne by linking her to Biden, who narrowly lost the district in 2020.

4. Tom Rice, R-S.C.

Rice’s vote to impeach Trump in January 2021 stood out because of the partisan lean of his coastal South Carolina district and his record of voting for Trump’s position on issues 93 percent of the time, according to CQ Vote Watch. But Rice has defended his decision and criticized the GOP leaders who have since fallen in line behind the former president. Rice needs to win a majority of the vote in the June 14 primary to avoid a runoff primary, which could be tough with six other candidates, even though Rice has raised more than double any of his opponents. Trump has endorsed state Rep. Russell Fry.

5. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J.

New Jersey’s new congressional map doesn’t help Malinowski, the two-term Democrat who narrowly defeated his likely 2022 GOP opponent, Tom Kean Jr., last cycle in a district that got redder during redistricting. Republicans’ better-than-expected showing in last year’s governor’s race in the state bolsters the GOP’s optimism, but Democrats say Kean is a perennial candidate whose family name may not hold as much gravitas as it used to. Malinowski has also had to reckon with a congressional ethics investigation into stock trades made while he was in office. He has since said sitting lawmakers should be banned from trading individual stocks.

6. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas

Cuellar is facing his second challenge from immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros, who forced him into a May 24 runoff after the FBI raided Cuellar’s home and office. His attorney has since said he was not the target of the investigation. But the specter of a repeal of Roe v. Wade has increased pressure on national Democrats to distance themselves because of Cuellar’s opposition to abortion rights. Republicans are also targeting the district as they seek to validate their investment in mobilizing Latino voters on the Rio Grande border by flipping this seat. There is also a GOP primary runoff between former Ted Cruz staffer Cassy Garcia and 2020 nominee Sandra Whitten.

7. Peter Meijer, R-Mich.

Meijer is vulnerable in a primary as well as in the general election. The only Republican freshman who voted to impeach Trump in January 2021, he drew a Trump-backed primary challenger, John Gibbs. At the end of the first quarter, Meijer had $1.5 million on hand compared to Gibbs’ $82,000. If he defeats Gibbs, Meijer will also be vulnerable in November in a district that would have voted for Biden. He could face a rematch with his 2020 opponent, Hillary Scholten.

8. Jared Golden, D-Maine

Strategists agree that Golden is a skilled politician and he’s bucked his party on major votes, but it’s not clear that will be enough to win a third term in this Republican-leaning district that got only slightly more Democratic in redistricting. He’s likely to face former Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who he defeated in a Democratic wave in 2018. The GOP has focused on rising home-heating costs in the state, which is home to an older population. His votes against Democrats’ $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package and the House-passed reconciliation bill last year could help him burnish his independent credentials.

9. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C.

Cawthorn drew several primary challengers, including state Sen. Chuck Edwards, after he initially said he would run in a different district, but decided to stay in the western 11th District after a GOP-drawn map was overturned. Despite this being a safe Republican district, he’s been plagued by scandal in the final weeks of the race: He told a podcast that fellow lawmakers did cocaine and participated in orgies, was cited for bringing a gun to a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint and a video showing his nude body was leaked. A late-April GOPAC poll found his support among likely primary voters falling, but showed he could still get above the 30 percent threshold to avoid a runoff.

10. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon

Though Republicans are targeting Oregon’s 5th District, Schrader’s biggest vulnerability stems from a challenge in the May 17 primary from fellow Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner, an attorney and emergency response coordinator. Schrader has touted a recent endorsement from Biden and has the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, but McLeod-Skinner won over numerous local party committees. The incumbent had a strong cash advantage, holding $1.3 million to McLeod-Skinner’s $100,000 as of April 27.

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