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Election Update: Democrats’ Chances In The 13 Romney-Clinton Districts

Welcome to our Election Update for Thursday, Sept. 13!

The biggest update: We now have a Senate forecast to go with our House forecast! The “Classic” version of the Senate forecast currently gives Democrats a 1 in 3 chance of flipping the upper chamber. Meanwhile, the “Classic” version of our House forecast hasn’t really changed much since yesterday: Democrats still have a 5 in 6 chance of winning control. Across thousands of simulations, Democrats’ average gain was 39 seats.

Several of those Democratic pick-ups are likely to be in districts carried by Mitt Romney in 2012 but Hillary Clinton in 2016, as I wrote in my Election Update yesterday. There are only 13 such districts nationwide — all currently represented by Republicans — but all of them are competitive (to varying degrees) in 2018.1 Let’s check in on what our forecast has to say about them each specifically.

FiveThirtyEight releases House forecast update

Three districts where Republicans have the upper hand

As of 11:45 a.m., Republicans are favored in three Romney-Clinton seats. The Illinois 6th District and Kansas 3rd District are both “lean Republican,” and the Texas 32nd District is “likely Republican.”

While polling remains close in all three districts, the fundamentals — non-polling factors like fundraising, candidate quality and a district’s voting history — still favor Republicans. The Texas 32nd, for example, has a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean2 of R+10. In Kansas’s 3rd, GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder has raised dramatically more money than Democratic challenger Sharice Davids. Perhaps most importantly, all three incumbents demonstrated a clear ability to woo crossover voters by winning their 2016 races by at least 10 percentage points3 even as Clinton carried their districts.

Three pure toss-ups

Three other Romney-Clinton districts are toss-ups, with Democrats ever so slightly favored. These include the California 39th District, Texas 7th District and Texas 23rd District.

In the California 39th, a relatively robust4 collection of polls, on average, point toward a slight lead for Democrat Gil Cisneros — the most recent poll gave him an 11-point lead, although it was a Democratic internal poll and far off the mark of other polls showing a closer race. Republicans have also attacked Cisneros over the airwaves for his alleged unwanted sexual advances toward a state-legislative candidate, which could hurt his standing: Our model penalizes Cisneros based on how other candidates under the cloud of scandal have performed. But the Texas 7th and 23rd are the California 39th’s mirror image: Polls favor Republicans, while the fundamentals are pretty Democratic.

Three districts that lean Democratic

Next, as we move along the spectrum of increasingly vulnerable Republican seats: Three districts are rated “lean Democratic” — the California 48th District, New Jersey 7th District and California 45th District. Generally speaking, this means both the polls and fundamentals portend good things for Democrats in these districts. For instance, the California 48th District has had two high-quality polls done, and both (once adjusted for house effects) gave Democrat Harley Rouda a lead.5 The fact that Robert Mueller is investigating incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s dealings with Russia probably doesn’t hurt the Democrat’s chances either.

In the New Jersey 7th, Democrat Tom Malinowski has outraised Rep. Leonard Lance $1.9 million to $780,000 in individual contributions and also led by 2 points in the only poll of the race thus far. And although the polls in the California 45th are better for Republicans than they initially appear,6 Democrat Katie Porter has pocketed $1.2 million more in individual donations than Rep. Mimi Walter, who may be suffering from an extremely party-line voting record. (Both factor into our model’s fundamentals step.)

Four districts where Democrats are favored

Finally, Democrats are in a great position — “likely Democratic” — in four Romney-Clinton seats: the California 49th, Arizona 2nd, California 25th and Virginia 10th. The first two are open seats where the Democratic nominee is much stronger than the Republican one. In the California 49th, Democrat Mike Levin has outraised Republican Diane Harkey $2.5 million to $490,000 in individual contributions. And in the Arizona 2nd, Democrats nominated Ann Kirkpatrick, who is not only an experienced politician, but she also won three terms in Congress in a neighboring seat even redder than the 2nd District. If we just look at the fundamentals, we would expect a nearly 13-point Democratic win in both districts, which is well ahead of both districts’ R+1 partisan leans.

As for the two “likely Democratic” districts that aren’t open seats, the California 25th is another case where the fundamentals are stacked against incumbent GOP Rep. Steve Knight. He narrowly won in 2016, and he, too, has been outraised by his Democratic challenger. In the Virginia 10th, it looks like Rep. Barbara Comstock is going to be one of the first Republicans ousted on Election Day. She trails in an adjusted average of the polls (including a high-quality one from Monmouth) by 7 points and the fundamentals are against her by 6. Her chances of winning — 21 percent as of 11:45 a.m. — are so bad that national Republicans are reportedly considering triaging her from their pool of limited resources.

Next up: We’ll take a similar look at Obama-Trump districts.


  1. That is, our model rates them somewhere between “likely Democratic” and “likely Republican.”

  2. The average difference between how a state or district votes and how the country votes overall. In our new and improved partisan lean formula, 2016 presidential election results are weighted 50 percent, 2012 presidential election results are weighted 25 percent and results from elections for the state legislature are weighted 25 percent.

  3. No Democrat ran against Rep. Pete Sessions in the Texas 32nd.

  4. Three of ’em, which is quite a lot for a House race in mid-September; some districts never get polled at all.

  5. One of 1.4 points, the other of 1.5 points.

  6. Democrats have led in three of the four, but all four have been Democratic internals, so our model interprets their results as slightly friendly to Republicans.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.