Sabatos Crystal Ball

The Democrats’ Drive for 25 in the House: An Update

Kyle Kondik, Managing Editor, Sabato's Crystal Ball May 17th, 2018

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KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE

— This piece revisits a proposed path to a Democratic House majority we sketched out in early February.

— Overall, the Democrats’ odds in the districts mentioned have largely but not universally gotten a little better.

— The California primary on June 5 looms as the most important date in the battle for the House between now and the November election.

— The Democrats’ odds of retaking the House majority remain about 50-50.

— One ratings change this week: Rep. Don Bacon (R, NE-2) moves from Toss-up to Leans Republican following liberal nonprofit executive Kara Eastman’s (D) upset of former Rep. Brad Ashford (D, NE-2) in Tuesday night’s primary. More explanation is below.

Table 1: Crystal Ball House ratings change

A district-by-district path to the House majority

In early February, we sketched out a potential path to a Democratic House majority. We called it the “Drive for 25,” in reference to the Democrats’ branding of their unsuccessful attempt to win the House in 2012. Three and a half months later, we thought we’d revisit this possible Democratic path to the majority and see how much has (or hasn’t) changed.

Some of the overall indicators are a little bit better for Republicans — according to RealClearPolitics, the Democratic lead in the House generic ballot, a national poll assessing voters’ preferences in their local House district, is about five points, down from about seven on Feb. 1, when we first laid out the “Drive for 25.” President Trump’s approval rating is also up a little bit — his disapproval was 13 points higher than his approval back then, and that net deficit is now about nine. Still, these metrics have been fairly stable for much of Trump’s presidency, although the Republicans are at a higher ebb as of this writing. There’s always a chance that the Republicans’ standing could improve more as we build toward the fall, putting them in better position to hold the House. Such a possibility is why we’ve stuck with roughly 50-50 odds of a House flip and not gone further than that. On the other hand, there is still a possibility that Democrats won’t just win the House, but win it easily. The range of possible outcomes still seems wide.

Some district-level indicators are a little brighter for Democrats since we first described this narrow path to a Democratic House majority. As of the last writing, Pennsylvania had not yet implemented new congressional districts, and the eventual map that the state’s Democrat-controlled Supreme Court adopted ended up being very favorable for Democrats, at least compared to the previous, GOP-drawn map. Then, under the old map, Rep. Conor Lamb (D, PA-18) won a surprising victory in a western Pennsylvania district, one of many strong Democratic performances in state and federal special elections held so far this cycle. Lamb’s victory technically reduced the Democrats’ needed net gain from 24 seats to 23 in order to win the House.

Still, we’re sticking with the “Drive for 25” as the Democratic goal here, because we’re assuming that the Republicans, even in a potentially bad environment, will pick up at least two Democrat-held seats. Back in early February, we selected the open MN-1 as the likeliest Republican pickup. Now the likeliest pickup is PA-14, a more Republican version of Lamb’s current district. State Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R) beat failed special election nominee state Rep. Rick Saccone (R) and is very heavily favored to be elected in the fall in PA-14. Meanwhile, Lamb has opted to run in the new PA-17 against Rep. Keith Rothfus (R). We’ll get into this more in the Pennsylvania section, but for the sake of this article, we’re going to assume that Republicans pick up two Democratic districts, the open MN-1 and PA-14. That’s not to say Republicans are locked into picking up two and only two Democratic seats: They might fail to pick up any outside of PA-14, which we rate as Safe Republican, or they may pick up more than two, with another Minnesota open seat, MN-8, another prime Trump-won target, and a handful of other Democratic seats as possibilities as well.

In any event, we’re again assuming Democrats will need to win at least 25 current Republican-held seats to capture the House.

With that explanation out of the way, let’s revisit the path. Remember, this is a PATH, not a PREDICTION. We had 12 different categories that made up the Drive for 25, and benchmarks we believe the Democrats need to hit in each to be on track for a House takeover. Obviously, an overperformance in one category would make up for an underperformance in another, and an underperformance in one category would necessitate an overperformance in another category, or an upset in one of the Democratic targets not included as part of our Drive for 25. We’ll reprint our original analysis in italics, add new commentary (and, in a few instances, new seats), and then assess whether the Democratic odds of meeting the benchmark have, in our judgment, increased, decreased, or stayed the same.

1. Win all four open seats where Democrats already are favored

Seats: AZ-2 (Open), CA-49 (Open), FL-27 (Open), and NJ-2 (Open)

ORIGINAL ANALYSIS (FEB. 1, 2018): We recently published a detailed analysis of all of the open seats in the House as of a couple of weeks ago, and these four stood out to us as the likeliest Democratic takeovers. Hillary Clinton won three of the four, and according to our friend Scott Crass, the presidential party has not successfully defended an open seat won by the other party’s most recent presidential nominee in a midterm since 1990. Additionally, we see Trump-won NJ-2 as a good Democratic opportunity because of the candidacy of state Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D) coupled with the Republicans’ inability (thus far) to find a top-tier candidate as they seek to replace the retiring Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R, NJ-2), a relative moderate who enjoyed labor support since his initial election in 1994.

If there are any “must-wins” for Democrats in the House, these four seats qualify.

UPDATE: Democrats seem largely on track in all of these districts with the possible exception of CA-49, where Democrats worry about getting shut out of California’s top-two primary. However, with four Democrats and eight Republicans running in CA-49, it’s also possible that two Democrats could advance to the November election. Van Drew, despite criticism from the left, appears to be on track to get nominated and be a favorite in the fall. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R, OH-15) recently had to backtrack after calling NJ-2 a “recruiting hole” in the Republican defenses, a slight to likely GOP nominee Hirsh Singh (R), an engineer who has some capacity to self-fund.

CURRENT OUTLOOK: Unchanged. Judge these seats on whether they continue to attract attention in the fall: If national third-party spending groups are targeting one or more of these districts in the fall, it may be a sign that the Democratic advance is stagnating. Likewise, Republicans may end up writing off these districts by the fall, which would be telling in the other direction. As of right now, FL-27 and NJ-2 seem to be edging toward the “write off” category for Republicans, while the other two still seem salvageable for Republicans. Obviously the CA-49 primary is important as well.

2. At least three more Toss-up open seats

Seats: CA-39 (Open), MI-11 (Open), NJ-11 (Open), WA-8 (Open), and WI-1 (Open)

ORIGINAL ANALYSIS: Here are two more Clinton-won open seats (CA-39, WA-8) as well as two Trump-won seats where the president ran a bit behind Mitt Romney’s 2012 showing (MI-11 and NJ-11). Picking up three of these four would get the Democrats to the open-seat goal we set for them two weeks ago: netting at least half a dozen seats from the total number of open seats (50 as of Wednesday afternoon), again assuming that the Democrats lose one of the open seats they are defending (MN-1 in this scenario). The Democrats may be able to net even more than a half-dozen open seats (some others are addressed below).

The one seat here that merits a little further comment is NJ-11, which just became open after long-time Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R) retired earlier this week. The district swung from 52%-47% Romney to just 49%-48% Trump, and the Democrats have a potentially strong candidate there, former Navy helicopter pilot Mikie Sherrill (D). NJ-11 is one of the relatively few congressional districts where a majority of residents over the age of 25 has at least a four-year college degree, and it is also one of the 10 wealthiest districts in the country by median income. This profiles as the kind of district where some usually-reliable Republican voters may be sympathetic to the idea of putting a check on the president, although the GOP has an opportunity to find a strong substitute for Frelinghuysen.

UPDATE: Since Frelinghuysen’s retirement, Democrats have consolidated around Sherrill and she is dominating the splintered GOP field in fundraising. NJ-11 is still a Toss-up but is edging toward Leans Democratic territory. In WA-8, former statewide candidate Dino Rossi (R) is amassing a giant warchest, although some of the Democrats trying to advance along with Rossi to the general election are raising good money too (Washington, like California, uses a top-two primary system). Democrats are worried about a top-two shutout in CA-39. One positive for Democrats is that they have an additional seat in this category now: WI-1, an open seat Toss-up held by retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan (R).

By the way, there are now 58 total seats where an incumbent won’t be seeking reelection. Of those, 38 are held by Republicans and 20 are held by Democrats. This does not include special elections that will be held before November or districts where incumbent members lost a primary, like NC-9, where Rep. Robert Pittenger (R) lost last week.

CURRENT OUTLOOK: Unchanged. The addition of WI-1 here is a positive for Democrats, as is the seeming trajectory of NJ-11. But CA-39 has become something of a Democratic headache — more on California below. MI-11 is a tough district for a Democrat but the Democratic field there may produce a stronger candidate than the Republican one. Rossi should be a strong contender for the Republicans in WA-8, but he is not unbeatable, particularly in a district that narrowly voted for Hillary Clinton.

3. Net at least three seats from Pennsylvania

ORIGINAL ANALYSIS: We’re not including the previous analysis because it really is of no value now — it came out prior to the release of the new districts and so much has changed in Pennsylvania since then.

Seats: PA-1 (Brian Fitzpatrick), PA-5 (Open), PA-6 (Open), PA-7 (Open), PA-10 (Scott Perry), or PA-17 (Keith Rothfus)

UPDATE: At the start of this cycle, Republicans held 13 of 18 districts in Pennsylvania. Under the OLD map, we suggested Democrats needed to pick up three net seats to have a successful election there. The new map has only made that path easier.

First of all, Democrats should have little trouble winning PA-5 and PA-6, two open southeast Pennsylvania seats. Indeed, we rate these as the two easiest Democratic pickups in the country. Even assuming the Republicans also win PA-14 — the rough equivalent of the seat Lamb won in March — the exchange of those seats plus no other changes would give Democrats seven total seats in Pennsylvania, up from the five they held under the old map and before Lamb’s upset. That means that to meet their goal of three, they would need to net just one more seat. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R, PA-1) and Keith Rothfus (R, PA-17) are locked in Toss-up races, and the open PA-7 is also a Toss-up. Lamb will face Rothfus in a district that is significantly less Republican than the one Lamb won in March — Trump won the old PA-18 by about 20 points but the new PA-17 by only about three — although Lamb will have to beat an incumbent this time as opposed to winning an open seat. Meanwhile, Democrats picked former Allentown solicitor Susan Wild (D) in a competitive primary for PA-7; she beat out candidates positioned to both her left and right and will face Marty Nothstein (R), an Olympic gold medalist and Lehigh County commissioner. Finally, wealthy philanthropist Scott Wallace (D) — grandson of former FDR Vice President Henry Wallace — won the PA-1 primary against Fitzpatrick. Scott Wallace can self-fund although he also has some liabilities, as National Journal‘s Josh Kraushaar recently argued. Late Wednesday, The Forward reported that Wallace’s foundation “has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations that promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel,” a potential problem for a Democrat running in a district with a substantial Jewish population. We’re holding at Toss-up for now, as opposed to Leans Republican, but PA-1 is the least likely Democratic flip of these three GOP-held Pennsylvania Toss-ups. There’s also an outside chance that Democrats could push Rep. Scott Perry (R, PA-10) or Republicans could push Rep. Matt Cartwright (D, PA-8). Winning just one of the three Toss-ups would get Democrats to a three-seat net gain in Pennsylvania, and they have the potential to go higher.

CURRENT OUTLOOK: Thanks to the remap, Democrats’ odds of meeting the original goal of a three-seat net gain or more from Pennsylvania have increased.

4. Beat at least three of five vulnerable California incumbents in Clinton-won districts

Seats: CA-10 (Jeff Denham), CA-21 (David Valadao), CA-25 (Steve Knight), CA-45 (Mimi Walters), or CA-48 (Dana Rohrabacher)

ORIGINAL ANALYSIS: Democrats already hold 39 of 53 districts in California, and yet they likely need to squeeze several more seats out of the Golden State to get to a House majority. Two California districts, CA-39 and CA-49, are already listed above because they are open seats, but there are at least five other incumbent-held Republican seats that Democrats will target in California. Democrats came close to beating Denham (CA-10) and Knight (CA-25) in 2016, and Rohrabacher’s (CA-48) unique liabilities involving his admiration for Russia combined with the shifting politics of his district imperil him as well; “shifting politics” also describes the seat held by Walters (CA-45). On paper, Democrats should have a great chance to defeat Valadao (CA-21) in a majority Hispanic district that Clinton won by 16 points, but Valadao has won commanding victories in the high 50s in each of his three general election victories and it’s not clear Democrats will have a strong challenger against him. Looming over all of the California seats is the state’s top-two primary, which occasionally allows two members of the same party to advance to the general election. Democrats need to be sure they advance a candidate to November in all of these seats, which might require outside intervention given bloated Democratic candidate fields in some California races.

UPDATE: Of all the California districts, CA-48 may be the one where Democrats most fear a top-two shutout. Scott Baugh (R), a former Orange County GOP chairman, is running, and there’s a chance that both Baugh and Rohrabacher could end up in the November election. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, after initially seeming supportive of scientist Hans Keirstead (D), now backs technology entrepreneur Harley Rouda (D). That puts them at odds with the state Democratic Party, which supports Keirstead, and there are other credible Democrats running. Earlier this week, the DCCC spent more than $1 million combined on ads in CA-39, CA-48, and CA-49, indicating the severity of the Democrats’ situation in the top-two primary. Democrats shouldn’t have much trouble advancing candidates to face the other four Republican incumbents, although how many of those incumbents they can realistically beat is an open question. Valadao (CA-21) still sticks out in that regard, and we’ll have to see if engineer T.J. Cox (D) can push him harder than previous Democrats after Cox moved over from the CA-10 race.

CURRENT OUTLOOK: Better for Republicans. If one combines all of the California seats mentioned in this category and above, a fifth of the Drive for 25 comes from California. Given the uncertainty in some of the top-two primary contests, the Democrats might have a hard time getting to such a big number. One other factor is what influences turnout at the top of the ticket: Republicans likely will not advance a Senate candidate to the general election, and they are not guaranteed to in the gubernatorial race. Republicans, meanwhile, hope a ballot issue dealing with a gas tax repeal could give GOP voters a reason to turn out. If Democratic odds of hitting their target in Pennsylvania have increased, they probably have decreased in California, although we’ll have to revisit this after the June 5 primary, which is unquestionably the single-most important primary on the House calendar this year.

5. Defeat three of these six Clinton-district incumbents

Seats: CO-6 (Mike Coffman), FL-26 (Carlos Curbelo), IL-6 (Peter Roskam), MN-3 (Erik Paulsen), TX-23 (Will Hurd), or VA-10 (Barbara Comstock)

ORIGINAL ANALYSIS: One of the GOP advantages in this election is that they still have a number of proven incumbents running in Clinton-won districts, these half-dozen members included. Most of these members won relatively clear victories in 2016; the only one who didn’t was Hurd (TX-23), who won by just a little over a point. Democrats will target all six of these districts, but it’s unrealistic to expect them to win all of these seats: As we’ve noted previously, even big waves don’t wash away all of the other side’s most vulnerable incumbents, and a big wave is not guaranteed anyway. Realistically, winning half of these districts would represent a good night for Democrats.

UPDATE: We don’t have much to add here. These are strong incumbents in tough districts who in most if not all cases will face strong challengers.

CURRENT OUTLOOK: Unchanged.

6. Win one of these three Clinton-won, historically Republican seats

Seats: NJ-7 (Leonard Lance), TX-7 (John Culberson), or TX-32 (Pete Sessions)

ORIGINAL ANALYSIS: It’s not entirely clear how vulnerable these three members actually are, although it seems like a safe bet that all three are in for much harder races than they are accustomed to. Lance (NJ-7) first won his seat in the big Democratic year of 2008 by eight points, and he hasn’t really had a close general election since. Meanwhile, Culberson (TX-7) and Sessions (TX-32) never would have been considered as even remotely vulnerable until Clinton narrowly carried both of their suburban Dallas (Sessions) and Houston (Culberson) districts in 2016. Republicans seem concerned about Culberson being caught napping, although he upped his fundraising output in 2017’s fourth quarter, a sign that he may be coming around to his district’s newfound competitiveness. Sessions, a former NRCC chairman, already was sitting on a big warchest and he’s been adding to it.

UPDATE: The arrow is probably pointing a little bit up for Democrats in this category. We recently moved Lance to Toss-up, and he seems likely to face Tom Malinowski (D), a former State Department official. Culberson and Sessions remain in the Leans Republican column, but we may revisit after the May 22 runoff to determine their opponents.

CURRENT OUTLOOK: Better for Democrats than in February, although none of these seats will be easy wins.

7. Defeat one of two Trump-district freshmen, who were narrow winners in narrow districts

Seats: MN-2 (Jason Lewis) or NE-2 (Don Bacon)

ORIGINAL ANALYSIS: We’re now transitioning into the part of the list where the Democratic targets are almost exclusively in Trump-won districts. With only 23 Clinton-district Republicans to target, and virtually no chance of sweeping those districts even under optimal national conditions, Democrats will need to win some Trump districts to win the House. How many? Read on.

Both Bacon (NE-2) and Lewis (MN-2) were somewhat surprising Election Night winners in 2016: Lewis won an open seat while Bacon knocked off first-term Rep. Brad Ashford (D). The winning Republican margins in both seats were quite narrow: at both the presidential and House levels, the largest margin in either seat was Trump’s 2.2-point win in NE-2, which prevented Clinton from getting an electoral vote from Nebraska (which, along with Maine, is one of two states that award electoral votes at both the statewide and congressional district levels). Adding to the intrigue in both districts is the likelihood that both will feature rematches: Ashford and 2016 MN-2 nominee Angie Craig (D) are the frontrunners for the nominations to face the first-term incumbents, although there is some grumbling in progressive circles that the Democrats should run different candidates.

UPDATE: Craig is on the glide path to nomination as well after winning the state party endorsement in April. However, Ashford did not win the nomination, falling to nonprofit executive Kara Eastman (D), who ran to Ashford’s left on issues like health care and abortion. The NRCC was ecstatic over Eastman’s victory, in part because it gives them some evidence of liberal activists knocking off a more moderate Democrat supported by the DCCC, creating insurgent headaches for Democrats that have become all too familiar for Republicans. While it’s far too early to believe that there’s now a Tea Party of the left, the Eastman victory represents a victory for the left over party leaders.

CURRENT OUTLOOK: Better for Republicans. We moved NE-2 from Toss-up to Leans Republican in response to Eastman’s win. We think it’s notable that, in this primary, the NRCC got what it wanted and the DCCC didn’t. Eastman and her supporters will believe that a more liberal candidate can drive better turnout in November than the less liberal Ashford, and they may be proven right — a Leans Republican rating does not rule out Eastman winning. But some recent research suggests that more ideologically extreme House candidates end up motivating the other side more so than moderate candidates. NE-2 seems like it will be a great test of that theory.

8. Net at least two seats from “Trump York”

Seats: NY-19 (John Faso) and NY-22 (Claudia Tenney), but also possibly NY-1 (Lee Zeldin), NY-11 (Dan Donovan), NY-21 (Elise Stefanik), NY-23 (Tom Reed), or NY-24 (John Katko)

ORIGINAL ANALYSIS: While the president’s home base of New York City overwhelmingly rejected him outside of typically Republican Staten Island, Trump made big strides compared to recent Republican presidential performance in much of the rest of New York. He won six more congressional districts (nine of 27 total) across the state than Romney did in 2012 (just three). Much of New York outside of New York City is congressional battleground territory: As recently as 2010, Democrats controlled all but two of the state’s districts, but now they hold only two-thirds (18 of 27). As in California, Democrats likely need to increase their already big majority in the state’s congressional delegation in order to win the House, but the difference between California and New York is that in the former the Democrats have many Clinton-won districts to target, while in the Empire State the Democrats will have to win in Trump-won territory. Of the seven districts listed as potential Democratic targets, Clinton carried only one — Katko’s NY-24 — and even then by a lot less than Barack Obama carried it (Obama won it by 16 in 2012, but Clinton only won it by four). Katko stands out as one of the few Clinton-district Republicans who currently lacks at least one clear Democratic challenger; Democrats were disappointed recently when former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner (D) again ruled out a bid for the seat.

The two clearest Democratic targets on this list are freshmen members Faso (NY-19) and Tenney (NY-22). A host of Democratic challengers is angling to face Faso, while Tenney is likely to face state Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi (D), who previously rebuffed Democratic entreaties to run before jumping in this cycle. The others are all basically reaches, although Zeldin’s Suffolk County seat (NY-1) has historically been very competitive.

UPDATE: Katko remains perhaps the best-situated Clinton-district Republican in the country, even though national Democrats recruited former Syracuse mayoral candidate Juanita Perez Williams (D) into the race. Katko is likely vulnerable only in the event of a big wave that would make the agonizing, seat-by-seat district details here unnecessary (in other words, the kind of environment where Democrats would win significantly more than 25 GOP-held seats). Faso’s eventual opponent in November remains unclear; Tenney vs. Brindisi should be very competitive; and Donovan could lose a primary to former Rep. Michael Grimm (R) in NY-11.

CURRENT OUTLOOK: A little brighter for Democrats, as evidenced by our recent shifts of Zeldin (NY-1) and Donovan’s (NY-11) seats from Likely Republican to Leans Republican. On the flip side, Stefanik (NY-21) and Reed (NY-23) don’t seem to be in much if any real trouble.

9. Win two of these four Trump seats with down-ballot Democratic DNA

Seats: IL-12 (Mike Bost), KY-6 (Andy Barr), ME-2 (Bruce Poliquin), or UT-4 (Mia Love)

ORIGINAL ANALYSIS: Democrats held all four of these seats as recently as 2012, but in recent years all have fallen to Republicans. Retirements by long-time Democratic members helped Poliquin (ME-2) and Love (UT-4) to win competitive races in 2014, and both were reelected in 2016 with increased margins in rematches against their 2014 opponents. Barr (KY-6) knocked off then-Rep. Ben Chandler (D) in a Lexington-based seat in 2012, and Bost’s (IL-12) larger-than-expected 2014 victory against a first-term incumbent perhaps presaged this downstate district’s more than 15-point swing in margin from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016.

Three of these four seats (all but ME-2, where there are several Democrats running but no obvious frontrunner) feature candidates touted by national Democrats: Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams (UT-4), St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly (IL-12), and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray (KY-6). Gray will still face a primary against veteran Navy pilot Amy McGrath (D), whose debut ad went viral online and allowed her to raise a substantial amount of money.

UPDATE: The Gray-McGrath primary is a House highlight coming next Tuesday. McAdams and Kelly are officially nominated, and the ME-2 primary will be June 12.

CURRENT OUTLOOK: Unchanged.

10. Net at least one seat from Iowa

Seats: IA-1 (Rod Blum) or IA-3 (David Young)

ORIGINAL ANALYSIS: Few states swung harder against the Democrats in 2016 than Iowa, which Trump won by nearly 10 points after the state had generally voted at least a little more Democratic than the nation as a whole since the 1980s. Republicans now hold three of the state’s four House districts.

There have been some signs of slippage for Republicans in the state, though. A Des Moines Register poll pegged Trump’s statewide approval among all adults at 35% as of early December and Gallup had it at 43% over the course of 2017, also among Iowa adults. Even if one assumes Trump’s standing is better among registered voters, it’s still fairly weak statewide given Trump’s 2016 showing. Iowa, one of the whitest states in the country, provides a great test as to whether Democrats can restore some of their performance among whites who do not have a four-year college degree. The Democrats’ troubles in Iowa pre-date Trump, though: Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) won by a bigger-than-expected margin in 2014, the same year Blum (IA-1) and Young (IA-3) first won open-seat House races in districts that would flip from Obama to Trump in 2016.

UPDATE: Since our February piece, we’ve moved IA-1 to Toss-up, with state Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D) as Blum’s likeliest November opponent. In IA-3, Democrats may regret the failure of businesswoman Theresa Greenfield (D) to make the primary ballot. One additional wrinkle in a farming-heavy state is the potential ramifications of the president’s recent tariff moves: A possible retaliatory Chinese tariff on soybeans could hit Iowa and other farming states hard, and states like Iowa sometimes react strongly to dips in the farming economy (an example: In an otherwise very successful 1988 presidential election, George H.W. Bush struggled in Iowa and other heartland states over a farming crisis).

CURRENT OUTLOOK: Probably a little better for Democrats now that IA-1 is officially a Toss-up.

11. Net at least one seat from Kansas

Seats: KS-2 (Open) or KS-3 (Kevin Yoder)

ORIGINAL ANALYSIS: Kansas does not seem like the kind of state where Democrats could win a House seat, and yet they have two different but equally compelling opportunities in 2018. One of them is an open seat, KS-2, that is strongly Republican but which ex-Rep. Nancy Boyda (D) captured in a big 2006 upset. Boyda lost it two years later to Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R), who is now retiring, and 2014 gubernatorial nominee Paul Davis (D) is trying to replicate Boyda’s success a dozen years later. The other district, Yoder’s KS-3, was won by Clinton in 2016 even as Yoder won a competitive but clear reelection. A Democratic win in one of these districts would likely be seen as an upset, but to build a majority on this map, Democrats are going to have to spring some victories that would seem surprising this far in advance.

UPDATE: KS-2 is another race we’ve moved to Toss-up since early February. Davis has continued to build support on the Democratic side and the struggling Republican field has recently attracted some new candidates of unclear quality. The Democratic field to take on Yoder remains uncertain.

CURRENT OUTLOOK: Just like in Iowa, Democratic chances to net a seat from Kansas are probably a little bit better now than they were in February.

12. Net at least one of these Trump-won seats in North Carolina, Ohio, or Virginia

Seats: NC-2 (George Holding), NC-9 (Robert Pittenger), NC-13 (Ted Budd), OH-1 (Steve Chabot), OH-12 (Special), VA-2 (Scott Taylor), VA-5 (Tom Garrett), or VA-7 (Dave Brat)

ORIGINAL ANALYSIS: Here is a grab bag of seats across three states: The only one rated as even Leans Republican is Taylor’s VA-2, a GOP-leaning Hampton Roads-based swing seat. Unless there is a big wave, the Republicans should be fine in most if not all of these seats, but Democrats probably need at least one of these races to truly activate in the fall. The best possibilities at the moment may be VA-2; NC-13, where philanthropist Kathy Manning (D) is raising an impressive amount of money against the first-termer Budd; or perhaps OH-1, where Chabot just drew a potentially credible challenger in Hamilton County (Cincinnati) Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval (D).

UPDATE: Here’s where the Democrats have likely made their clearest strides outside of Pennsylvania. Pittenger lost his primary, pushing us to move his race to Toss-up last week, and several of these seats have moved to more competitive ratings categories over the last few months. NC-9 is a Toss-up, and NC-13, OH-1, OH-12, and VA-7 have moved from Likely Republican to Leans Republican. We’ve also added some additional North Carolina and Ohio districts to our ratings as Likely Republican.

CURRENT OUTLOOK: Definitely improved for Democrats. It would now be something of a surprise if they didn’t win at least one of these seats, even if individually their odds are no better than 50-50 in any of them. Additionally, this grab bag category could be expanded to include some other districts that look more competitive now than they did at the start of February. Democrats now appear likely to really push some other Republican incumbents not mentioned above, such as Reps. Mike Bishop (R, MI-8) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R, WA-5).

Conclusion

One thing that’s clear in comparing the Democrats’ current path to a House majority versus the one we sketched out in February is that the playing field is bigger. Back in February, we listed 65 GOP House seats in a competitive (non-Safe) category. We now list 86. Many of these races likely will not develop (particular in the Likely Republican column, where we list 35 GOP districts). On the other hand, some current Safe Republican races may enter the fray, too.

That said, this “Drive for 25” essentially assumes a close battle for the House and tries to assess the most competitive GOP-held seats. From that standpoint, there’s been some subtle movement toward the Democrats, but not enough to significantly alter our overall assessment of a coin flip battle for the House.

We’ll keep tabs on this Democratic target list and will use it as a guide for further updates as we get closer to November.

Table 2: Crystal Ball House ratings