Voting in the 2018 midterm election is now underway.
Yes, it’s still September, but voters began casting ballots Friday in Minnesota. It’s the first state to begin in-person early voting — and one reason the Democratic Party’s position in the battle for the House appears stronger now than at any point since losing the chamber eight years ago.
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Two suburban-oriented, Republican-controlled seats are now in serious jeopardy of flipping. The congressman representing one of those seats, Erik Paulsen, has seen notable recent deterioration in his reelection prospects — it’s a far cry from 2016, when he won his suburban Minneapolis district by nearly 14 percentage points.
Donald Trump is a big part of Paulsen’s problem. Paulsen’s constituents have never taken much of a liking to the president. Trump lost the district to Hillary Clinton by 9 percentage points in 2016, a significant shift from four years earlier, when then-President Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney by less than a single point — even though Minnesota, as a state, moved toward the GOP between 2012 and 2016.
What’s happening in Paulsen’s district — according to a recent poll, 62 percent of likely voters in the district disapprove of Trump’s job performance — is also playing out, to some extent, in suburban seats across the country.
In the first update to POLITICO’s Race Ratings for House seats, Paulsen’s district is moving from “Toss-Up” to “Lean Democratic.” A demographically similar district in the Chicagoland suburbs — the seat held by GOP Rep. Peter Roskam — is also moving toward Democrats: from “Lean Republican” to “Toss-Up.”
Overall, of the nine districts moving in this first update, seven are moving toward Democrats. But the news isn’t all bad for Republicans: The GOP’s strategy of hand-to-hand combat has worked in Kentucky’s 6th District — the Lexington-based seat where Republicans have successfully attacked Democrat Amy McGrath, who had a double-digit lead earlier in the summer but now finds herself deadlocked or slightly behind GOP Rep. Andy Barr.
Here are the seats moving toward Democrats:
Florida-15 (from Solid Republican to Likely Republican): Democrat Kristen Carlson has an internal poll showing her neck-and-neck with GOP nominee Ross Spano. The Republican-oriented district hasn’t come completely online for Democrats, but the DCCC has bought airtime for the final week of the campaign just in case.
Illinois-06 (from Lean Republican to Toss-Up): GOP Rep. Peter Roskam faces his toughest race since 2006. A New York Times/Siena College poll showed Roskam essentially tied with Democrat Sean Casten. But this was the jaw-dropping finding: President Trump’s approval rating is just 36 percent, with 57 percent disapproving, meaning Roskam is fighting against fierce political headwinds.
Maine-02 (from Lean Republican to Toss-Up): GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin had a slight lead in a New York Times/Siena College poll — but, notably, his favorable rating was upside-down. Why that matters: Democrat Jared Golden could garner some of the anti-Poliquin vote if neither candidate earns a majority on Election Day and the state is forced to count ranked-choice ballots after Election Day.
Minnesota-03 (from Toss-Up to Lean Democratic): GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen survived 2016, despite President Trump losing his district by a significant margin. But Trump’s numbers there have gotten worse, and Paulsen trailed Democrat Dean Phillips by 9 points in a recent New York Times/Siena College poll.
Missouri-02 (from Solid Republican to Likely Republican): GOP Rep. Ann Wagner’s Democratic challenger, Cort VanOstran, released a late-August internal poll showing him leading Wagner by 2 points. Even though it was an internal poll, the result was an eyebrow raiser — this Republican-oriented district in the St. Louis suburbs should not be competitive. President Trump has been no asset to Wagner in this Missouri seat: His vote share was lower than Mitt Romney’s four years earlier, as some college-educated white voters spurned the GOP ticket.
North Carolina-02 (from Lean Republican to Toss-Up): We have three polls in recent weeks: an internal from GOP Rep. George Holding, an internal from Democrat Linda Coleman and a third survey from a conservative nonprofit group. All three show a neck-and-neck race.
Ohio-10 (from Solid Republican to Likely Republican): Another GOP district that’s no longer safe. Democrat Theresa Gasper had the airwaves to herself in the weeks immediately following Labor Day, before GOP Rep. Mike Turner answered back.
And the two seats moving toward Republicans:
Florida-27 (from Lean Democratic to Toss-Up): This was once Democrats’ most-promising pickup opportunity: an open-seat race in a district Hillary Clinton carried by nearly 20 points. But GOP nominee Maria Elvira Salazar has an internal poll showing her 7 points ahead of Democrat Donna Shalala. The Shalala camp’s response? Their own weeks-old internal showing the Clinton-era secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services up by just 4 points.
Kentucky-06 (from Lean Democratic to Toss-Up): Earlier in the summer, McGrath led this race by double-digits, even in internal GOP polls. But an onslaught of ads from Barr and Congressional Leadership Fund have taken a significant toll on her image.