Illinois Primaries: Ratings Changes in Two Races
Land of Lincoln may help Democrats gain seats

The Illinois primaries are in the books, setting the stage for an important batch of congressional elections in November. 

Assuming Democrat Conor Lamb is certified as the winner of the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th District, Democrats still need a net gain of 23 seats to win the House majority. That’s a wide enough gap that Democrats, instead of cherry-picking victories around the country, will look to score big in a handful of states. Illinois might be one of them.

Podcast: What Defines a Political Wave in the House?
Roll Call Decoder, Episode 6

With President Donald Trump’s mediocre job ratings, Democrats’ advantage on the national generic ballot and success in special elections in Pennsylvania, Alabama and elsewhere, there’s plenty of talk about a political wave. In this week’s Decoder, Roll Call elections analyst Nathan Gonzales, sitting in for David Hawkings, talks with Roll Call columnist Stuart Rothenberg about how many seats it takes to make a wave and which Republicans might survive.

Show Notes:

Special Election Possible for Louise Slaughter’s Seat
Power to set the date of election lies with New York’s Democratic governor

A special election is possible to replace Rep. Louise Slaughter, who died Friday after suffering a concussion last week. New York state law gives Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo discretion over when to call such an election.

There is no set amount of time by which a governor has to announce a special election after the vacancy occurs. But once the governor does so, the election date must be between 70 and 80 days after the proclamation.

16 Thoughts Without Even Knowing Who Won in Pennsylvania
Inside Elections’ Nathan Gonzales gives decisive takeaways from an undecided contest

The special election race for Pennsylvania’s 18th District is too close to call, but many of the takeaways are the same, no matter whether Democrat Conor Lamb or Republican Rick Saccone ultimately prevails.

There will be plenty of hot takes on the impact of President Donald Trump on the race. But I think there’s one undeniable truth: If President Hillary Clinton were sitting in the White House, Republicans wouldn’t have been sweating this race. If blaming their nominee helps Republicans sleep at night, then so be it.

Democrats Look to Dan Sena to Secure House Majority
Veteran operative is the first Latino to direct a party campaign committee

Armed with a Nokia cellphone and a couple of semesters of graduate school, Dan Sena was ready for battle.

It was 1998, and the future executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was going to be a key cog in his party’s effort to take over a House seat in New Mexico, even though at the time his previous professional highlights included teaching tennis at a country club, washing dishes on his college campus and selling CDs at the Villa Linda Mall.

Ratings Update: Texas Primaries Narrow Democratic Fields
Some top recruits fail to make runoffs

After months of speculation, the 2018 midterm elections are officially underway with initial primaries in Texas.

There’s more evidence of a Democratic surge previously seen in Virginia and in special elections around the country, but also the reality that some of the swarm of Democratic candidates aren’t even going to make it to the general election.

Rating Change: Special Election for Pennsylvania’s 18th Moves to Toss-Up
Democrat Conor Lamb is still standing despite continuous GOP attacks

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

“While the Pennsylvania race isn’t getting much attention now, that should change next year, considering all of the 2017 special elections eventually became national stories,” my colleague Leah Askarinam wrote in the Dec. 15 issue of Inside Elections. “By the numbers, the 18th District special election shouldn’t be particularly competitive. But the 2017 slate of special elections demonstrated that every race could turn into a struggle for Republicans, even in favorable territory.”

Rating Change: Special Election in Arizona’s 8th Gets More Vulnerable for GOP
And it could become even more so between now and the April 24 general

It might look like Republicans dodged a disaster in Arizona’s 8th District, considering former state Sen. Steve Montenegro didn’t win Tuesday’s primary. But as we’ve written before, Republicans seem to find new ways to make these special elections competitive, and Democrats everywhere are excited to send a message to President Donald Trump.

Unlike Montenegro, former state Sen. Debbie Lesko, the GOP nominee, has not received a topless photo from a staffer. But she has been accused of violating campaign finance rules by illegally funneling state funds to a federal race.

Ratings Changes: 15 Races Shift Toward Democrats, 1 Toward Republicans
Democratic chances have improved beyond Pennsylvania

Less than eight months before Election Day, the midterm landscape is still taking shape. It’s still not clear whether Democrats will have a good night (and potentially fall short of a majority) or a historic night in the House that puts them well over the top. But mounting evidence nationally and at the district level points to a Democratic advantage in a growing number of seats.

Democratic prospects improved in a handful of seats in Pennsylvania, thanks to a new, court-ordered map. And the party’s successes in state and local elections over the last 14 months demonstrate a surge in Democratic voters, particularly in blue areas, that could be problematic for Republican candidates in the fall. GOP incumbents in districts Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 might be particularly susceptible to increased Democratic enthusiasm.

New Pennsylvania Map, New Pennsylvania House Ratings
Six races shift in Democrats’ direction, two in GOP’s favor

If you’ve been wondering what political handicapping is like in a redistricting cycle — or it’s been long enough for you to forget — the Pennsylvania Supreme Court offered a good reminder.

With newly drawn districts, misplaced incumbents and new district numbers, confusion is inevitable. But the bottom line for Pennsylvania is that Democrats had a half-dozen takeover opportunities with the old map and they have a half-dozen takeover opportunities with the new map, although they have a distinctly better chance at gaining those seats.

This Is Why Republicans Can’t Get Women Elected to Higher Office
GOP keeps throwing up roadblocks in front of credible candidates

I’m starting to wonder why any Republican woman would attempt to run for higher office.

Last year, GOP Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri all but announced her challenge to Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill before getting the cold shoulder from GOP strategists in Washington and the Show Me State who preferred a candidate who wasn’t even hustling to get in the race.

Behind the Scenes of Race Ratings: The Candidate Interview
Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales

Curious about what goes on behind the scenes at the Roll Call-Inside Elections political handicapping factory? Well wonder no more as Nathan Gonzales and the Roll Call team give you an inside look at what happens in the candidate interviews. 

Some Answers, More Questions for Mysterious Club for Conservatives PAC
Background, finances a tangled web

Inflammatory, hyperpartisan fundraising emails are a standard part of the election process, but who’s behind them can sometimes be a mystery. Take the case of a political action committee set up last fall that raised over $160,000 by sending out roughly a dozen emails.

Since its inception in October, the Club for Conservatives PAC has been a confusing web of details. The group’s year-end report with the Federal Election Commission provided more information about its fundraising and spending, but also raised new questions about its operations.

Rating Change: Nolan Announcement Shifts Minnesota Open Seat to Toss-Up
But past results not good news for GOP

Minnesota Rep. Rick Nolan announced his retirement Friday, leaving Democrats with a vulnerable open seat to defend in a cycle when they need to gain 24 seats for a majority.

On one hand, the open seat looks like a gift to Republicans considering Donald Trump carried the district by nearly 16 points in 2016. Nolan is one of just 12 Democrats who represent a district that Trump carried in 2012, according to Daily Kos Elections, and won two close and expensive re-election races.

Podcast: ​In Search of the Ideal Political Map
Roll Call Decoder, Episode 3

Courts are weighing in as never before on whether gerrymandering can be too political. If red and blue can no longer constitutionally dominate the mapmakers’ work, what are they to do? As Roll Call election analyst Nathan Gonzales explains, it’s very difficult to draw districts that are at once competitive, compact and fair to minority voters. And the 2018 primaries are about to get started.

 Show Notes:

Rating Change: New Jersey Open Seat Shifts to Toss-Up
Trump carried Frelinghuysen’s 11th District by 1 point in 2016

Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s retirement makes his 11th District of New Jersey even more vulnerable for his party. 

While the congressman had some of his own baggage — an employee at a local bank landed in hot water with her employer when the congressman alerted the CEO that she was a Democratic activist — and it was unclear whether he was ready for a difficult re-election fight, his family has been a staple of New Jersey politics for generations and Frelinghuysen outperformed Donald Trump in the district in 2016. 

Pennsylvania’s 7th: How Do You Rate a Race for a Seat That Doesn’t Exist?
Keystone State district lines likely to change with new map

The deep, dark secret of political handicapping is that there isn’t a singular equation that can project the winner of each congressional race. It is helpful to know who is running and where they are running. But thanks to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court throwing out the Republican-drawn congressional map and GOP incumbent Patrick Meehan’s retirement, we barely know anything about this year’s race in the 7th District.

On Thursday evening, Meehan finally announced his decision not to seek a fifth term after allegations of sexual misconduct with a former staffer and a futile attempt to explain away his conduct.

Rating Change: Special Election in Ohio’s 12th Likely to Get Closer
Enthusiasm advantage could give Democrats a shot at Tiberi’s seat

In a time of political uncertainty, there appears to be one constant: Special elections in Republican districts and states are neither boring nor safe. Right now, there’s no reason to believe the race in Ohio’s 12th District will be any different.

GOP Rep. Pat Tiberi’s resignation to lead the Ohio Business Roundtable opens up the central Ohio seat for the first time since 2000, when Republican Rep. John R. Kasich left Congress to run for president. The district hasn’t elected a Democrat since the early 1980s, but the minority party has demonstrated an enthusiasm advantage over the last year that could boost an unlikely candidate once again.

Rating Change: Meehan Seat More Vulnerable for GOP
Pennsylvania Republican faces sexual misconduct allegations

Republican Rep. Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania is the latest lawmaker hit with allegations of sexual misconduct, putting his suburban Philadelphia seat at even more risk of a Democratic takeover.

GOP leadership removed Meehan from the House Ethics Committee within hours of the initial New York Times report that he used funds from his personal office to settle a sexual harassment complaint with a former member of his staff. The congressman has denied any wrongdoing.

Old Photos That Current Candidates Might Not Want You to See
A Throwback Thursday to four familiar faces

Since the internet has deemed Thursday the appropriate time to turn back the clock, I dug through Roll Call’s extensive photo archives for some old photos of current candidates who previously ran for another office. Not only is there a little more gray hair this time around, but it’s a good lesson in perseverance.

Back in 2006, Texas Republican Van Taylor received national attention as an Iraq War veteran running for Congress as the war was becoming increasingly unpopular. He lost in the blue wave to Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards. But Taylor was subsequently elected to the state Legislature and is now the prohibitive favorite for Texas’ 3rd District seat, which is open because Republican incumbent Sam Johnson is not seeking re-election.