KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE
— Four more states finalized their House maps over the past week or so, bringing the total number of states with completed congressional maps to 41.
— Maps in Connecticut, Minnesota, and Washington did not change much at all, while Kansas Republicans targeted the state’s lone Democrat in their redraw.
— Democrats hold a trio of single-digit Biden seats in these states — KS-3, MN-2, and WA-8 — that seem likely to emerge as top bellwether seats this cycle.
Rating new maps in CT, KS, MN, WA
Over the past week or so, congressional maps have been finalized in 4 additional states: Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, and Washington. This group of states features 3 swing districts — KS-3, MN-2, and WA-8 — that Democrats flipped in their 2018 wave but now must defend in their own challenging midterm environment, and all 3 Democratic incumbents may face a rematch with their 2020 GOP challengers. Redistricting hardly changed composition of 2 of those districts, but Republicans attempted to ease their path in the third.
But let’s first start in Connecticut, where Democrats have not lost a House race since 2006. After a panel of legislators found themselves at an impasse, the process was kicked to the state Supreme Court. The result was a new map that makes barely any changes to the plan it replaced. While Democrats are favored to retain all 5 of the Nutmeg State’s seats, they cannot take them all for granted.
Districts 1 and 4 are both Safe Democratic — the former includes the state capital, Hartford, while the latter takes in the state’s upscale “Gold Coast” and includes Bridgeport. A decade ago, CT-4 was one of the relatively marginal seats in the state: Barack Obama only carried it by 11% in 2012 (compared to his 17-point statewide win). But in 2020, Joe Biden carried the seat by nearly 30%, or about 10 percentage points better than his statewide margin. We are also starting CT-3, which centers on the New Haven area, as Safe Democratic, although it has trended in the opposite direction.
On opposite ends on the state, districts 2 and 5 are Likely Democratic. Both feature Democratic incumbents, and each gave Biden a little under 55% of the vote. With the retirements of Reps. Jerry McNerney (D, CA-9), Ed Perlmutter (D, CO-7), and John Yarmuth (D, KY-3) this cycle, Rep. Joe Courtney (D, CT-2) — if reelected this year — will be the last Democrat remaining in the House who first got there by flipping a Republican-held seat in the 2006 wave. While Courtney tends to overperform, there have been signs that his district may be harder for Democrats to hold in the longer term — in 2016, Hillary Clinton only carried it 49%-46%.
Since they lost it in 2006, Republicans have sometimes tried to target the northwestern CT-5, but have come up short. This cycle, Republicans have a serious candidate in former state Sen. George Logan — from 2016 to 2020, he represented a competitive seat (by state standards) in the Naugatuck Valley. Still, CT-5 stuck with Democrats in some recent cycles that were rough for the party nationally, so we are starting 2-term Rep. Jahana Hayes as a clear favorite. If the Republicans end up having a great night, these are the kinds of seats that hypothetically could flip.
Moving westward, Minnesota was another state where the state Supreme Court recently released what amounted to a minimal change map. While the Democrats control the governorship and the state House, the state Senate has a Republican majority — as no legislative compromise was reached, the courts stepped in to draw the state’s map, a common occurrence in Minnesota.
As with the outgoing map, both sides are strong favorites in 3 seats apiece. In the Twin Cities area, districts 4 and 5, which are St. Paul and Minneapolis, respectively, are ironclad Democratic districts. In MN-3, 2-term Democrat Dean Phillips is a heavy favorite — his district is essentially the remainder of Minneapolis’s Hennepin County (it avoids the city itself, as well as a handful of proximal communities). MN-3 was one of the 2 districts that then-Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) lost in 2014, but it is one of those suburban areas that has not been receptive to a Trumpier Republican Party. In fact, something that bodes well for Phillips is that, as a result of the court’s tweaks, the new district would have supported Franken by 2 points.
Rep. Tom Emmer (R, MN-6), who is the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, keeps a district that hugs the western parts of the Twin Cities, then runs northwest to grab St. Cloud. Though there have been some pro-Democratic trends in this district — Trump was the worst-performing Republican presidential nominee in Carver County, the state’s fastest-growing county, since the 1996 election — it seems likely to stay red.
Farther north, districts 7 and 8, which were amenable to congressional Democratic candidates until recently, are now Safe Republican. The 2020 results were truly a sign of the times in both districts: in the 7th, the mavericky Blue Dog Rep. Collin Peterson, who chaired the House Agriculture Committee, was denied a 16th term, while Rep. Pete Stauber became the first Republican since 1944 to secure reelection in MN-8. On a more parochial note, the court seems to have moved all the state’s American Indian reservations into MN-8 — this nudges MN-8, politically, leftward a few points, but not really enough to move it into play.
While MN-1, which runs along the entire Iowa border, may be competitive in some years, we are starting this seat out as Safe Republican given the type of pro-Republican environment that seems to be materializing this year. After now-Gov. Tim Walz (D) vacated it to run statewide, Democrats made a couple of serious attempts at the seat, but Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R, MN-1) has narrowly prevailed. While the cities of Mankato and Rochester vote blue, much of the rest of the district votes like Iowa — that is to say, it has drifted more Republican in recent cycles.
The marquee congressional race in Minnesota, though, seems likely to be in the 2nd District, which takes up much of the terrain immediately south of the Twin Cities. In 2020, Rep. Angie Craig (D, MN-2) won reelection 48%-46% over Marine Corps veteran Tyler Kistner (R), a candidate who was named to the NRCC’s “Young Guns” program. With Kistner running again, a rematch seems imminent.
Dakota County, the third most populous county in the state, makes up just over 60% of the seat and is Democratic-leaning, while the district includes all or parts of 4 other counties that are, collectively, redder. Map 1 gives MN-2’s breakdown in 2016 and 2020. Though Biden carried it 52%-45% in 2020, Trump claimed a 46% plurality there in 2016 (as he did in the outgoing district).
Map 1: 2016 and 2020 in new MN-2
It may be worth noting that, as 2016 suggests, in recent races, Republicans seem to fare better in the district when the third party vote is higher. Democratic state Attorney General Keith Ellison narrowly lost the district in 2018, but close to 6% of the vote in his race went to a third party candidate. In 2020, Kistner’s 45.9% share was only slightly higher than Trump’s 45.4% in the district, but a third party candidate, Adam Charles Weeks, seemed to take mostly from Craig — though Weeks died before the election, his name remained on the ballot, and, in a bizarre twist, his death nearly prompted the state to delay the election.
In any case, Biden’s 52%-45% margin the district still may be too close for Democrats’ comfort. Even in a 2-way race, Kistner may also have a higher floor this cycle. We are starting MN-2 out as a Toss-up.
In the Pacific Northwest, Washington’s now-finalized 8th District seems to be nearly a carbon copy of Minnesota’s 2nd. Last week, Washington state’s legislature signed off on a plan the state’s bipartisan commission created, although legislators made a few very small changes to the commission’s product.
Though WA-8 gets larger visually — it relinquished some closer-in communities (notably, it loses the much of the city of Auburn) and reaches upward to grab northern chunks of the Seattle metro area — it retained about 80% of its residents, and its center of gravity is still in the suburbs east of Seattle. WA-8 supported Biden by a 52%-45% margin in 2020 — identical to MN-2. And like Angie Craig, Rep. Kim Schrier is a Democrat who now has 2 terms in a marginal seat under her belt.
In 2018, Schrier actually became the first Democrat to ever represent the district, and held on by 3 points in 2020 against Jesse Jensen, an Army veteran and former aide to Sen. John Thune (R-SD). Jensen is running again, but unlike Kistner in MN-2, he has significant competition for the GOP nomination. King County Councilman Reagan Dunn, whose late mother held the district for several terms, is also running in the state’s blanket primary. Matt Larkin, the GOP’s 2020 nominee for state Attorney General, is also in the mix — though he came up short statewide that year, he carried the district 51%-49%.
Larkin’s showing was not abnormal for a state-level Republican in WA-8: Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has never carried it in a general election. Perhaps more tellingly, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who will be leading the Democratic ticket this year, took only 51% in the district the last time she was up, in 2016 — Murray got 59% statewide that year, and seems likely to win with less than that in November.
Under Washington’s election rules, candidates from all parties run on the same ballot, and the top 2 advance to a primary (unlike Louisiana, a second round is required in Washington even if a candidate clears 50% on the initial ballot). Schrier will almost certainly carry the Democratic banner in the general election, and any of those 3 Republican prospects would be formidable in this environment. We are starting WA-8 as a Toss-up.
Immediately south of WA-8, WA-3 is the most marginal of Washington’s 3 currently GOP-held seats. In the southwestern corner of the state, Democrats have leaned increasingly on Vancouver’s Clark County, but have become less competitive in the rural pockets of the district, which were home to a once-vibrant logging industry. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R, WA-3) first won the seat in 2010 and has usually been a strong electoral performer. But after her vote to impeach then-President Trump last year, several harder-line Republicans got into the race, and Trump himself endorsed challenger Joe Kent. We are starting WA-3 as Likely Republican, although it may be more secure for the GOP if Herrera Beutler makes the general election. Rep. Dan Newhouse (R, WA-4) also voted to impeach Trump, but he holds the reddest seat in the state — it should elect a Republican regardless.
Finally, and backtracking to the Great Plains, Kansas Republicans passed a new congressional map last week — they did so by overriding Gov. Laura Kelly’s (D-KS) veto. Though the map has prompted litigation from Democrats, we are assuming the lines stand.
Not surprisingly, the main objective for Republicans was to complicate Rep. Sharice Davids’s reelection effort in the Kansas City-area 3rd District. Davids is the lone Democrat in the state’s 4-member delegation. Though the 3rd District retains all of Johnson County — a Trump-to-Biden county, which is also the most populous in the state — the district takes on a more rural character. The current district includes all of deep blue Wyandotte County, which Davids carried 67%-30% in 2020. Republicans split Wyandotte County horizontally — roughly using Interstate 70 as the dividing line — and added residents from 3 redder counties to the south.
Map 2 shows the changes to KS-3. Because of its population growth (it needed to shed residents), it may bring Democrats some comfort that while it lost over 112,000 residents in Wyandotte County, it only had to gain less than half that many people from the redder counties.
Map 2: KS-3 geographic changes
While the outgoing iteration of KS-3 went for Biden — and Davids — by about 10 points in 2020, the new version took that down to 4.5 points, which would have matched the national popular vote exactly that year. That does not give Davids much of cushion, and it is likely that she’ll face a rematch against her 2020 opponent, former state GOP chairwoman Amanda Adkins. KS-3 is a Toss-up.
The other 3 Kansas district are all Safe Republican. KS-2 was the scene of some close races over the last decade or so, but Republicans have unpacked the “Big First” district to the benefit of first-term Rep. Jake LaTurner (R, KS-2).
While Republicans only need to net 5 seats to win the House next year, they will want to do a lot better than that. Their ability to flip single-digit Biden-won Democratic seats will play a significant role in determining the scope of their gains. This is why seats like KS-3, MN-2, and WA-8 are so critical this year.
The completion of maps in Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, and Washington brings our running tally of states that have finished their redistricting processes to 41, including the 6 states that do not have to redistrict because they just have a single member elected statewide. Based on the new congressional apportionment, these 41 states have 335 congressional districts. Currently in these states, Democrats hold a 183-152 advantage. Based on our ratings of the new districts, we have 170 districts at least leaning Democratic, 148 at least leaning Republican, and 17 Toss-ups. So the Democrats are “down” 13 seats and Republicans are down 4, meaning that Democrats would have to win the bulk of the Toss-ups just to maintain what they already hold in these states.
The 9 states that have not drawn lines yet hold a combined 100 districts under the new congressional apportionment. Those states are Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.
There are internal Republican disputes in Florida, Missouri, and New Hampshire about how aggressively to draw maps. Republicans also appear to have the power to maintain a 5-1 advantage in Louisiana despite a veto threat from Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA). Late Tuesday, Democrats approved a new map in Rhode Island, leaving the now-open RI-2 as a fringe Republican target (the governor has not yet signed the map, so we’ll hold off on analyzing it further). Meanwhile, courts are involved in the 4 remaining states (North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). It remains possible that courts could intervene in other states with maps that appear complete at the moment.
You can see our House ratings for all of the completed districts here.