Chances aren’t high that the House will flip parties, but Dems have a chance to make inroads
Lisa Keen | Keen News Service
Republicans currently hold 247 of the U.S. House of Representatives’ 435 seats, with 188 seats in Democratic hands. To switch the majority party, Democrats must hang onto their current 188 seats and pick up 30 seats currently held by Republicans.
According to RealClearPolitics.com and others, polls show there are only 15 House races that are “toss ups” — meaning either party could win. Of those 15, 11 are currently held by Republicans.
So, to take over the House, Democrats would need to win those 11, maintain the four toss-up states currently held by Democrats, and win another 19 new seats. And polls don’t make that look like an easy prospect.
Of the 34 seats in play in this election — meaning they are leaning toward one party at this point, only nine are leaning toward the Democratic candidate. Still, the House contests do provide some interesting things for LGBT political enthusiasts to watch for on election night.
Two of the toss-ups
First, two of the 15 “toss-up” states are races in which there is an openly LGBT candidate. Angie Craig, a Democrat, is running against a Republican newcomer for an open seat representing Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional district. And Paul Babeu, a Republican, is running against a newcomer Democrat for an open seat in Arizona’s 1st Congressional district.
Angie Craig’s prospects look good for several reasons. First, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is polling between 4 and 7 points ahead of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in that state. Second, Craig’s opponent has been widely characterized as a “mini-Trump,” and many of the state’s Republican leaders have withdrawn their support for Trump while Craig’s opponent, talk show host Jason Lewis, has not.
Third, Craig’s raised more than four times the campaign contributions her opponent has. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi campaigned for Craig in Minnesota last week, and the state’s popular U.S. senators, Amy Klobucher and Al Franken, have endorsed her.
Paul Babeu’s race looks tougher. First, polls show Arizona leans strongly toward Republican John McCain in the Senate race but slightly toward Democrat Clinton in the presidential race. Second, Babeu announced on Twitter that he was withdrawing his support for his party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, following the release of a videotape showing Trump saying that, because he’s a celebrity, he “can do anything” to women, including “grab them by the pussy” and that he “moved on [a married woman] like a bitch.”
According to the Arizona Republic newspaper, Babeu’s announcement — via Twitter — “generated a torrent of criticism from readers condemning him for backing away from the GOP nominee.” Soon after, according to the Arizona Republic, Babeu backed off, saying the Twitter post did not have his approval.
And finally, Democrats have been running ads in Arizona saying that, when Babeu headed up a school for troubled youth in Massachusetts, he approved the use of controversial disciplinary measures against the students. An attack ad from Democrats focuses on that scandal and says,
“We can’t trust him with our kids. How can we trust him in Congress.”
Other LGBT candidates
In addition to these two, there are 14 other House races in which LGBT candidates are running. Six of these are safe incumbent Democrats: David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, Jared Polis of Colorado, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Mark Takano of California.
The other eight House candidates are challengers: Brady Wilkinshaw of Washington, Matt Heinz of Arizona, Misty Plowright of Colorado, Clay Cope of Connecticut, Al McAffrey of Oklahoma, Bao Nguyen of California, Shawn O’Connor of New Hampshire and Denise Juneau of Montana.
Other races of interest
• California: Incumbent Republican Steve Knight boasts a very low Human Rights Campaign score of 16 and a widespread reputation of following in the footsteps of his notoriously anti-LGBT father, Pete Knight. Pete Knight proposed the California Defense of Marriage Act in 2000.
As recently as last spring, Steve Knight voted for an anti-LGBT provision to allow discrimination for purported religious beliefs. HRC and Equality California are backing his Democratic challenger Bryan Caforio.
• Illinois: In this “toss up” race, incumbent Republican Robert Dold sports a much improved record on LGBT voting — from an HRC score of only 35 two sessions ago to a 92 in the latest session. But his opponent, former Rep. Brad Schneider, scored a 100 during that in-between session. The Human Rights Campaign has endorsed the Republican.
A Schneider attack ad faults Dold for agreeing with Republicans that employers should be able to fire employees “just for being gay.” But Dold, the only Republican House candidate HRC is supporting, was the first House Republican to co-sponsor the Equality Act.
• Florida: Newcomer Democrat Stephanie Murphy is looking to unseat incumbent Republican John Mica in Orlando. She’s making it an issue that Mica has consistently rated the lowest score possible on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard in voting on LGBT issues. She also criticized Mica for taking a contribution from the National Rifle Association just two days after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando.
• Florida: The Congressional district that includes Key West is one of the “toss up” races this year. Incumbent Republican Carlos Curbelo has scored a respectable 88 on HRC’s Congressional scorecard and spoken in support of marriage equality. His Democratic opponent, former Congressman Joe Garcia, had a 100 percent pro-LGBT voting record.
• Maine: This is another “toss up” race. Incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin was one of seven Republicans who agreed to switch his vote to ensure defeat of a measure to uphold President Obama’s executive order barring discrimination against LGBT people by federal contractors. Poliquin’s score on HRC’s rating is only 48.
Running against him is Emily Ann Cain, Democratic leader of the Maine State House who spoke in favor of marriage equality during a statewide hearing in 2009.
• Michigan: In this “toss up” contest, HRC is behind Democrat Lon Johnson for the seat being vacated by Rep. Dan Benishek, whose HRC score has grown only to a 16 from two sessions as a zero. Johnson, as the state Democratic Party chair, has been a strong supporter of equal rights for LGBT people.
Johnson is running against an “outsider” Republican, former Marine general Jack Bergman.
• Montana: Democrat Denise Juneau is a lesbian and a Native American and hopes to be the first in those categories to win a Congressional seat from Montana. She’s gotten the backing of HRC and the Lesbian PAC, but polls suggest the seat is likely to go to Republican incumbent Ryan Zinke.
But Zinke’s attitude toward minorities earned him some audible disdain during the most recent debate. KPAX News in western Montana noted that the television audience groaned when said Zinke said he supports the rights of all people but added, “If you want to be lesbian, if you want to be Muslim, if you want to whatever, it doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you have the right to be you. … And that’s what I believe.”
Zinke’s HRC score, however, is a zero.
• New Jersey: Incumbent Republican Scott Garrett ran into some trouble last year when he complained the National Republican Congressional Committee had supported openly-gay candidates. He also spoke against marriage for same-sex couples. The result, reported Bloomberg, was that much of Garrett’s corporate support pulled out.
Now, Democratic challenger Josh Gottheimer has twice the money Garrett has in his campaign coffers.
• Wyoming: Liz Cheney, who had a very public disagreement with her lesbian sister, Mary Cheney, over marriage for same-sex couples, is expected to win a seat in Congress next month. She faces a newcomer Democrat, Ryan Greene, for an open seat.
Greene describes himself as a “Wyoming Democrat, not a California Democrat, not a New York Democrat,” which is presumably code for “not progressive on social issues.”
© 2016 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2016.