Sept 25, 2020 39 days to Nov 03, 2020
The Surge

Slate’s guide to the 2020 races and politicians everyone’s talking about this week.

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, your weekly election newsletter that would once again like to remind you: If you’re feeling stressed about this election and don’t know what to do with your anxiety, do not volunteer or get exercise or encourage your friends and family to vote. Instead, just read more articles about election doomsday scenarios. Bottle up the anxiety and see how long it takes you to break!

So: House races.

Let’s rank some. 

Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Marjorie Taylor Greene. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Unite America First/Wikipedia.

Rank 1

1. Georgia’s 14th District

Congress will soon #savethechildren.

Oh, reader, there are so many critical races sitting on a knife’s edge across the House map that we could choose to lead with. We could also, however, lead with a race in a safely red—like, R+27 safe—district in northwestern Georgia. How safe is this race? It’s so safe that the (former) Democratic candidate to replace retiring Rep. Tom Graves has, uh, quit his campaign and fled the state because his wife is divorcing him and he’s moving back in with his family in Indiana. In other words, there’s not even some remote, fantasy West Wing–ass scenario in which the Republican candidate, QAnon devotee and Squad-threatener Marjorie Taylor Greene, can be stopped by an uprising of decency. She’s completely in the clear! This, really, is the story of the 2020 House cycle: By all accounts, the chamber is not up for grabs, but the composition of its membership is going to feel drastically different. It’s not so much that House Democrats and House Republicans will be representing different interests in the next Congress; they’ll be representing different dimensions, with wildly divergent understandings of what exists in the material world.

Rank 2

2. Florida’s 26th District

Misinfo in South Florida.

Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell flipped this district in 2018 by defeating one of the House GOP’s most promising young members, Carlos Curbelo. As the incumbent, she theoretically shouldn’t be having much trouble holding onto a D+6 seat, which Donald Trump lost by 16 percentage points in 2016. But she is. Mucarsel-Powell has a strong, high-profile opponent in Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez, for one. And as CQ Roll Call’s Nathan Gonzales, who this week shifted the race from “tilt Democratic” to “toss-up,” explained, he could be the down-ballot beneficiary of Trump’s strength among Cuban Americans in Florida (and overall improvement among Latino voters relative to 2016). One factor for this broader shift among Latino voters in Florida that reporters have begun to zoom in on is apparent Spanish-language misinformation spreading on social media networks and even in some paid advertising—some of it with QAnon-related themes, some of it warning of socialist regimes like those that many Florida immigrants fled. Mucarsel-Powell and a fellow House Democrat, Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, even sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray this week urging him to “consider efforts of foreign actors to spread disinformation and sow doubt in our election systems among Latinos, especially in South Florida.”

Rank 3

3. Maine’s 2nd District

A Democratic hold—and a Biden flip?

If Latino voters, especially in Florida, are an improvement area for Trump relative to 2016 with substantial down-ballot effects, older white voters in Maine might be the polar opposite. Trump scooped up the electoral vote that Maine’s 2nd District offers in 2016, winning the district by 10 percentage points. But Biden’s polling in Maine, the oldest state in the country, has been quite sharp, and he’s led in a slew of polls of this particular district. This is excellent news for Democratic Rep. Jared Golden, who flipped Maine’s 2nd District in 2018 narrowly in the ranked-choice vote count. A ranked-choice count may not be necessary in 2020: In two recent, quality polls of the district, Golden has been leading GOP opponent Dale Crafts by 13 and 19 percentage points. In the latter poll, conducted by the New York Times and Siena College, Golden was only leading those ages 45 to 64 by 1 percentage point. But among those 65 and older? He was leading by 24 points. Sounds like a dynamic one very smart writer dug into a few weeks ago.

Rank 4

4. New York’s 11th District

The most vulnerable Dems are losing their patience.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi believes that the best strategy for getting an adequate COVID relief package done is to wait for Republicans to budge. She might be right in the long term. In the short term, though, vulnerable House Democrats from swing districts are losing their minds. Among the most vocal members is New York Rep. Max Rose, who flipped his mostly Staten Island district in 2018 and would like to return to Washington in 2021. He has been pleading with Pelosi to put another relief bill on the floor, as it’s been months since House Democrats passed their $3.4 trillion HEROES Act. When Democratic leaders instantly rejected a proposal put forward by the bipartisan, moderate Problem Solvers Caucus, Rose described the move as an example of “all the reasons why people hate politics.” This week, these House Democrats began threatening to do the unthinkable in Pelosi’s House: Signing onto a GOP-led discharge petition to get a vote on a GOP bill to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program funds—effectively turning control of the floor over to Republicans and eliminating some of Pelosi’s leverage on a broader package. It remains to be seen whether they will actually go through with such a move, but the threat itself has prompted Democratic leaders to put together another bill that vulnerable members can vote for.

Rank 5

5. Virginia’s 5th District

The Mayhem District.

Going by the last couple of election cycles, this central Virginia district has lost its goddamn mind. Its elected representative in the last Congress, Tom Garrett, retired to focus on recovering from his alcoholism after an ethics scandal involving him using staff to run personal errands for him. He was replaced by Rep. Denver Riggleman, who overcame (was buoyed by?) allegations that he was a “devotee of Bigfoot erotica” to win the seat. Earlier this year, meanwhile, primary challenger Bob Good defeated Riggleman at a drive-through nominating convention as part of a backlash against Riggleman from the GOP base for having officiated a same-sex wedding. Now Good, a self-described “biblical conservative,” is in a competitive race for the seat against a strong Democratic candidate in Cameron Webb, a young, Black physician at the University of Virginia. Now, you might be able to guess what kind of strategy Good has deployed against Webb. And you might be right! In Good’s first attack ad, the narrator encouraged viewers to “look past the smooth presentation” of this Black doctor and superimposed his face over images of riots and looting. Very smooth, indeed. The Cook Political Report just shifted the race to a toss-up.

Rank 6

6. New Jersey’s 2nd District

Can the Kennedy dynasty move to Jersey?

We all (?) wept (??) when Rep. Joe Kennedy III lost his high-profile Senate primary to Ed Markey earlier this month, the first time a Kennedy has lost a race in Massachusetts, and the End of the Kennedy Dynasty Forever. But actually: Maybe it was the end of the dynasty, temporarily, in Massachusetts, because we’ve got a Kennedy (by marriage) running in a competitive seat in Jersey! Amy Kennedy, wife of former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, is running as a Democrat in New Jersey’s 2nd District, covering the southern part of the state. If you like Democrats but Kennedys don’t do much for you, though, maybe her opponent will: freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who was elected as a Democrat in 2018 but switched parties during Trump’s impeachment. While there hasn’t been much public polling of the race, Democrats and their super PAC affiliates have released two internal polls—caveats about reading too much into them—showing Kennedy leading Van Drew by 5 percentage points.

Rank 7

7. Minnesota’s 2nd District

“Major party nominee,” you say …

Here’s some news that broke just as the Surge was writing this list. In Minnesota’s 2nd District, which extends south from the suburbs of St. Paul, freshman Democratic Rep. Angie Craig is running for reelection against Republican Tyler Kistner. It’s competitive. On Thursday, though, news broke that a third-party candidate, Adam Charles Weeks of the Legal Marijuana Now Party, had died earlier in the week, and Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon announced that the election for the seat would be postponed as a result. “The law is clear on what happens next,” Simon said in a statement. “If a major party nominee dies within 79 days of Election Day, a special election will be held for that office on the second Tuesday of February (February 9, 2021).” The Surge sends its condolences to the Weeks family. But the Surge also thinks the state of Minnesota may need to tweak its legislative definition of “major party.”