We’ve been tracking open seats in the House at Daily Kos Elections for a long while, and for two key reasons: Retirements may be indicative of party morale, and open seats in general often provide the best pickup opportunities—for either side—every cycle.
Both proved to be the case in 2018. Republicans smashed their all-time record with 41 open seats, a figure that included 25 members who simply retired outright. That not only accurately foretold the GOP’s dim feelings about their chances in the midterms, it also gave Democrats a major opening, as 12 of the 42 seats they flipped from red to blue in November came in open seats. (Both seats that Republicans flipped—Minnesota’s 1st and 8th—were also open seats.)
As Democrats look to preserve, or even expand, their House majority in 2020, it’s therefore worth taking an early look at the potential seats that may open up due to retirements, resignations, primary challenges, or members departing to run for other offices. In addition to two already-confirmed retirements (both Republicans: North Carolina’s Walter Jones and Utah’s Rob Bishop), we’ve identified a preliminary list of 31 potential seats that may come open in 2020—or earlier.
First up, the Republicans:
Unlike Democrats, House Republicans limit committee chairs or ranking members to just three terms. Last cycle, five of six term-limited GOP committee chairs decided to bail rather than seek re-election, so we’re keeping close tabs on any ranking members who will enter their final terms in the 116th Congress, especially since being in the minority is a whole lot less fun than getting to run the place. You’ll also notice that three Republicans listed here face serious legal trouble; we wouldn't be surprised to see that number grow. (Note that in each case, “age” refers to the incumbent’s age on Election Day 2020.)
The Democratic list, so far, clocks in at a dozen:
In 2018, Democrats only had half as many open seats as Republicans, and now that the party’s retaken the majority, it’s likely that most folks will want to stick around. In 2008, for example, which was the first election cycle to follow the last time Democrats retook the House, only six Democrats retired, the fewest seats a party’s left open in a single election in the last decade.
Of course, not every open seat is competitive, but if you click through, you can find the 2016 and 2012 presidential results for each district to help guide you. Because presidential outcomes are so closely correlated with results in House races, these figures will give you a good sense as to whether we can expect a contested general election in any given seat (though of course it's not a perfect metric). And even if a seat is dark red or deep blue, it’s likely to host a legit primary fight as ambitious local pols look to succeed whoever's retiring.
So far, both lists are fairly modest in size, though they’ll inevitably grow as members begin to drop hints about their 2020 plans. That means they’ll occasionally shrink, too, as some incumbents will naturally decide to stay put. And invariably, no matter how widely we cast our net, there will always be surprises that no one sees coming. It’s also too early to tell which incumbents, if any, will be subject to serious primary challenges, though two right-of-center Democrats already stand out as probable targets: Dan Lipinski and Seth Moulton.
We’ll be keeping a watchful eye as the cycle progresses, and we’ll continually update our Google doc tracking everything we learn, so keep it bookmarked. And if you know of any incumbents you think should be on this list, please let us know in the comments!