Election 2020

9 for ’18: Endangered Politicians on Capitol Hill

Idaho voters head to a new food truck-inspired voting unit in Boise on Sept. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Kimberlee Kruesi)

Fueled in large part by suburban GOP voters’ dissatisfaction with President Trump’s policies and style, along with a plethora of Democrats ready to ride what they feel will be an electoral wave to victory, there are at least nine politicians who find themselves on our list of Endangered Politicians on Capitol Hill.

But it isn’t only Republicans who could be worried about finding new work at the end of next year: a Democrat or two could also tumble.

The House:

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.): Roskam cruised to victory in 2016, but Politico predicted the suburban Chicago Republican would face a stiff challenge in 2018. Seven Democrats have lined up to take on Roskam in a district that Trump lost in 2016 by 7 points after Mitt Romney carried the district by 8 points in 2012.

Ian Russell, former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee deputy executive director, said a revolt of suburban GOP voters who are put off by Trump could hurt Roskam.

“Increasingly socially progressive, suburban voters have been drifting away from the GOP for years,” said Russell. “Trump dramatically accelerated this movement, and the tax bill will only further alienate them.”

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.): Curbelo is a moderate Republican who distanced himself from Donald Trump in 2016, but Democrats will be eager to pull him closer to the president in 2018. Curbelo won by just under 12 points in 2016. But Hillary Clinton won the presidential vote in Curbelo’s 26th District by 16 points.

Curbelo’s home base is one of 23 House districts Trump lost in 2016, and Politico reported Democrats had put it at the top of the list of vulnerable seats they hope to win from the GOP in 2018.

Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.): It isn’t only GOP members of Congress who will face tough 2018 campaigns. Republicans have targeted Nolan, a progressive who supports Medicare for everyone.

Republicans think Nolan’s district is one of a few Democratic-held seats they could flip in 2018. Here’s why: Trump won Nolan’s district in 2016 and a Republican, Pete Stauber, raised more campaign money than Nolan last quarter.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.): Not only is the former House Oversight and Government Reform Committee one of the most recognizable names on Capitol Hill, but Roll Call also lists Darrell Issa as the most vulnerable politician in the House.

Issa is only in the House by the grace of a half-point 2016 win over Democrat Doug Applegate. Guess what? Applegate is running again, in 2018. Two other Democrats are also thinking about making a bid for Issa’s job.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.): Rohrabacher doesn’t seem like a congressman who would be worried about his future in Washington, at least on Capitol Hill. Rohrabacher won the 2016 election by 17 points. But what a difference a year has made: As Roll Call reported, Rohrabacher could be thrown out of office because of links with Russia.

Politico branded him “Putin’s favorite congressman” in 2017 and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is said to have told colleagues that Putin must pay Rohrabacher.

The Senate:

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.): Heller only scored a 22 percent approval rating in a Public Policy Polling survey released in August. The poll also showed 50 percent of voters would cast a ballot for a Democrat running against Heller. Eighteen percent hadn’t made up their mind. Heller could only be sure of 31 percent of the vote if the election was held today.

Heller not only has to worry about disgruntled voters: Danny Tarkanian will attack him from the right in the GOP primary, while Democrats like Rep. Jacky Rosen challenge him from the left.

The Hill reported in August that Heller’s best chance for survival would be support from his GOP brethren on Capitol Hill who are “committed to helping one of their own.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.): McCaskill is one of several Democrats who will give their party leadership heartburn in 2018. She’s ranked second on the Politico and The Hill lists of senators most likely to fail to win re-election.

Leading McCaskill’s list of woes is her unfailing support for Hillary Clinton in a state that Donald Trump won by 19 points in 2016. Another problem is the quality of her opponent, 37-year-old Attorney General Josh Hawley.

Hawley has Trump’s support. Of course, without money, any politician has to walk away from the race. That shouldn’t be a problem for Hawley. Politico reported Hawley also has some top-level super PACS lined up to support his candidacy.

But McCaskill also knows how to raise money and run a campaign. McCaskill received more money than any other Democrat thought to be vulnerable in the second quarter of 2017, boosting her campaign bank account to $5.1 million.

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.): Not only is Donnelly running in a state that Trump won easily in 2016, but the Democrat also has to worry about at least three Republicans who have entered their party’s primary.

Whoever comes out on top of the GOP primary in May, Republicans think they have a tailor-made campaign issue to use against Donnelly.

The Associated Press reported he made money from his family’s business that was outsourcing jobs to Mexico. Donnelly sold his stock in the company after the story hit the news, but still he was damaged. And Republicans are ready to double-down in November.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.): Nelson should cruise to re-election in 2018. So why’s he on this list? Simply because GOP Gov. Rick Scott might run against him, and if that happens all bets are off.

Politico reported that thanks to Scott’s wealth and his magnetic ability to attract campaign money the Republican should be able to bury Nelson in negative advertising.

Scott has not announced his decision on running yet. However, the Orlando Sentinel reported groups allied with Democrats and Republicans have already spent millions of dollars to plant their flags in this Senate race.

Susan MacManus, professor of government and international affairs at the University of South Florida, said cash flow in the campaign heading into November “is likely to be a gusher.”

“Money will be pouring in from everywhere, not just Florida,” MacManus said. “There’s a lot at stake.”


There’s also an open seat that will be just as contentious: Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said he would not run again in October, leaving an empty chair in the Senate for which Democrats lust.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema dreams of becoming the first Democrat to win a statewide race of this magnitude in more than 10 years. Donald Trump only won Arizona by 3.5 points in 2016.

Her dream could come true. A statewide HighGround Public Affairs survey of 400 likely Arizona voters showed Sinema would have destroyed Flake by 40.5 percent to 32.5 percent.

So far, only one Republican is running against Sinema: Dr. Kelly Ward, a physician and former Arizona state senator who aligned herself with Trump. The survey also showed Ward would lose to Sinema 31.8 percent to 30.5 percent. But it also showed that nearly 38 percent of likely Arizona voters had not yet made up their minds.

Ward, who told CNN she was “very conservative,” has been known to make some Trump-like remarks. Among other things, Ward called for Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) resignation after he told the world he had brain cancer.

If an establishment Republican, with party backing, can’t be found to run against Sinema, FiveThirtyEight predicted she will win Arizona’s empty Senate seat.

One unnamed Arizona GOP consultant told U.S.News Ward reminded him of a Republican who flamed out in Nevada back in 2012.

“She is Sharron Angle without the charm,” the consultant said. “She’s a nut.”