Over the ten weeks between Labor Day and Election Day, as Democrats and Republicans battle it out for control of the House, we're taking a look at 30 of the most competitive races in the 2018 midterm elections: Where are these key districts, and what are they like? Which member is trying to keep their job? Who wants to take it away? And for whom might generous donations of your valuable time and money make the greatest difference, if you were so inclined to make them? Democrats need to win only 23 seats to earn the gavel for the next two years, and nothing terrifies Donald Trump and friends more than what they plan to do with it.
Kentucky 6th: A pioneering military hero makes a bid for Washington
The district: Lexington, Frankfort, and Richmond. Every Bourbon Trail bachelor party ends here, at which point all of its participants bid farewells to one another while secretly wishing they had just rented a cabin in Tahoe like they originally intended. It's pretty white, and went for Trump by 15 points in 2016.
The incumbent: Andy Barr, a lawyer who treats "feminist" as a slur and has spent most of his time in Washington railing against the evils of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He is a generic and boring and unremarkable Republican, and honestly, we shouldn't spend much more time on him, because his opponent is, well....
The challenger: Amy McGrath, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who owns the distinction of being the first woman Marine to fly a combat mission in an F-18. (She completed 89 of them in Iraq and Afghanistan during her 20 years on active duty.) If the video she used to launch her campaign doesn't make your heart swell with patriotic pride—it includes both aircraft carriers and a sly middle finger to her former congressman, who told her when she was a child that women don't fly in combat because they "ought to be protected"—you might be legally dead.
Time for a gaffe: Look, I'm not a politician. I've never run for office, or managed a campaign, or written a speech, or anything of the sort. But I do know that if you're Andy Barr—a member of this nation's foremost performative troop-respecting cohort, trying to hold on to a congressional seat in what observers expect to be a very tough race—one thing you should avoid doing is equating your opponent's two decades of military service to your own career as a middling legislator. And yet! From The New York Times:
“We both served our country,” Mr. Barr said. “I’ve served in a position where ideas matter. My opponent has served her country in the military, where execution matters.”
If Andy Barr wants to keep his job, he would be well-advised to stop reminding his constituents of his shittiness on such a frequent basis.
California 39th: Ed Royce's hand-picked successor takes on a... Mega Millions winner?
The district: Straddles the border between Los Angeles County and Orange County, but the parts that aren't photogenic enough to make it into soft-lit teen soap operas on Fox: Fullerton, Yorba Linda, and Buena Park. About one-third Asian, and one-third Hispanic. More than 40 percent of residents have a bachelor's degree, and the median income is around $85,000. Oh, and Hillary Clinton won it by more than eight points.
The incumbent: House Foreign Affairs Committee chair and occasional Islamophobe sympathizer Ed Royce, who abruptly announced his retirement from Congress not long after the release of a poll in which his constituents—furious with, among other things, his support for the tax bill, which had a disproportionate impact on Californians' tax burden—indicated their preference for a generic "Democratic opponent" in 2018.
The contenders: The Democrat is Gil Cisneros, a former Frito-Lay distribution manager who won a cool $266 million lottery jackpot in 2010 and who, suffice to say, no longer concerns himself with the logistics of placing high-calorie snack foods. Cisneros is a public-option proponent endorsed by the DCCC, and emerged from a bruising primary in which he and his opponent, Andy Thorburn, traded accusations of tax fraud and faking voicemails to use as fodder in attack ads. (Politico deemed it "the weirdest race in the country.") The Republican is Young Kim, a Korean immigrant and one-term state assemblywoman who came up as an aide to Royce, and now hopes to claim his seat.
All politics is local: Much of the media coverage thus far has centered on demographic narratives: The race features a Hispanic Democrat squaring off against an Asian Republican, in a district that is home to a sizable population of both minority groups. As usual, however, the important issues are less sexy (and less reductive): In June, Democratic state senator Josh Newman—whose district included much of the 39th—was ousted in a recall election spurred by his decision to support a 12-cent-per-gallon state gas tax. In a close race, Republicans are hoping that lingering resentment over Newman's yes vote will propel Kim to victory in the midterm elections. (Also, Newman's replacement? Republican Ling Ling Chang, a 42-year-old woman who immigrated from Taiwan as a toddler. Just saying.)
It’s Now Dawned on Trump: People Hate Him
Ohio 1st: Aftab Pureval vs. fuzzy, race-baiting math
The district: Most of Cincinnati and its suburbs, at that weird spot on the map where Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana somehow converge. Mostly white, and a fair mix of urban and rural areas, and blue- and white-collar jobs. Every time I see Cincy chili, I can't believe human beings eat Cincy chili of their own free will and accord.
The incumbent: Steve Chabot, who was first elected to the House in the 1994 Republican Revolution and served until 2008, when he lost to Democrat Steve Driehaus. Luckily for Chabot, the Tea Party midterms were just around the corner, and sure enough, he snatched the job back in 2010 and hasn't faced a serious challenger since. He's an anti-choice crusader who was one of the architects of the 2003 partial-birth abortion ban, a fact about which he reminds voters at every opportunity and in graphic terms. From his campaign blog, which uses an unsettling amount of Clipart for a professional politician:
The term planned parenthood at first glance sounds innocuous enough. But the organization that goes by that name performs well over 300,000 abortions in America every year. Another way to look at it is this—the population of Cincinnati is approximately 300,000, so Planned Parenthood wipes out the equivalent of the population of Cincinnati—every year.
The challenger: Aftab Pureval, a 36-year-old county court clerk of Tibetan and Indian descent. Born and raised in Ohio, he's crafting his pitch to swing voters, demurring on the subject of universal health care and distancing himself from the Ocasio-Cortez coalition of young, ultra-progressive candidates. He also has a history of using whimsical puppets to make his name—which might sound unfamiliar to Midwestern voters who accustomed to having an incumbent named "Steve"—very easy to remember.
Pureval has out-fundraised Chabot, and the endorsement of President Obama—which Pureval picked up in August—has helped shine a national spotlight on this historically Republican seat.
This week in specious reasoning: After graduating from law school in 2008, Pureval was hired by the D.C. office of White & Case, a law firm that employs thousands of attorneys around the world. Shortly before he began working as a first-year associate—a position that entails zero autonomy—one of the firm's clients, the Libyan government, agreed to pay $1.5 billion to the American victims of the 1988 Lockerbie terrorist attacks. Pureval was born on September 8, 1983, which means that he was six years old when the bombing occurred. And yet, here is how Paul Ryan's super PAC has elected to package this information: by implying that Pureval, who just happens to be a brown person, may have had something to do with it. As a first-grader. (Check out the Hillary Clinton non sequitur at the end.)
Pureval didn't work on the case, or even on cases of that type, when he was at the firm. However, Congress had to approve the settlement, which it did by passing the Libyan Claims Resolution Act in 2008. Guess who voted in favor of it? Steve Chabot! Somehow, his complicity in "selling out Americans" didn't make the ad's final cut.