A district north of Milwaukee that’s backed a Democrat for Congress just once since World War II is among the places in the country that could make trouble for Republicans in this year’s mid-term elections.
Nationally, the Republican Party relies on white voters, who account for 86 percent of its totals. More than half are whites without a college education. Democrats run stronger among ethnic minorities and the college educated. As cities have become magnets for minorities and young professionals, the GOP has compensated by peeling off congressional districts in some white, blue-collar in places like western Wisconsin, upstate New York, northern Michigan and southern West Virginia.
But this year the balance seems to favor Democrats. Coming on top of the usual decline in support for the president’s party seen in midterm elections have been retirement announcements made by three dozen-plus House Republicans. Also, while President Donald Trump remains strong in rural areas, his popularity is weakening among women and college-educated Republicans, including those in upscale neighborhoods.
Wisconsin Rep. Glenn Grothman’s rural-suburban seat has been GOP-controlled since 1967. Grothman, though, concedes he’s “very apprehensive about the future.”
Similar sentiments are being expressed in many parts of the country. In Dallas, Colin Allred, a former Tennessee Titans linebacker and civil-rights attorney, is hoping to oust the 11-term Republican Rep. Pete Sessions, whose seat is considered among the vulnerable.
“This is a highly educated district with a lot of people who are paying attention,” Allred said. “And a lot of those people don’t like what they’re seeing.”
First elected to Congress in 1996, Sessions is so entrenched that he didn’t face a 2016 Democratic challenger. But Hillary Clinton narrowly defeated Trump in his district, which had backed Mitt Romney by 15 points in 2012. Sessions’ territory is now more than a quarter Hispanic and nearly another quarter black and Asian.
Allred was raised in Dallas by a single mother. A neck injury ended his three-year NFL career in 2010, but he used savings from his NFL salary to pay for law school before serving in the Department of Housing and Urban Development during President Barack Obama’s administration.
Sessions, a prolific fundraiser, says he’s not worried because his territory remains full of Texans who reject “the big government shackles that liberal Democrats always try to force on us.”
Allred still has to win a Democratic runoff election on May 22 against Lillian Salerno, a fellow veteran of the Obama administration who finished nearly 20 points behind him in the primary last month. Allred raised $400,000-plus in the year’s first three months while Sessions brought in more than $600,000.
National Democrats are investing in the race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been buying anti-Sessions digital and radio ads for the last year. It also has full-time organizers in Dallas, Houston and 18 other GOP districts.
In Houston, the place where a flip seems most likely is Rep. John Culberson’s affluent district, which has voted Republican since sending George H.W. Bush to Congress half a century ago. But Clinton beat Trump there in 2016. It’s now nearly a third Hispanic, and about a fifth of the residents have post-graduate college degrees.
“The socio-economic fabric of the district has changed,” said Mustafa Tameez, a Houston-based political strategist who has worked for Democratic candidates but also was a homeland security consultant for George W. Bush’s administration.
To counter the Democratic push, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a political group with ties to the outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, has opened a field office in Culberson’s district — one of nearly 30 the group now has protecting Republican House incumbents nationwide.
Other districts in flux include Republican Rep. Steve Knight’s, encompassing part of Los Angeles County and Ronald Reagan’s presidential library in Simi Valley. It hasn’t voted Democratic since 1964 but has a growing Hispanic population. In Miami, Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring after 30 years in Congress, opening an opportunity in a district where Clinton beat Trump by 20 points. A parade of top Democrats, including former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, is vying for the party’s nomination.