WASHINGTON – In a suburban Houston congressional district that backed President Donald Trump in 2016, a twice-elected Republican sheriff is battling a Democrat who's the son of an immigrant from India. To Democrats, that smells like an opportunity.
Things are flipped in central New York, where freshman Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi faces the Republican he ousted two years ago from a district near Syracuse that includes smaller cities like Binghamton and Utica. Trump won there easily, and Republicans say his place atop the ticket will help propel Claudia Tenney back to Congress.
The tale of two districts 1,600 miles apart spotlights that many pivotal House races hinge on suburban voters. While some like Brindisi's have a more rural, blue collar feel than the diverse, better educated one outside Houston, an overriding factor will be how Trump is viewed in the district.
And that's a problem for the GOP.
Two years after a 40-seat surge fueled by wins in the suburbs hoisted Democrats to House control, Republican hopes of recapturing the majority have buckled along with Trump's approval ratings. Some worry that the party will lose seats, an agonizing letdown from their one-time dream of retaking control by gaining 17 seats.
“My fear for Republicans is there are simply not enough rural voters to offset the losses they’ve suffered in the suburbs these last few years,” said former Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., a Trump critic. “It’s certainly possible the Democrats could pick up more than a few seats.”
Democrats boast an ever-expanding target list that includes a half-dozen Republican seats in Texas plus others outside Atlanta, Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Phoenix. They hope to win in traditionally red strongholds like Alaska, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska and rural Virginia, while toppling New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who defected to the GOP last year.
“We're still on offense,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., who leads House Democrats' campaign organization. She didn't predict how many seats her party would win.