Analyzing key midterm races that could decide control of the House

With a month until the midterms, we're digging into races that could determine the balance of power in Congress. Republicans hoped for a wave of wins, but the end of Roe v. Wade and improvement in gas prices may help Democrats. Karen Kasler of Ohio Public Radio and Television, Scott Shafer of KQED in California and Zoe Clark of Michigan Radio join Lisa Desjardins to discuss control of the House.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Election night is less than a month away, and we're digging into some key races that could determine the balance of power in Congress.

    Lisa Desjardins has more.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Let's talk about control of the House of Representatives.

    To take over the House, Republicans need to gain just five total seats next month net. Their party may have a slight advantage from redistricting. But there are dozens of competitive races, including more than 30 currently rated as toss-ups.

    To take a good look at the map, I'm joined by three public media reporters, Karen Kasler of Ohio Public Radio and Television, Scott Shafer with KQED in California, and Zoe Clark with Michigan Radio.

    So happy to have all of you together to talk about this.

    Each of your states has lost a congressional district because of redistricting. But you also each have a clutch of competitive races that could determine control of the House. I wonder if you can just set the mood for us. What's on voters' minds, everything from the weather to redistricting to issues that you think might be affecting their vote?

    And let's start out West with you, Scott Shafer.

  • Scott Shafer, KQED:

    Yes.

    Well, California has an unusual system for creating redistricting. It's a citizens commission. It's not gerrymandering, where the districts are designed to protect the incumbents. And so we have four to six competitive House races here in California, including probably two of the 10 most vulnerable Republicans, David Valadao in the Central Valley and Mike Garcia in Los Angeles, both of them running in plus — plus-D districts, where Democrats outnumber Republicans.

    In terms of the seat that we lost, Karen Bass decided not to run for reelection. She's the L.A. congresswoman. She's now running for mayor of Los Angeles, which, of course, is dominating the headlines, not in very good ways.

    But in terms of issues in terms of these congressional races, it's a competing narrative. Republicans want to talk about gas prices and the economy. And the Democrats want to talk about abortion rights and about threats to democracy. And so you have got these competing narratives that are playing out on the campaign trail and on television.

    And, in addition, I would say that Republicans also want to talk about crime and immigration, much more so than abortion rights.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Zoe Clark, what's going on in Michigan? I know it's college football season. Is politics breaking through there in general?

  • Zoe Clark, Michigan Radio:

    It actually is, if you can imagine. It's not just Spartans and Wolverines here in Michigan, although the weather always is something we talk about.

    No, much like what Scott said, indeed, it is about the economy. It is about inflation. It is about gas prices. But since the Dobbs decision here in Michigan, abortion really has become something that has changed the dynamic.

    We have an amendment that's going to be on the ballot in November that would enshrine reproductive rights, abortion rights into the state Constitution. And so, on top of these really must-watch congressional seats, some of the most competitive in the country, abortion is sort of overshadowing the conversation when it comes to all of these races.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Karen Kasler, is that what you're finding next door in Ohio? Is abortion overshadowing other issues?

    Karen Kasler, Ohio Public Radio and Television: Well, I can't let Zoe talk about those teams without mentioning the Ohio State Buckeyes. And football here is, of course, dominating conversation.

    But, yes, there's a lot of conversation also about the few competitive districts here. Our most competitive seat and race really is the Ohio U.S. Senate race. But they're — in Ohio, we're starting early voting today. And it's interesting to note that Ohio went from 16 to 15 districts, and majority Republicans drew maps that were ruled unconstitutional several times by the Ohio Supreme Court.

    We're actually running elections this year on maps that were ruled unconstitutional, but put into place by a federal court. And so, while we are electing representatives through these maps this time around, those could change based on the results of what happens in the election next month.

    So there are only about — there are 10 safe districts and five Democratic seats, but only a couple are really considered very competitive.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes, and, Karen, I want to come back to you. I'm going to talk to all of you about favorite races.

    But, Karen, let's start there in Ohio. And your favorite race is, one that I'm watching there, obviously, is one of the longest serving women in Congress, Marcy Kaptur. That's a race where it's not just issues, but also the effect perhaps of President Trump and the 2020 election.

    Can you talk about that race and what you're watching there in that Toledo area?

  • Karen Kasler:

    Yes, that race has really tightened up a lot, Marcy Kaptur running against a political newcomer, J.R. Majewski, who really broke out when he got the attention of Donald Trump by painting a picture of Trump on his lawn.

    And Trump shouted out to him at a rally. He ended up winning, beating some other established politicians. And now he and Marcy Kaptur are facing off. Majewski has made headlines recently because he has claimed that he saw combat in Afghanistan. But an investigation has shown that that's not the case. He also said he was at the Capitol on January 6. He has not been charged with anything.

    But that — all of this has made this race a little bit more competitive. And House Republicans have actually pulled their ads in this race. So that really has tightened things up.

    Also, there's an open seat that features to women, Emilia Sykes, the former Democratic leader of the Ohio House, And Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, a Trump-endorsed Republican. This will make history, in that one of those will win. Only 12 Ohio women have ever been elected to Congress from the state. So that's going to make history there with that race.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's fascinating. I like that Ohio 13 race too, because that's a very Rust Belt seat that might tell us something about the Senate race as it evolves over the night.

    Speaking of, let's go back to you in Michigan, then, Zoe. You have one of the most expensive House races in the country, among others that I know you're watching, where Elissa Slotkin, the incumbent Democrat, is really kind of a must-win seat for Democrats if they have any hope of holding the House.

  • Zoe Clark:

    Absolutely.

    And this district is fascinating. So it went for Donald Trump in 2016. It went for Trump in 2020. But Elissa Slotkin has won it two times. So she's looking for a third win here. Now, it's going to be in the now Seventh Congressional District because of redistricting. And she's always outperformed as a Democrat.

    But she has a conservative Republican challenger, state Senator Tom Barrett. Again, like we have been talking about this narrative, he's trying to talk about the economy. He's trying to talk about inflation. He's trying to talk about Joe Biden.

    And I was just talking to Elissa Slotkin, the congresswoman, today, and she's talking fundamentally about rights and what she wants to see happen change in D.C., including, interestingly enough, I thought immigration, she said, in the state of Michigan, as well as the cost of childcare.

    Meanwhile, we also have the Third Congressional District. Now, this one is just fascinating. This is where Peter Meijer, a freshman Republican, within the first few days of being sworn in voted to impeach Donald Trump for the second time. And Peter Meijer lost his primary in August to a former Trump official, John Gibbs.

    And so this really is an open seat now. We have a Democrat running. It looks like it could lean Democrat more because of, again, this redistricting, but it probably would have been closer had Peter Meijer won this seat. But, again, conservative Republicans kicked him out, booted him out, and went with this Trump-endorsed Republican instead. And it looks like this could be a Democratic win.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Scott, you hear Zoe talking about a place that Democrats hope to flip in this year.

    I know you have got one of those two, and you just mentioned it earlier. Tell us about Congressman David Valadao and what you're seeing in California.

  • Scott Shafer:

    Yes.

    So, he lost the seat in 2018 and then got it back in 2020. So he actually voted to impeach Donald Trump, but he's getting protection from that. Trump hasn't gone after him, because his district is right next to Kevin McCarthy. In fact, it includes part of Bakersfield, his hometown. So he's running against Rudy Salas in a district that is 59 percent Latino.

    Rudy Salas would be the first Latino member of Congress from the Central Valley ever. He's also co-sponsored our Proposition 1, which would enshrine abortion rights here in California.

    One other quickly, Lisa, race I'm looking at, the 41st Congressional District in Riverside. Ken Calvert, 30-year Republican incumbent, has easily gotten reelected. But they — redistricting has taken out some of the most conservative parts of his district and added Palm Springs and other districts with a lot of LGBT voters.

    He has a history of anti-gay positions in campaigning, and he's running against an openly gay federal prosecutor who prosecuted some of the January 6 cases. And, of course, Calvert did not vote to certify the election. So lots of interesting crosscurrents there.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I have been hearing from you all about the 2020 election, some about former President Trump.

    I just want to show of hands on this last question, which might be a little unusual. But have you spoken to any Democrats in tough races in your states who would like President Biden to come and campaign for them? I want to see a hand if anyone has talked to a Democrat like that.

    So, there we go. Both the former president and the current president seem to be on the ballot this year in the 2022 midterms.

    We are so grateful to all of you for joining us. Karen Kasler, Scott Shafer, Zoe Clark, thank you all.

  • Scott Shafer:

    Thank you.

  • Zoe Clark:

    Thanks.

  • Karen Kasler:

    Great to be here.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And thank you to our Lisa Desjardins.

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