Jessica Tarlov: 2020 House races tell the true story of America's politics today – don't overlook them

Party-flipper, Kennedy face off in NJ House Race

Republican Congressman Jeff Van Drew faces democratic challenger Amy Kennedy in hotly contested NJ House race.

We have just a week to go until Election Day and the nation is obsessing over the presidential race. The speculation over which party will control the senate also continues to rage.

I’m guilty of it myself. Rarely a waking hour goes by where I don’t think – and often say out loud – “what am I going to do if Trump wins another term?”

The quick confirmation process for Judge Amy Coney Barrett this month has amplified concerns over the future of the senate.

As a Democratic voter, I welcome recent changes in electoral forecasts that show Democrats winning back the Senate as well as having a good chance to take seats in historically Republican states like South Carolina.


What I do find missing in the punditry – and national conscience – is what’s going on in House races across the country. There are a number of contests in swing and right-leaning districts that are not only poised to expand the Democratic majority but actually tell the true story of liberal politics today.

According to the non-partisan Cook Political Report, Democrats are on track to expand their majority from five to 15 seats in the House. To do this, they are following the 2018 playbook: run centrist candidates in moderate districts with a focus on traditional issues like economic growth, innovation and education.

A few campaigns, all backed by the New Democrat Coalition Action Fund, are worth mentioning. These candidates are in tight races and their messaging strikes through the heart of the rightwing narrative that Democrats are suffering from a party takeover by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. and other members of “the squad.”

Consider the race for Rep. Justin Amash’s open seat in Michigan. Immigration attorney Hillary Scholten is vying to be the first Democrat to hold the seat in nearly 50 years.

The district was won by Trump by 10 points in 2016 and Romney by seven in 2012. It’s currently a toss-up.

Why? An influx of younger voters makes it more amendable to a Democrat. But beyond that, Scholten is running a service-oriented campaign and relentlessly hammering the importance of giving Western Michiganders affordable health care and clean drinking water.

She also regularly discusses her faith and though is a Planned Parenthood-endorsed candidate in a largely pro-life district, Scholten has been able to elegantly balance the importance of respecting a woman’s right to choose and being a person of faith.

It’s a formula that moderate Democratic candidates have been winning on in recent years – and one Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden hopes to win the presidency on as well.

In Pennsylvania, a state we all have our eyes on after the critical role it played in the 2016 race, Eugene DePasquale is running to unseat Republican Rep. Scott Perry in the 10th district.

DePasquale is the state’s current Auditor General and has won plaudits from both sides for his independence.

His big issues? The practical stuff. Waste, fraud and abuse are all atop the list.

He’s also led the effort to crackdown on Pennsylvania's rape kit backlog, reducing the number of untested rape kits by more than 90% and leading to justice for potentially thousands of survivors.

Trump won Cumberland County by 22,000 votes and it’s clear that DePasquale could help Biden make up some lost ground in Cumberland – and get himself across the finish line.

Democrats have been focused on turning Arizona blue for quite some time and it looks like we are going to continue to make headway this cycle.


Dr. Hiral Tipirneni’s campaign in Arizona’s 6th district, which includes Maricopa county, is an important piece of the puzzle. Tipirneni spent more than 20 years as an emergency room physician and cancer research advocate.

Unsurprisingly, her big focus has been on health care — advocating for Medicare to be able to compete with private insurers.

As an Indian immigrant who arrived here when she was only three years old, she makes a compelling case for the power of the American Dream and electing officials who believe immigrants make our country better.

This race is rated a pure toss-up in a district the Republican incumbent won by 10 points in 2018.

Last week President Trump told us that Republicans are going to take the House. Congressman Ami Bera, who chairs the NewDem Action Fund, told me something quite different.

"NewDems are shaping the House battlefield through 31 challengers that have our support in extremely competitive races. They’re focused on the kitchen table issues that will help them win in these purple and red districts. If the president thinks he's going to take back the House, he's going to have to come through us.”

It will be very difficult for the GOP to come through candidates that are running these centrist, bread and butter issues focused campaigns.


In the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time discussing Democrat’s focus on the issues that matter, not a lurch to the left.

Democrats are in the majority in the House because we’re a centrist party at our core. And that’s why they are in a good position to expand their majority.


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