With literally hundreds of House races to watch, and another 30 or so Senate races, where should you be looking on election night if you’re searching for clues to identify the “blue wave” or the “red undertow”? Here are some key races around the country in bellwether districts which are the nine most important races to watch on election night. They vary in location and importance but keep an eye on these races and you’ll probably be ahead of the game in knowing which party is going to be victorious on November 6.
1. Texas Senate (Cruz vs. O’Rourke)
Democrats hoped they had a very longshot chance of defeating Republican Ted Cruz in Texas, but the odds of that happening are looking longer and longer each day. If Democrat Beto O’Rourke would manage to beat an incumbent Republican in Texas, you can assuredly kiss the House goodbye for Republicans and maybe even the Senate. This is a race to watch because even if Cruz wins, the margin of victory might be telling for other races. At the moment, Cruz looks to be pulling ahead with the RCP average sitting at +7 for Cruz.
2. Ohio Governor (Cordray vs. DeWine)
What? A race for governor? We’ve only been talking about the House and Senate, but there are many gubernatorial elections happening on Nov. 6 as well. The race to replace outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich has been a tough one, and it’s also a good bellwether for other areas. If Democrats manage to win this seat back from Republicans, which has been held by the GOP since 2000, it could indicate Dems may win some of the other Midwest gubernatorial seats as well. At the moment, polls give a slight advanateg to Democrat Richard Cordray over Republican Mike DeWine.
3. West Virginia’s 3rd district (Ojeda vs. Miller)
Donald Trump won WV-3 by 30 points in 2016, this shouldn’t even be a contest. However, Democrat Richard Ojeda has garnered a lot of national media attention for his pro-Trump views. In fact, he’d barely register as a “Democrat” by the issues which most define the party in 2018. On the other side, Republican Carol Miller should be the easy favorite, but this race has boiled down to two pro-Trump candidates. With West Virginia being historically favorable for Democrats on issues like labor, Ojeda might have a shot to flip this House seat which would certainly help Democratic efforts nationwide. Watch this seat on election night. Voters in this district may decide that a vote for a Democrat, even a pro-Trump Democrat, is still a vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. If that’s the case, Miller should win. Polls currently show Miller in the lead by 5 points on average.
4. California’s 45th district (Porter vs. Walters)
Democrats are looking to districts in Southern California where Republicans have had a stronghold but 2018 looks like an opportunity to change course. In the 45th district, which has been held by Republicans for a very long time, incumbent Mimi Walters is facing a very tough battle from Democrat Katie Porter. Polling is sparse, but Porter has the advantage right now. The theory is that if the 45th goes blue, then surrounding districts where the GOP has held on may also flip this year. This includes CA-10, CA-25, CA-39, CA-48 and CA-50. For more details on each of those races, check our post on California House toss-up seats.
5. Minnesota’s 8th district (Radinovich vs. Stauber)
In most districts, the GOP is playing defense this year. This is not the case in MN-8 where a Democratic retirement has left an open seat. Republican Pete Stauber is hoping to make this a GOP pickup considering the district went for Donald Trump by 16-points in 2016. Democrat Joe Radinovich will have his work cut out for him, but this is one to watch since it may help illustrate how the electorate is feeling in a district which split prior years between Obama and Trump. The most recent poll gave Stauber a 15-point advantage, but it’s the only poll taken in October. The district is “leaning Republican” and it may stay that way giving the GOP a bright spot. Keep a close eye on this one on election night.
6. Texas’ 23rd district (Hurd vs. Ortiz Jones)
An interesting race has developed in this district with Incumbent Republican Rep. Will Hurd, a former CIA agent, facing off against Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, an Iraq War veteran and member of the LGBTQ community. Hurd has distanced himself from Trump on some issues, though the most recent polling gives Republicans a big advantage. It had been thought that this race might be winnable by Democrats considering the trending demographics of this district, which comprises one-third of the U.S./Mexico border, are becoming more diverse. In this case, it could be that Hurd’s split from Trump has helped in some ways.
7. Florida’s 26th district (Curbelo vs. Mucarsel-Powell)
Hillary Clinton won this district despite being currently held by Republican incumbent Rep. Carlos Curbelo. With that in mind, Democrats are hoping that Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell can pull an upset here in a district which should, in theory, line up against President Trump on many issues as well as demographically in general. The latest polling shows this race to be a toss-up which means this one will be watched closely on election night for any sign of the political winds, especially since it’s in Florida which will see polls close earlier than states in the Midwest.
8. Iowa’s 3rd district (Young vs. Axne)
In Iowa’s 3rd district, the race could have ramifications for other districts around the state. Republicans currently hold IA-3, but incumbent Republican David Young is currently down a point against Democrat Cindy Axne. Democrats are hoping that the wave lifts high enough to turn this seat blue, along with some other key toss-up districts in the state. Iowa Public Radio calls this one the “ultimate purple district” which is why analysts will be watching it closely on Election Day for signals that other districts, with a similar demographic makeup, could be headed for a change of hands.
9. Virginia’s 10th district (Comstock vs. Wexton)
Republicans have held this seat since 1980, but incumbent Republican Barbara Comstock is facing an uphill battle. The 10th district has become more “purple” in the past couple cycles and it may finally be the year that Democrats capture this long-time GOP holdout in Northern Virginia. Democrat Jennifer Wexton, a sitting state Senator, is the toughest opponent Comstock has had so far since she won the open seat in 2014 on a Republican retirement. The Washington Post says that this particular race could be the best example of “Trump fatigue” where moderate Republicans will not be enough to save Comstock in the face of motivated Democrats in a district which Hillary Clinton won handily in 2016. Recent polls have consistently given Wexton an edge and unless things change drastically, Comstock could be staring at defeat which would mean a key pickup for Democrats.
Watch these races for evidence that either party is doing better than expected and you may find the start of a wave election. As with every race, however, some districts come down to individual candidates and local issues alone, so there will be some surprises where things don’t align with national results. I’m going to be watching several house races in Virginia where polls close at 7 pm ET, which is one of the earliest poll closing times. Follow that with Florida, Ohio, and some House races in upstate New York. Some of these earlier ones may give us signs about how the Midwest, Texas, and California may eventually turn out much later in the night.