Elections

Meet the Diverse Field of GOP House Flippers

Republican congressional candidate for New York’s 11th district, Nicole Malliotakis, addresses attendees at the Staten Island Republican Party on Staten Island, N.Y., November 3, 2020. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)
Candidate quality is one reason House Republicans made big gains in 2020.

Republicans made big gains in 2020 House races, and there are many reasons for their improvement. In 2018, House Republicans lost 40 seats and their majority as Democrats won the House national popular vote by 8.4 percentage points. In 2020, Trump will lose the national popular vote by perhaps four to five percentage points — not as bad as polling suggested — and House GOP candidates will perform a few points better than the GOP presidential candidate (as they did in 2012 and 2016).

One thing that’s striking about the field of Republicans who have flipped House seats so far: They are all women, minorities, or veterans (in many cases two of three).

In Southern California, Young Kim and Michelle Steel, two Republican Korean-American women, flipped Democratic districts. In American history, a Korean-American woman had never been elected to the U.S. Congress before this year.

In Oklahoma City, Republican state senator Stephanie Bice flipped a Democratic seat and became the first Iranian-American ever elected to the U.S. Congress.

In New Mexico, former GOP state representative Yvette Harrell flipped a Democratic district, becoming the first Cherokee woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress.

In Salt Lake City, former Oakland Raider Burgess Owens is leading Democrat Ben McAdams (this is the district Mia Love used to represent).

Earlier this year there was a lot of commentary about how the only African American in the House GOP caucus, Will Hurd, was retiring. The news was indeed dismaying, but if Owens holds on, there will be two African-American Republicans in the House in 2020. Byron Donalds won a very competitive primary in Florida earlier this year and cruised to election in November.

Speaking of Will Hurd, elections in his district have been decided by razor-thin margins: Hurd won by 1.3 points in 2016 and 0.5 points in 2018. In 2020, Republican Iraq war veteran Tony Gonzales won the district by 3 points. Trump made some of his biggest gains relative to 2016 with working-class Hispanic voters in Gonzales’s district.

In South Florida, Trump and House GOP candidates made big gains as well. Cuban-American Republicans Maria Elvira Salazar and Carlos Gimenez ousted, respectively, incumbent Democrats Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

In New York City, assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, the daughter of Greek and Cuban immigrants, won the Staten Island district represented by Democrat Max Rose.

Outside of Charleston, S.C., Republican Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from the Citadel, took back a seat from incumbent Democrat Joe Cunningham.

Republicans also picked up a few seats in the Midwest: former state senator Michelle Fischbach in Minnesota, state representative Ashley Hinson in Iowa, and Iraq war veteran Peter Meijer in Michigan (who took back the district represented by independent Justin Amash).

Some races haven’t been called yet. In California, Republican David Valadao, the son of Portuguese immigrants, looks to be on track to win back the seat he held until a Democrat narrowly won it in 2018.

North of Los Angeles, Mike Garcia, a former Navy fighter pilot who flew 30 combat missions over Iraq and the son of Mexican immigrants, is leading his Democratic opponent by 219 votes. Earlier this year, Garcia beat a Republican backed by House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy in the primary and then in a special election surprised pundits by becoming the first Republican to take back a district carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016. “Sometimes being under the radar is the best way to get to the target area,” Garcia told National Review in an interview in May. Garcia’s seat had been held by Democrat Katie Hill, who had resigned in disgrace.

“I was a first-generation immigrant. My father and my grandfather came here and started from the ground up and created a great small business in the construction business,” Garcia told NR in May. “We were taught to work hard; we were taught to earn every dollar that we make, take pride in our country, and be a patriot.”

Minnesota congressman Tom Emmer, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, attributes the GOP gains to several factors, including the Democrats’ lurch to the left (from the prominence of socialists in the party to the “defund the police” rhetoric). But he also credits the quality of candidates who flipped Democratic seats, and he credits each state delegation for recruitment.

It’s not yet clear how many seats Republicans have won, but at the moment they look to be on track to win more than 210 seats. “This is going to be the most narrow majority in [at least] 20 years,” Emmer told National Review. “If we don’t have it this time, we will have the majority in two years.”

Editor’s note: This article originally referred to Yvette Harrell as a former state senator. She is a former state representative. 

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