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GOP, Dems draw battle lines over few swing districts

FILE - Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., is seen Feb. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Nathan Howard)
FILE - Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., is seen Feb. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Nathan Howard)
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Battle lines are being drawn for the 2024 election, with congressional Republicans going on offense and releasing a list of targeted Democrats in competitive districts.

"These House Democrats should be shaking in their boots," National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Richard Hudson, a congressman from North Carolina, said in a news release this week.

The NRCC listed 37 seats, two of which will be open, that it's eyeing as "prime pick-up opportunities for Republicans."

"Republicans are in the majority and on offense. We will grow our House majority by building strong campaigns around talented recruits in these districts who can communicate the dangers of Democrats’ extreme agenda," Hudson said.

Meanwhile, most of the same names show up on a recently released list from Democrats of 29 “Frontline” members they’re defending in competitive seats.

"House Republicans have shown voters their caucus is more concerned with political investigations, empowering extremists, and seeking power for themselves, than working to improve the lives of everyday families – and that will stand in clear contrast to the formidable Democratic Frontliners," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Suzan DelBene, a congresswoman from Washington, said in a news release.

"Democrats will have great offensive opportunities in 2024, and holding onto these seats is key to our path to reclaiming the majority," she said.

The parties split Congress, and both hold very thin majorities in their respective chambers.

Political experts say there are few competitive, or swing, districts nationwide. And those precious few districts will suck up much of the campaign money.

“The parties have gotten so much more sophisticated at not wasting money and really going after the most vulnerable,” said Seth McKee, a politics professor at Oklahoma State University.

Why are these groups even releasing lists publicly?

It’s largely about rallying donors and the base, said Casey Burgat, the legislative affairs program director at George Washington University in D.C.

“It gives a specificity to what can be a really abstract campaign,” Burgat said.

"It shows a purpose. It shows a strategy," he said. "And then it kind of gives some substance to the idea that these are the people that we can focus all of our money, our resources (on) and our messaging behind."

Burgat said there’s the added benefit of putting “a target on their back, politically speaking.”

These folks are representing districts that could go either way. They might be inclined to moderate their behavior or support for certain types of legislation, Burgat said.

None of these names are really a surprise or secret.

McKee said it’s as simple as looking at presidential returns and picking out the districts where it was really close.

“A lot of those people are going to be what we call sort of mismatched or in split-result districts,” he said.

A Democrat might be representing a district that former President Donald Trump carried last election by a thin margin.

Or it could be a newer member, seen as vulnerable.

"You're going to see freshmen or sophomores on there, because they're most vulnerable when they first get in," McKee said. "And so that's really when you try to pounce and put as many resources in there to remove them."

Some of these districts were also unsuccessfully targeted by Republicans in the midterms.

Hudson told Fox News that, "It’ll be a presidential cycle so it will be very different. I think the turnout models will be different."

That might be true, Burgat and McKee said.

There will at least be much higher turnouts in the upcoming presidential election, they said.

Whether that helps Republicans or Democrats is unknown.

“It will be issue-dependent and candidate-dependent somewhat,” Burgat said.

McKee said each district can play differently during an election, depending on the demographics and the issues impacting that district at the time.

And the party nominees for president carry a lot of weight with voters, McKee said.

Both men picked out some names of interest from the lists.

Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia is on both the GOP list of targets and the Democrats list of key members to defend.

Burgat said Spanberger has been on lists like these before.

“This is what you get when you have so few competitive elections, you're going to see the same names popping up, even if that person keeps winning,” he said.

Spanberger won in 2018, 2020 and 2022, but each time with tight margins.

“There's some people on there, and you really wonder if they're going to go after them or not,” McKee said. “And I just say that because someone like Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, (she’s) just a tough cookie. We looked at Virginia and thought surely that state is going to have several pickups for Republicans (in the midterms). But, sure enough, she held on. And she's just a fantastic representative.”

Burgat said it’s often about the district and not the incumbent.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio shows up on both lists. She’s also been in Congress for 40 years.

And Burgat noted that Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola of Alaska, first elected to Congress last year after longtime Republican Rep. Don Young died, is “incredibly popular” but “striding a tough district.”

Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas shows up on both lists, too.

Davids beat incumbent Republican Kevin Yoder in 2018 by nearly 10 percentage points, won solidly again in 2020, and again in 2022. After the 2020 election, the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature redrew the district, but she survived.

“She's probably one of those candidates who showed that she can survive this kind of targeting,” McKee said.

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