As Primaries Progress, GOP Aims to Retake House Majority from Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California holds the gavel after at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The Republican Party is fielding a stronger-than-expected crop of U.S. House candidates as the GOP aims to retake the House majority from Democrats in November.

To do so, Republicans would need to flip a net 17 seats from Democrat control back into Republican hands—and the party feels as though its field is coming together across the country. There are 30 districts across America that Democrats currently represent that President Donald Trump won in 2016 over Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, and with the president at the top of the ticket again in 2020 the GOP feels much more confident about its chances of reclaiming the majority this year than it did at this stage in the 2018 midterm elections a year in which Democrats took back the majority for the first time in eight years.

Primary season is about halfway finished, with a number of key districts already formally selecting GOP nominees to take on those Democrats. In many other places, the field has already narrowed to a likely November candidate—making it much easier for the GOP to focus its efforts not internally but externally against the Democrats.

What follows is the beginning of a broader breakdown of the U.S. House picture as it stands now early in the summer in several of key states for Republicans. More will be forthcoming in future stories.


In Pennsylvania, the GOP sees three potential pickup opportunities—two of them from districts Trump won in 2016, and one from a district Clinton won.

In Pennsylvania’s eighth congressional district, Democrat Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) will face Republican Jim Bognet—a former appointee of President Trump’s who’s close with the president’s allies. Bognet emerged from a tight GOP primary as the nominee earlier this month, and has quickly caught Cartwright off guard as the Democrat floundered when asked if he would support defunding the police. Cartwright, who portrays himself as a moderate, came out and said he would potentially back “disbanding” the police.

“It was a really tough race—we had six Republican candidates, all good men who all served their country in a variety of different ways who wanted to step forward to beat Matt Cartwright,” Bognet said in a post-victory appearance on Breitbart News Saturday. “I’m really humbled as the grandson of an Italian immigrant coal-miner with an eighth grade education to be chosen as the Republican nominee by the people of northeastern Pennsylvania, my friends and neighbors, to take on Matt Cartwright. This is such an important race for just why you said. This is a Trump plus 10 district that’s currently represented by a trial lawyer elitist who has now literally given his voting card to Nancy Pelosi. He over and over again sides with Nancy Pelosi over the people of northeastern Pennsylvania from voting for $1,200 checks to illegal immigrants to voting against the Born-Alive Protection Act to infringing on our Second Amendment rights. This is a guy who should not be representing Trump country. And let me get this straight with you, Pennsylvania is Trump country and northeastern Pennsylvania is the heart of the Trump revolution where we took it from a place that votes Democrat to voting for President Trump. We must get rid of the guy who voted to impeach our great president and I believe we will in November.”


Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index (PVI) rates Pennsylvania’s eight congressional district as giving Republicans a one-percent advantage over Democrats in voter registration. It’s also a district that Trump won 54 percent to 43 percent for Clinton—an 11-point win—meaning the energy is on the GOP side here.

Bognet’s energetic campaign in northeastern Pennsylvania is hardly the only one where the GOP has the momentum in the Keystone State. The other big one, over in the western part of the state, is in the 17th district where Democrat Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) faces Republican and combat veteran Sean Parnell in November.

Lamb, who won a nationalized special election in early 2018, was a Marine and then assistant U.S. Attorney before he beat Republican Rick Saccone in a special election in March 2018. He later held the seat after the district was redrawn in the November 2018 midterm elections as part of the Democrats’ blue wave midterms. But the district as it stands now is considered by the Cook PVI to have a three-percent voter registration advantage for Republicans. Trump won the district by even more than that—nearly double digits, 54 percent for Trump to 43 percent for Clinton—and combined with Lamb’s drift to the hard left where he sided with Pelosi on impeachment against Trump among other things, the Republicans feel confident about Parnell’s chances.

The president and vice president have been out there prolifically supporting Parnell’s candidacy against Lamb:

Republicans feel very confident that these two seats will flip back red with Trump at the top of the ticket again in November, but the third seat that Republicans feel is in play in Pennsylvania in November is the seventh district. Though a little bit more of an uphill climb, the GOP thinks that Democrat Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA) is at risk of potentially losing the seat to Republican nominee Lisa Scheller in November. The seventh district’s Cook PVI gives the Democrats a one-percent advantage, and Clinton won it by just over 2 percent in 2016. But while Clinton won it by that much in 2016, then-Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA) held the seat by nearly 20 percent over his Democrat challenger the same year—so Republicans feel like if the momentum is with the president in Pennsylvania in November this seat could slip out of the Democrats’ grasp.

Scheller, a businesswoman before running for Congress, has Trump’s endorsement—which she got before she secured the nomination in the primary a couple weeks ago.


In New Hampshire’s first congressional district, Republican Matt Mowers has already earned President Trump’s endorsement months ahead of the very late-in-the-game September primary. While he still has to go through the primary process and does have a bit of a race there, Trump’s endorsement essentially ensures Mowers will face incumbent Democrat Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH) in November in this key battleground district.

“I think the fact that the President endorsed so early—remember our primary isn’t until September, and then we have a November general election,” Mowers said on Breitbart News Saturday this weekend. “The fact that the president endorsed this early in our race shows that he wants to not just pick winners, and he doesn’t want to just ensure he wins the state of New Hampshire, but he also wants people who are going to go to Washington, DC, who are going to work with him. When we get to Congress, we’re going to be able to change the way Congress works and actually get them to start delivering for the people they’re supposed to represent. I’m really excited to have the president’s endorsement and I think it shows that he knows we’re best positioned to win this election, help him get re-elected, and then actually govern once we all get down there.”

Mowers, a former Trump administration State Department official and veteran of GOP campaigns including the Trump 2016 campaign, was alongside Pennsylvania’s Bognet—another former Trump official—one of the first public figures to call for President Trump to ban travel from China in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

What’s more, Mowers, during his most recent appearance on Breitbart News Saturday, made clear that Pappas has never once veered from Pelosi’s orders in the House.

“In the 2018 campaign, because Chris Pappas is one of those guys who just got down there—he’s still a little wet behind the ears,” Mowers said. “He got down to Washington, DC, and when he was campaigning he said he would be independent. He said he would work with the president when it made sense. He did not commit to supporting Pelosi because he knew that would have been a guaranteed electoral disaster for him in 2018. But the first vote he cast when he got down there was for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker and now he has supported her on every single vote she has cast. He has voted with her 100 percent of the time.”



Georgia’s sixth congressional district represents another opportunity for a GOP pickup, and the Republicans have a strong candidate in former Rep. Karen Handel (R-GA) who’s running for her old seat.

Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff—who’s now running for U.S. Senate—in the highly-publicized special election back in 2017, but then lost the seat in the Democrats’ blue wave in the 2018 midterm elections to now Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA). Georgia’s sixth is another one of those 30 districts Trump won in 2016 that is currently represented by a Democrat, and it is considered a deep red seat by the Cook PVI standards as voter registration data give the GOP an eight-point advantage. Trump fared a little worse than that against Clinton here, winning by just 1.5 percent in 2016, but Republicans feel confident they can retake this one too in November.

“Lucy McBath was embracing who she really is: A radical left-wing Democrat,” Handel told Breitbart News Saturday in a recent interview, referring to McBath supporting Pelosi using the coronavirus pandemic to try to implement a radical leftist agenda. “She misled the voters here in Georgia’s sixth, trying to portray herself as some kind of moderate. But if you look at her votes and her views, it really does show how radical she is from federally mandated increases in the minimum wage to Medicare for All to the Green New Deal to advocating for a gun-free society. She is pro-union, anti-business, anti-gun, pro-abortion. She is Pelosi’s perfect puppet, not a real representative for the people of the sixth district. And there’s only one reason that the most radical elements of the left would endorse Lucy McBath. She has the endorsements of the Squad, Elizabeth Warren, Mike Bloomberg—all have endorsed Lucy. Why? Because she embraces their radical agenda.”


Georgia will feature several other key important races as well, as both U.S. Senate seats are on the ballot this year and Democrats believe their presumptive nominee former Vice President Joe Biden could make the state competitive against Trump in November. But this House race could be the more important one assuming the state’s political landscape stabilizes again—as it did in 2016 when Clinton tried but failed to flip it, and as it did in 2018 when Democrat gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams tried but failed to flip it.


New Mexico’s second congressional district is one Republicans barely lost in the 2018 midterms, when Republican Yvette Herrell—who led on election night, but when later results trickled in during the next several days now Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM) slipped into the seat. This is yet another of the 30 districts across America where Trump won in 2016 but the seat is currently held by a Democrat.

After a semi-contentious primary that wrapped up earlier this month, Herrell won the nomination again and is poised for a rematch with Small in November—this time with Trump at the top of the ticket and another secret weapon: Former Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM), who held the seat for many years, is now chairman of the New Mexico GOP.

“Congresswoman Small ran as a complete moderate and even said before the election she was not sure if she could support Nancy Pelosi as the Speaker as well,” Herrell said in a post-primary victory interview on Breitbart News Saturday earlier this month. “Her votes definitely speak louder than words. Her very first vote was for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker and of course she has since voted with Nancy Pelosi over 90 percent of the time. So, that’s certainly not our shared values. It’s very important to know that this is a top-three seat in the country. It’s one that we should be able to flip and we are absolutely working our tails off already. This district was won by President Trump by double digits in 2016 and Xochitl Torres Small ended up winning by less than 2 percent so we know that that information coupled with her voting record makes this a seat that we should be able to put back in conservative hands and I am telling you the base is fired up in New Mexico for President Trump.”


Herrell is right that New Mexico’s second district is much redder than Small’s Democrat vision for the country. Cook’s PVI rates it as giving Republicans a 6 percent advantage over Democrats, and as Herrell noted Trump won it by more than 10 percent—10.2 percent to be exact—in 2016 over Clinton. Another bonus factor working in Herrell’s favor against Small is that the Trump campaign is expected to spend resources in New Mexico this year more so than it did in 2016, and there is also a U.S. Senate race above her on the ticket as well. Both the presidential level and the U.S. Senate level, according to polls released this week, are currently heavily favoring the Democrat however, but Republicans did win New Mexico in 2004 when then-President George W. Bush defeated Democrat John Kerry to win re-election. What’s more, Clinton in 2016 failed to hit 50 percent in the state. She won New Mexico’s five electoral votes with less than 49 percent of the vote—48.26 percent. Trump nearly pulled off an upset there but was thwarted as the state’s former Gov. Gary Johnson who ran on the Libertarian Party ticket in 2016 and pulled a significant amount of votes—9.34 percent—from Trump. Combined, Trump and Johnson had more votes than Clinton in New Mexico.


Oregon’s fourth congressional district is a particularly interesting case study as it is a district that Clinton won by a tenth of a percent against Trump in 2016, but is represented by a far-left wing Democrat in Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR). DeFazio has held the seat since winning it back in 1986, and for the last several elections dating back to the 2010 faced the same Republican Art Robinson who failed to beat him every time.

This time around, though, Republicans have a young and energetic candidate in U.S. Army National Guard veteran Alek Skarlatos. Skarlatos gained international fame when in 2015 he and two of his buddies on vacation in Europe after his deployment to Afghanistan thwarted a terror attack on a train between Amsterdam and Paris.

“I think it’s very important simply because it should be Republican already,” Skarlatos said this weekend of the district during an appearance on Breitbart News Saturday. “Like you said, this is basically a toss-up district at best. It’s actually the closest congressional district in the country that Trump lost and it’s gone Republican before for governor’s candidates and Secretary of State candidates and presidential candidates before this as well, but unfortunately just hasn’t gone red with a congressional candidate yet and there’s a number of reasons for that but this is important not just for national but also for the people of southwestern Oregon. This is the poorest congressional district in this state and there’s a reason for that and part of the reason why I’m running is to help turn that around.”

Skarlatos is right about how close this district is as according to Cook PVI ratings it’s even between GOP and Democrat chances. DeFazio backing positions that radical leftists support, like defunding the police and supporting the creation of the Congressional Progressive Caucus also puts this in play, but Skarlatos’s story and his involvement in stopping that train attack is particularly powerful for the GOP.

“Honestly, we were just doing what we had to do to survive,” Skarlatos recounted the story on Breitbart News Saturday. “My best friends and I—one of my friends, our families were neighbors since I was about five years old. He was stationed in Portugal, and I was coming off of my Afghanistan deployment and I wanted to have kind of a European vacation. He was already in Portugal so it made sense for him to come along. And then, we invited our other friend Anthony who we had both known since we were in middle school. We met up in Amsterdam, had about three or four days in Amsterdam, got train tickets to Paris and then about two or three hours into the train ride to Paris I was following our trip on my phone on Google Maps and we had just crossed the border into France. Then I heard a gunshot and breaking glass come from behind us. Spencer and Anthony were asleep but I turned around and see a train employee run away from the noise at a full sprint and saw a shirtless man with an AK-47. At that point, Spencer and Anthony woke up and kind of saw what I was looking at. I just hit Spencer on the shoulder and kind of said something like ‘Let’s go.’ Spencer ran at the guy and tackled him. I caught up to Spencer and took the AK-47, it was on the ground, and tried to shoot the terrorist with it. It didn’t work. Spencer had the guy in a chokehold at that point. Then he pulled out that handgun to try to shoot Spencer in the head with it, so I dropped the AK and took the handgun out of his hands and hit him in the face a couple times. Then, Spencer said ‘he’s got a knife, he’s got a knife, get him off of me.’ He had pulled out a boxcutter and was then cutting Spencer in the back of the neck. So we—Spencer kind of shoved him off of him, and we were all surrounding him punching him and doing whatever we could do. Finally, we got control of him and held him against the table. I still had his handgun so I told him ‘stop resisting, stop resisting.’ I don’t think he spoke English so that probably didn’t help then I put the handgun to the back of his head and pulled the trigger. It didn’t go off. It was actually unloaded because he had dropped the magazine in an initial scuffle where he had shot the first passenger. At that point we were getting pretty frustrated so Spencer put him in another chokehold and I picked back up the AK-47 and hit him in the head a few times and then it was a little bit and he stopped fighting back. Then I watched him go unconscious from Spencer’s chokehold and we put him on the ground and then we noticed the gentleman who was shot in the neck was now squirting blood out of his neck wound so we then went over—Spencer was an EMT in the Air Force at the time—and he stopped the bleeding in his neck wound and I took the AK-47 and I went to chamber a round because I was assuming it was unloaded because we didn’t get shot. When I did that, a round ejected from the chamber.”


What that means, Skarlatos said, is that the terrorist did try to shoot them but the gun misfired.

“He tried to shoot one of us along the way,” Skarlatos said. “It really was just bad ammunition and we got incredibly lucky. I went and checked the rest of the train and then came back and helped Spencer with Mark’s medical care and contained the situation for about 20 minutes or so until we got to the train station. Then our lives were really never the same.”

Skarlatos was given a number of awards for his role in thwarting the terror attack, from President Barack Obama and from France among others. He went on to star on Dancing With the Stars after playing himself in Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation of the story of the train attack “The 15:17 to Paris.”


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