Likely New Members of the 117th Congress (June 8, 2020)

by Jacob Rubashkin June 8, 2020 · 1:40 PM EDT

Predicting election outcomes can be a fraught business. You don’t have to look further than the 2016 presidential race to see that. 

But for some races, one candidate has such an advantage -- due to the constituency’s partisan lean, candidate quality, or other factors -- that their path to office is nearly assured. Those are the races rated as Solid by Inside Elections. 

When incumbents in solid seats retire, they often set up competitive primaries that dovetail into uncompetitive general elections. Inside Elections is keeping track of those races and who wins them, since those winners have the inside track to Washington, DC. As more states hold their primaries, we’ll continue to update this list with future lawmakers. 

Here are the likely new members of the 117th Congress:

Jay Obernolte, R

District: California’s 8th (Northern San Bernardino County and the High Desert)
Current Member: Paul Cook, R, not seeking re-election
Previous elected office: Member, California State Assembly (2014-present); Mayor, Big Bear City (2010-2014)
Age: 49
Profession: Video game developer, businessman
Why he’s going to win: The 8th District was Donald Trump’s third-best in California, handing him a 15-point victory over Hillary Clinton even as he lost statewide by 30 points. In 2018, even as Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom won the gubernatorial election by 21 points, GOP candidate John Cox won the 8th by nearly 20 points. And in the 2020 primary, Demcratic candidates combined for just 37 percent of the vote. Obernolte is endorsed by President Trump, who is sure to carry this district, and it’s just not clear how Democrat Chris Bubser can overcome the partisan lean of the district to win.

His politics: In addition to endorsements from Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Obernolte is endorsed by the anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the activist California Republican Assembly. During his time in the California legislature, Obernolte has a 100 percent rating and endorsement from the California Pro-Life Council and an “A” rating from the NRA. 


Marie Newman, D
District: Illinois’ 3rd District (Southwestern Chicago area)
Current member: Dan Lipinski, D, defeated in primary
Previous elected office: None; 2018 3rd District candidate
Age: 56
Profession: Anti-bullying advocate; consultant
Why she’s going to win: Newman narrowly defeated eight-term incumbent Dan Lipinski by 1 point in the March 17 primary, two years after she fell just short of knocking off the conservative Democrat. Illinois’ 3rd District hasn’t voted for a Republican president since 1988, and Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 15 points in 2016. Lipinski regularly won by more than 30 points, and in 2018, the only Republican to even run was a local neo-Nazi, which speaks to GOP organization in the district.
Her politics: Newman’s candidacy was a cause celebre for progressives nationwide, especially in contrast to Lipinski’s pro-life, anti-Obamacare politics. She was endorsed by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Reps. Pramila Jayapal, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ro Khanna, and Ayanna Pressley, as well as EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood Action, the Sierra Club, Justice Democrats, and a battery of other liberal organizations. 

Mary Miller, R
District: Illinois’ 15th District (East-central and southeastern Illinois)
Current member: John Shimkus, R, not seeking re-election
Previous Elected Office: None.
Age: 60
Profession: Grain and livestock farmer; homeschool teacher
Why she’s going to win: This 94 percent white district encompasses the entire southeast quadrant of the state, and went for Trump 71-46 percent in 2016. The 60-year-old Miller, who runs a farm with her husband, state Rep. Chris Miller, took a decisive 57 percent in the GOP primary, and though she only showed $100,000 cash on hand in her Feb. 26 pre-primary FEC report, she will easily defeat Democratic opponent Erika Weaver, an attorney in the Coles County public defender’s office.
Her politics: Miller secured endorsements from Rep. Jim Jordan and Sen. Ted Cruz in the primary. She was also backed by the House Freedom Caucus’ PAC and is expected to join that group in Washington. Miller stresses her Christianity, promises to “put an end to godless socialism and defend the unborn,” and supports the border wall.   


Frank J. Mrvan, D
Indiana’s 1st (Northwestern Indiana)
Current member: Peter Visclosky, D, not running for re-election
Previous elected office: Trustee, North Township, Ind.
Age: 51
Profession: Pharmaceutical sales representative, mortgage broker
Why he’s going to win: This northwestern district, anchored in Gary, Ind., hasn’t sent a Republican to Congress in 90 years. Hillary Clinton won it by 13 points in 2016, and Visclosky only failed to receive 60 percent of the vote twice over his 18 terms. Mrvan faces perennial candidate Mark Leyva in the general -- Leyva has lost seven of the last nine general elections in this district, by margins ranging from 20 points (in 2010) to 40 points (2008).
His politics: In the primary, Mrvan touted his endorsements from organized labor, including nods from the Indiana chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and the United Steelworkers, and received a zero percent rating from the NRA. His campaign emphasized his work on local issues, particularly emergency preparedness, and his issue stances fall well into the mainstream Democratic lines on the economy and healthcare.


Randy Feenstra, R
Iowa’s 4st (Northwestern Iowa)
Current member: Steve King, R, defeated in primary
Previous elected office: State Senator (2009-present)
Age: 51
Profession: Insurance manager
Why he’s going to win: Feenstra defeated nine-term incumbent Steve King in a pitched primary battle that drew national attention because of King’s history of controversial statements about white supremacy and white nationalism. Having dispatched King 46-36 percent in the GOP primary, Feenstra is now the heavy favorite in this district that voted for Trump by 27 points in 2016 and GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds by 21 points in 2018 (Reynolds won by just 3 points statewide). Democrat J.D. Scholten is running a credible campaign, but he couldn’t beat King in 2018 despite a massive financial advantage, a favorable environment, and the NRCC denouncing King before the election.
His politics: Feenstra was supported by the US Chamber for Commerce and the National Right to Life. From his time in the state Senate, he has an 83 percent lifetime score from the American Conservative Union. His website highlights his support for tax cuts, “Christian values,” Trump’s border wall, and the 2nd Amendment.


Cliff Bentz, R
District: Oregon’s 2nd District (East of the Cascades and part of southern Oregon)
Current member: Greg Walden, R, not seeking re-election
Previous elected office: State Senator (former, 2018-2020); state representative (former, 2008-2018)
Age: 68
Profession: Attorney
Why he’s going to win: This district voted for Donald Trump 57-36 percent in 2016, and Mitt Romney 57-41 percent in 2012. It’s a vast, rural, 89-percent White district that hasn’t sent a Democrat to Congress in 40 years. Bentz won a crowded GOP primary against three serious opponents and should have little trouble defeating either writer Alex Spenser or businessman Nick Heuertz come November.
His politics: Bentz has an A+ rating from the NRA, a 100 percent rating from the Oregon Chamber of Commerce, and a 0 percent rating from the Oregon ACLU and AFL-CIO. In 2019, Bentz was among the group of GOP state legislators who fled the state to prevent Democrats from reaching the quorum they needed to pass a climate change law. But Bentz was viewed as the mainstream candidate in the GOP primary, receiving backing from the Republican Main Street Partnership. Knute Buehler was backed by a more moderate faction, while businessman Jimmy Crumpacker received support from conservative organizations such as Oregon Right to Life.


Ben Ray Luján, D
Current Member: Tom Udall, D, retiring
Previous Elected Office: US House of Representatives (2009-present)
Age: 48
Why he’s going to win: New Mexico was once a swing state, but it’s fast becoming solid Democratic territory. Hillary Clinton won the state by 8 points in 2016, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham won the gubernatorial race by 14 points in 2018, and Sen. Martin Heinrich won a three-way race in 2018 with 54 percent of the vote, 14 points ahead of Republican Mick Rich. Early on in the cycle, Republicans talked about making a play for this seat, and they got their preferred nominee in former meteorologist Mark Ronchetti, but something major would have to change on the national level for this race to be competitive, especially with the GOP playing defense in so many other Senate seats.
His politics: Luján, a former DCCC chair, has endorsements from almost every major Democratic player, including the Brady Campaign, End Citizens United, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the Sierra Club. He supports the DREAM Act, the removal of minor marijuana convictions nationwide, and Medicare for All. As assistant speaker, he is the highest-ranking co-sponsor of the Green New Deal.

Teresa Leger Fernandez, D
District: New Mexico’s 3rd District (Northern New Mexico)
Current Member: Ben Ray Luján, D, running for Senate
Previous Elected Office: None
Age: 60
Profession: Attorney
Why she’s going to win: Leger Fernandez won a convincing victory in the Demcoratic primary for this district, receiving 43 percent of the vote; former CIA officer Valerie Plame placed second with just 25 percent. Hillary Clinton won this district by 15 percent, and Fernandez’s Republican opponent, Alexis Johnson, had just $178 in the bank on May 13. 
Her politics: Leger Fernandez was endorsed in the primary by EMILY’s List, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She supports Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, tuition-free public college, and overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. Leger Fernandez has a long career of practicing civil rights and water law, and led a lawsuit that forced Santa Fe to adopt ranked choice voting in 2017.


Deborah K. Ross, D
North Carolina’s 2nd District (Raleigh)
Current member: George Holding, R, not seeking re-election.
Previous Elected Office: Member, North Carolina House of Representatives (2003-2013); Democratic nominee for Senate in 2016 (lost 51-46 percent)
Age: 56
Profession: Civil Rights Attorney; former ACLU state director
Why she’s going to win: North Carolina’s 2nd District was radically redrawn in last year’s court-ordered redistricting. It now ecompasses deep blue Raleigh and the surrounding Wake County, and had this district existed in 2016, Hillary Clinton would have won it with 60 percent. Incumbent George Holding is choosing to retire rather than fight for his political life, and the Republican nominee, Alan Swain, is unknown and unfunded. This leaves Ross, who won a commanding 70 percent in the Democratic primary, as the prohibitive favorite in November.
Her politics: Ross has been endorsed by the Sierra Club, EMILY’s List, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and the AFGE and AFL-CIO unions. While in the state legislature, she had a 100 percent score from the ACLU and an “F” rating from the NRA. Her website cites infrastructure, healthcare, housing, education, and climate change as top priorities. 

Kathy Manning, D
North Carolina’s 6th District (Greensboro and Winston-Salem)
Current member: Mark Walker, R, not seeking re-election.
Previous Elected Office: None; Democratic nominee for the 13th District in 2018 (lost 45.5 to 51.5)
Age: 63
Profession: Attorney; member of UNC Greensboro Board of Trustees; former chair of the Jewish Federations of North America nonprofit
Why she’s going to win: The 6th District was also significantly altered by the 2019 redistricting. Its new configuration includes all of Greensboro, and Winston-Salem -- two liberal college cities. In 2016, Clinton would have won this district with 59 percent of the vote. Manning won a competitive five-way primary with 48 percent of the vote, and will have no issue dispatching Republican Lee Haywood in the fall.
Her politics: In 2018, when Manning ran in the more Republican 13th District, she was endorsed by the moderate Blue Dog Coalition and NewDem Action Fund; neither have endorsed her yet this cycle, though in 2018 they only did so in October. In 2020, Manning is endorsed by the National Organization for Women and the Sierra Club. 


August Pfluger, R
Texas’ 11th District (Midland and San Angelo parts of rural west Texas)
Current member: Mike Conaway, R, not seeking re-election.
Previous Elected Office: None
Age: 42
Profession: Former National Security Council staffer in Trump administration; Air Force Lt. Col. (Ret.)
Why he’s going to win: Pfluger, who served 20 years as a fighter pilot before briefly serving as a staffer on Trump’s National Security Council, took 52 percent of the vote in a crowded primary, avoiding a runoff. This expansive midwest Texas district is one of the most Republican in the country -- one of just six districts where Hillary Clinton failed to receive even 20 percent of the vote. Having won the GOP primary, Pfluger is as good as elected.
His politics: While the House Freedom Caucus’ PAC endorsed a different candidate in the GOP primary, Pfluger has signalled willingness to join the caucus when he arrives in Washington. Pfluger promises to “fight back against oil-hating liberals” and protect the “God-given” rights in the Second Amendment, as well as the rights of Christians and other groups. Throughout his campaign, he has emphasized his military service, and criticized the low number of veterans in Congress.