Analyzing Rural House Races

Cook Political Report: Most Open Rural House Seats Appear Solid GOP, But Not All

A look at some rural open House seats by Cook Political Report shows most of those districts fall solid Republican, but the open seat in Montana isn't a lock for the GOP. (DTN graphic by Nick Scalise)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- The seats being vacated by House Agriculture Committee ranking member Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and GOP committee members Ted Yoho of Florida, Roger Marshall of Kansas and Ralph Abraham of Louisiana are ranked "Solid Republican" in the 2020 elections, but the statewide House seat in Montana being vacated by Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte ranks only "Lean Republican," The Cook Political Report highlighted.

According to an analysis on Friday by David Wasserman, House analyst for the Cook Report:

-- Retired Air Force Lt. Col. August Pfluger will likely be the next member from Conaway's Texas District 11. Pfluger grew up in a well-known West Texas family, fought in Iraq and Syria and served on President Donald Trump's National Security Council staff. He dominated the field in the heavily Republican district by raising $1 million and touting President Donald Trump's endorsement.

-- There are three serious GOP candidates for Abraham's Louisiana District 5 seat: Longtime Abraham chief of staff Luke Letlow, state Rep. Lance Harris and Ouachita Parish Police Jury President (akin to county executive) Scotty Robinson. The primary filing deadline is not until July 17. Letlow has Abraham's endorsement and the best chance of election.

-- Ten Republicans filed for the August 18 primary in Florida District 3 to replace Rep. Ted Yoho, and there's no clear frontrunner.

-- The all-important Republican Aug. 4 primary for the "Big First" Kansas district, Rep. Roger Marshall is vacating to run for the Senate is functionally between eye doctor Bill Clifford and former Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann, who ran for this seat in 2010 and came in third with 21%. This time, he has the endorsement of the Kansas Farm Bureau, which has backed Marshall previously. Mann starts with a small edge.

Farm groups are also interested in open races to succeed House members who are not on the House Agriculture Committee.

In Texas District 13 that includes the Texas Panhandle, Amarillo and Wichita Falls, the race to succeed Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry has peaked interest. A July 14 runoff will pit Ronny Jackson, the former White House doctor who withdrew his nomination to be Veterans Affairs secretary amid allegations of misconduct and mismanagement, against former Texas Cattle Feeders Association head Josh Winegarner. President Donald Trump has thrown his weight behind Jackson, while Thornberry is backing Winegarner.

Democrats haven't won a House race in Montana since 1994, but Democrat Kathleen Williams came within five points of unseating Rep. Greg Gianforte in 2018 and is back for the at-large open seat now that Gianforte is running for governor, Wasserman noted. In November, she'll face GOP state Auditor Matt Rosendale, who lost to Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in 2018 but won the June 2 primary with 48%.

Williams, a former state legislator from Bozeman, "got the opponent she wanted in Rosendale," who is backed by the conservative Club for Growth but sports high residual negatives from 2018, when Tester and Democrats spent over $30 million in 2018 playing up his East Coast roots and calling him "Maryland Matt," Wasserman noted.

But in ranking the race "Lean Republican," Wasserman also noted, "The late entry of Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock into the Senate race might actually complicate Williams's math."

"Ultimately, it could prove very difficult for Williams to convince Montana voters, who backed President Trump by 20 points in 2016, to elect three Democrats to federal office. To the extent they're willing to split their tickets, they might do so for Bullock or Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney [the Democratic candidate for governor] before they do so for Williams."

Wasserman has already declared Iowa District 4 to be "Solid Republican" since Randy Feenstra defeated Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, in a primary. King was a member of the House Agriculture Committee but was stripped of his seat by the Republican leadership over comments he made.

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at

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