(AP) — While preparing to march in a Saturday morning parade through this fast-growing city’s westside, Democratic congressional candidate Hillary Scholten warned her staff that the area was traditionally very conservative and they should brace for possible booing.
But the crowd lining Fulton Street to mark the region’s Polish pride was friendly. Only one man bellowed what sounded to the candidate like “Go to hell, Hillary!” as she passed. But he also grinned and flashed a thumbs-up later.
He’d actually cried, “Give ’em hell, Hillary!”
It’s been 32 years since a Democrat won the House seat where Scholten is competing against Republican John Gibbs. But, its largest city, Grand Rapids, has turned steadily bluer lately, and redrawn congressional maps have converted it from a district that backed Donald Trump for president in 2020 to one that Joe Biden would have carried instead.
It’s one of 14 U.S. House seats nationwide that are held by Republicans but that Biden would have won under new maps.
As Democrats brace for midterm defeats that could erase their narrow, five-seat control of the House, a chance to limit the damage may lie in flipping Republican-held seats that voted for Biden to stanch the effect of losses elsewhere around the country.
Scholten, a former Justice Department attorney and Christian Reform Church deacon, lost the seat to Republican Rep. Peter Meijer in 2020. But Meijer was defeated in his Michigan GOP primary this year by Trump-backed challenger Gibbs, a former software engineer who falsely purports that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
Scholten is trying to become the first Democratic woman elected to the House from western Michigan and isn’t counting on more favorable boundaries to get her there, noting that it’s “hard for people to believe in what they’ve never seen before, and we feel that every day.”
But even Gibbs concedes the new maps have Democrats excited. “In a year where they’re expected to have a very difficult time in the midterms,” he said, “for them, a pickup is something that they’re salivating over.”
The list of GOP-held Biden districts feature three Los Angeles-area seats and one in California’s Central Valley. Others are the territories of Republican Reps. Don Bacon in Omaha, Nebraska, and Steve Chabot in Cincinnati. Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, who represents the moderate swing battleground of Bucks County, north of Philadelphia, faces a similar test. On the other side are a dozen districts that voted for Trump but are held by Democrats. Retirements and redistricting mean many no longer have incumbents running.
Still, Democrats see high stakes in their efforts to flip seats won by Biden. When House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer recently predicted that his party would hold the chamber, he mentioned such territory in California and Illinois, as well as Bacon’s and Chabot’s districts, and the Grand Rapids race.
Not every incumbent is sweating toss-up races. Chabot says that, during his 26 years running for reelection in southwestern Ohio, he’s “had more challenging races, for sure, than anyone in the House.” But, as he competes for potential crossover voters, Chabot is not emphasizing Trump.