A handful of agricultural districts are in line to play pivotal roles as Democrats and Republicans battle for control of the House in 2024 elections, now one year away. 

Some 18 House Republicans are running for reelection in districts that President Joe Biden carried in 2020. Three of those are first-term members of the House Agriculture Committee, and all facing very tight battles: John Duarte of California, Lori Chavez-DeRemer of Oregon and Marc Molinaro of New York. 

A fourth House Ag Republican, Barry Moore of Alabama, is the victim of a court-ordered redistricting plan that has made his district much more Democratic. He’s going to instead challenge another incumbent Republican, Jerry Carl, in a neighboring district. 

Several other Republicans are slightly favored by race analysts in their reelection bids, including Iowa Rep. Zach Nunn, Don Bacon of Nebraska, Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin, and Monica De La Cruz of Texas. 

Republicans currently control the House 221-212, with two vacancies. Democrats, who only have to win a net six seats in 2024 to retake control of the House, have their own challenges ahead in rural districts. 

Four House Ag Democrats face races that are rated as toss-ups by at least two rating services. Those lawmakers include Yadira Caraveo of Colorado, Gabe Vasquez of New Mexico, and Washington’s Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, one of five House Democrats running for reelection in a district former President Donald Trump carried in 2020. 

The fourth vulnerable House Ag Democrat, Don Davis of North Carolina, is also a victim of a court-ordered redistricting plan, which has made his reelection bid significantly harder. His Republican challengers in 2024 include a retired Army colonel, Laurie Buckhout, who is putting $1 million of her own money into the race.

Other House Ag Democrats rated as slightly favored in their races include Angie Craig of Minnesota, Eric Sorensen of Illinois and Jahana Hayes of Connecticut.

Few vulnerable House Ag Committee members face a more daunting challenge than Duarte, a farmer who narrowly won election in 2022 in the Central Valley's sprawling 13th District, which runs west of Fresno north to near Modesto. Biden carried the district by nearly 11 points in 2020. 

Duarte is counting on help from Biden’s unpopularity and a continuation of the economic headwinds facing the administration. 

“I think by the time we get to Election Day, we'll be looking at a lot of factors that stack in our favor,” Duarte told Agri-Pulse as he rushed away from Capitol Hill last Friday to make another quick weekend trip back to his California district. 

“Inflation is continuing. Geopolitically, America is not doing well. We're not showing leadership in the world. We're running against a very unpopular president, who's only likely to get worse and will be shown to be more corrupt than even we know now.”

Duarte also hopes Congress will pass a new farm bill next year, though that is far from certain.

“By the time we get to the election next year, we will have a new farm bill. I think it will be a good one,” Duarte said. 

A stopgap spending bill that Congress needs to pass by Nov. 17 is expected to include a one-year extension of the 2018 farm bill. Such an extension would effectively give Congress until after the 2024 election to get a new farm bill to the president’s desk. 

A new farm bill, if passed, “will undoubtedly be one of the ways many of these Republican members separate themselves from the far-right Freedom Caucus wing of their party,” said David Wasserman, a House race analyst for the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter.

Duarte's race is among 15 Republican and nine Democratic seats rated as toss-ups by Cook. 

Wasserman said the presidential race will still “dictate most of the dynamics” of close races such as Duarte’s. Hispanic turnout, for example, also could be more of a factor in the Central Valley in 2024 than it was in 2022, and that will help Democrats, not only in Duarte’s race but also in the 22nd District, where GOP Rep. David Valadao is running for reelection in a race also rated as a tossup. Valadao is a member of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which writes the annual spending bills for USDA and the Food and Drug Administration. 

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While Democrats need to boost the Hispanic turnout in 2024, “right now Biden isn't polling as strongly among Latinos as he was in 2020, which could mean that's of less help to the Democratic nominees there,” Wasserman said. 

Bacon, whose district includes metropolitan Omaha, also has to keep one eye on the presidential race. Biden carried the district by 6.4 points in 2020. Bacon thinks a Republican such as former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley could win it this time. Polls continue to show Trump to be the heavy favorite for the GOP nomination. 

“People don’t like the job Biden is doing, but they have a visceral, emotional response to President Trump,” Bacon said. 

Erin Covey, a House race analyst for Inside Elections, said Bacon has a good chance of surviving because of the reputation he has built since his 2016 election. Bacon frequently clashed with hard-line conservatives during a recent battle over the House speakership and voted against a spending bill that he said went too far with cuts in USDA funding. 

Rep. Marcy KapturRep. Marcy Kaptur, D-OhioBacon, “more than a lot of the other Republicans who are running in these Biden districts, has kind of established his brand and has a bit more of an established reputation as a moderate which will be helpful to him,” Covey said.

A House Democrat who also could survive based on her personal brand is Marcy Kaptur, a 40-year member of Congress and longtime member of the Ag Appropriations Subcommittee. Trump narrowly carried her district in 2020. “She's someone who would be in a better position than probably most House Democrats to out-run the top of the ticket,” Covey said. 

The challenges are steeper for first-term incumbents such as Chavez-DeRemer, whose Oregon district went for Biden by 8.8 points, and Perez, whose Washington district Trump carried by 4.2 points. 

They both benefited in 2022 from primaries that had knocked off incumbents of the party. Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a progressive who unseated moderate Democrat Kurt Schrader in the 2020 Democratic primary, is seeking the Democratic nomination again. In Washington, conservative Republican Joe Kent defeated former GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in 2020 before narrowly losing to Perez by 1,760 votes in the general election.

Chavez-DeRemer and Perez could both benefit from rematches with their 2022 opponents over more moderate challengers, Covey said. 

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