Ground Game finale: The 6 races to watch

McClatchy national political correspondents Katie Glueck, left, and Alex Roarty, right, record a pre-election episode of Beyond the Bubble.
McClatchy national political correspondents Katie Glueck, left, and Alex Roarty, right, record a pre-election episode of Beyond the Bubble. Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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WASHINGTON — McClatchy’s chief political correspondents Katie Glueck and Alex Roarty step away from the campaign trail to open their notebooks in a special pre-election episode of Beyond the Bubble.

Katie and Alex have spent months on the road talking to the candidates and voters who top political strategists say will determine who controls Washington and what direction the two parties go in the era of President Donald Trump.

1. First hint of a Democratic wave: North Carolina’s 9th district

If veteran Democrat Dan McCready beats GOP firebrand Mark Harris in this Republican stronghold, political operatives on both sides of the aisle say Democrats are in for a good night. The Charlotte, North Carolina, seat is currently held by GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger, who lost his re-election primary to Harris.

2. Battle for suburbia: Pennsylvania’s 1st district

This bellwether district held by GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is a regular target for both parties and must-win for Democrats, who didn’t get their favored candidate through the primary. Democrats need to flip 23 GOP-held seats to take control of the House and are counting on districts like this, where white, middle-class voters could break away from Trump.

3. Incumbent strength test: Florida’s 26 district

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo is one of the most well-prepared incumbents running in one of the toughest districts for the GOP. Democrat Hillary Clinton won it by 16 percentage points in 2016., but if Curbelo can fend off Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, he’ll have a bright future as one of the few true GOP moderates returning to Congress.

4. Demography is destiny? California’s 10th district

This 40 percent Hispanic district voted for Clinton in 2016, but Spanish-speaking Rep. Jeff Denham has done everything he can to separate from Trump on issues that might offend Latino voters. Despite Democrats’ high hopes for a Latino backlash against Trump, their House map relies less on districts like this than on white suburbia, as the party has struggled to turn out voters of color.

5. All about that base: Texas’ 7th district

Rep. John Culberson is one of the few incumbent Republicans openly blaming Trump for a tough race this year against Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. While Texas Republicans in tough races are betting Trump will help them excite the base, Culberson, whose district Clinton carried narrowly, skipped a local rally with the president.

6. Future of the GOP: Wisconsin governor’s race

Ambitious GOP Gov. Scott Walker has faced big political fights in the past, but this time the environment is against him. If he’s able to fend off Democrat Tony Evers in the era of Trump, he’ll strengthen his case for a bigger role in the future.

McClatchy’s Beyond the Bubble show is produced by Jordan-Marie Smith and Davin Coburn. Alex Roarty and Katie Glueck, national political correspondents for McClatchy, and Andrea Drusch, Washington correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, recorded this episode at McClatchy’s Washington Bureau.