Congressman Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) is the only Republican in the entire nation who has all seven “risk factors” laid out by a top election expert at the Cook Political Report. The report looked at issues including tax bill and health care votes, fundraising totals, and the political makeup of congressional districts to provide an assessment of the “political health” of incumbents. And the diagnosis for Knight is dire.
We have created a table listing seven “risk factors” to gauge Republican incumbents’ political health and readiness for a wave election. In the past, those incumbents with a high number of risk factors have typically been the ripest targets, while those with fewer risk factors could still be vulnerable but may be better able to withstand a hostile political environment.
Exploring the risk factors one by one gives a clearer picture of Knight’s precarious re-election status.
1) Knight sits in a district with a Cook PVI score of R+5 or less Republican.
The Cook “Partisan Voter Index,” or PVI, score is a measure of “how each district performs at the presidential level compared to the nation as a whole.” An R+5 district means the district votes 5 percentage points more Republican than the country as a whole, and the closer the number is to zero, or “even,” the more competitive the district. Cook ranks Knight’s district as “even,” which is as competitive as a district can be.
Beyond what Cook is measuring, newly released voter registration figures show a recent surge in Democratic voters in Knight’s district. There are now more registered Democrats than registered Republicans in the district.
2) Knight sits in a district that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.
Not only did Clinton win more votes in Knight’s district, but she did so convincingly, winning by almost seven points.
However, Knight doesn’t vacillate a bit in his support for Trump, voting alongside the Trump agenda 99 percent of the time. It is almost impossible to find a more loyal Republican in all of Congress than Knight, even though Trump’s approval in California hovers around 30 percent.
3) Knight received less than 55 percent of the vote in the 2016 election.
Knight only received 53 percent of the vote in the 2016, one of the risk factors listed by Cook. Polling from earlier this year shows Knight’s approval rating is a dismal 36 percent, and 56 percent of voters are disinclined to re-elect him.
4) Knight voted in favor of the American Health Care Act in the May 4 roll call vote.
Cook lists this bill as one of two “polarizing pieces of legislation” Congress voted on last year. Their analysis is backed up by surveys of top voter concerns, where health care consistently ranks highly.
Knight voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and supported a Republican bill broadly opposed by health care professionals, including the California Medical Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society, among others. It would have stripped protections from patients with pre-existing conditions and increased the number of uninsured by more than 20 million people.
The same bill was designed to “impose an unfair and unacceptable ‘age tax,'” according to AARP, and allowed “insurance companies to charge people between the ages of 50 and 64 (those too young for Medicare) five times what they can charge younger consumers.”
5) Knight voted in favor of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in the December 19 roll call vote.
The Republican tax bill is the other “polarizing” bill noted by Cook. Despite the official title of the bill, many Californians are preparing for a dramatic tax hike this year. In this year alone, Californians are going to pay $12 billion more in taxes, according to a recent study. In Los Angeles, homeowners could end up paying up to $76,000 more for a 30-year mortgage. The bill is wildly unpopular in California. Meanwhile, big Wall Street banks will enjoy a $19 billion kickback from the bill.
In addition to higher taxes, Californians can expect higher health care premiums, thanks to provisions tucked into the Knight-backed bill. Premiums are expected to increase by up to 30 percent next year.
6) Knight raised less money than at least one Democratic opponent in the first quarter of 2018.
Knight’s fundraising is decidedly unimpressive. The first quarter of 2018 was the second quarter in a row where he was outraised by Democratic opponent Katie Hill. “The members who are getting outraised at this stage of the election cycle are the ones who present the biggest risk to the Republican majority,” said Ken Spain, a Republican consultant.
7) Knight has a Democratic opponent with at least $200,000 in cash on hand as of March 31.
Hill has not only raised more money than Knight for two straight quarters, but she has more than $500,000 cash on hand as of March 31. And she isn’t the only Democratic opponent in this category. Two other challengers, Brian Caforio and Jess Phoenix, each have more than $500,000 as well.
Knight has regularly topped the list as the most vulnerable incumbent in California. Now he sits atop a list of most at-risk incumbent — the only congressman in the country to have all seven risk factors in the Cook report. If a blue wave is coming, Knight’s race will be one to watch come November.