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National Journal Article – Ben Tulchin on the Impact of Donald Trump in Congressional Races

October 28th, 2016 · News

The Late-Breaking Democratic House Targets

The party sees fresh opportunities in districts that have previously gone uncontested. By Kimberly Railey Repub­lic­ans are likely to re­tain their House ma­jor­ity, but a hand­ful of late-break­ing races are sud­denly for­cing the party to play de­fense in un­ex­pec­ted ter­rit­ory. Most stun­ningly, na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­ans are steer­ing $1.2 mil­lion to an open seat in In­di­ana that Mitt Rom­ney last car­ried by double di­gits. In Flor­ida, the party is send­ing $1.4 mil­lion to try to bail out vet­er­an Rep. John Mica in a newly re­drawn dis­trict. And in Cali­for­nia, Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Dar­rell Issa, the wealth­i­est mem­ber of Con­gress, is fight­ing strong head­winds in af­flu­ent sub­urbs where Don­ald Trump is highly un­pop­u­lar. “There is a col­lect­ive will on the Re­pub­lic­an side to make sure we don’t leave any­thing to chance,” said one GOP strategist in­volved with House races and gran­ted an­onym­ity to speak can­didly. “This is a really weird elec­tion.” To Demo­crats, the new spend­ing sig­nals an en­vir­on­ment break­ing in their fa­vor. “Some of these Re­pub­lic­an in­cum­bents have not done the work they needed to shore up their dis­tricts, and we’re see­ing Demo­crat­ic en­thu­si­asm and a dis­taste for the Re­pub­lic­an Party among in­de­pend­ents that very well could lead to pick­ing up one, two, or all three of these seats,” said Alix­an­dria Lapp, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of House Ma­jor­ity PAC. In In­di­ana’s open 9th Dis­trict, which Trump is ex­pec­ted to com­fort­ably carry, unique can­did­ate cir­cum­stances have promp­ted a rare burst of spend­ing. Re­pub­lic­ans nom­in­ated Trey Hollings­worth, a Ten­ness­ee busi­ness­man who took a beat­ing in the primary for only re­cently mov­ing to the dis­trict and for heav­ily self-fund­ing. In the months since, even Re­pub­lic­ans con­cede that his im­age hasn’t sig­ni­fic­antly im­proved. Demo­crat Shelli Yo­der, who was Miss In­di­ana in 1992, of­fers an un­help­ful con­trast for Hollings­worth, and House Ma­jor­ity PAC is spend­ing $650,000 in the dis­trict on her be­half. Hollings­worth’s cam­paign is jump­ing on that out­side help to tie Yo­der to House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi. “Those mor­als, val­ues, and ideals don’t line up with where Hoo­siers stand,” said Rob Bur­gess, a Hollings­worth spokes­man. Most GOP strategists be­lieve that Hollings­worth will ul­ti­mately pre­vail thanks to the dis­trict’s par­tis­an lean. And on the whole, Re­pub­lic­ans deny their that new spend­ing there—or in Flor­ida—points to a dra­mat­ic­ally ex­pan­ded bat­tle­field. “Demo­crats failed to re­cruit in a slew of com­pet­it­ive seats that they des­per­ately needed to win in or­der to ever reach the ma­jor­ity,” said Katie Mar­tin, a spokes­wo­man for the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee. Still, Re­pub­lic­ans con­cede that they have a re­mark­ably tough fight in Mica’s Cent­ral Flor­ida dis­trict, where the NR­CC dir­ec­ted a late wave of spend­ing. Un­der Flor­ida’s new con­gres­sion­al map, Pres­id­ent Obama and Mitt Rom­ney would have dead­locked in the 7th Dis­trict with 49 per­cent of the vote. Demo­crats fielded polit­ic­al new­comer Stephanie Murphy, a na­tion­al se­cur­ity spe­cial­ist who fled com­mun­ist Vi­et­nam by boat with her fam­ily. Already, Demo­crat­ic groups have shelled out nearly $4 mil­lion to boost her bid. Even Re­pub­lic­ans lament that the 38-year-old Murphy is a com­pel­ling can­did­ate against Mica, a 12-term in­cum­bent. Privately, they grumble that Mica could have done more to in­su­late him­self from a chal­lenge, in­tro­du­cing him­self earli­er to the por­tion of the dis­trict he didn’t pre­vi­ously rep­res­ent and amass­ing stronger fun­drais­ing hauls. In an in­ter­view, Mica pushed back against cri­ti­cism that he has not run an ag­gress­ive enough cam­paign. Ac­cord­ing to his in­tern­al polling, he ad­ded, he is beat­ing Murphy in the part of the dis­trict that is new. “They don’t have a clue,” he said of his crit­ics with­in the party. “We tar­geted the new part of the dis­trict in the primary. We walked it, we called it, we mailed it—you couldn’t do any more than we did.” But the NR­CC still saw reas­on to pump in $1.4 mil­lion for him in the race’s fi­nal two weeks, launch­ing its first TV ad Wed­nes­day. In Cali­for­nia, Re­pub­lic­ans also be­lieve Issa waited too long to mount a for­mid­able cam­paign. His race took on na­tion­al at­ten­tion in June, when Demo­crat Doug Ap­pleg­ate pulled in a sur­pris­ing 45 per­cent of the vote in the top-two primary after run­ning a fairly mod­est cam­paign. Re­pub­lic­ans said Issa could have shut down this race by spend­ing more money over the sum­mer, but he only re­cently went on the air. Mean­while, Issa has emerged as a strong sup­port­er of Trump, un­like many of his vul­ner­able GOP col­leagues. “This is a great proof point for the im­pact Trump has had,” said Demo­crat­ic poll­ster Ben Tulchin, who works on the race for the Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee’s in­de­pend­ent-ex­pendit­ure arm. The NR­CC has not spent in the 49th Dis­trict, per­haps a res­ult of Issa’s per­son­al wealth. Demo­crat­ic groups have steered more than $3 mil­lion to the dis­trict. “I think Nancy Pelosi is cer­tainly com­ing after the con­gress­man, and I think the con­gress­man wanted to make sure we were us­ing our money in the best way pos­sible,” said Issa spokes­man Calv­in Moore, de­fend­ing the cam­paign’s spend­ing de­cisions. Some oth­er re­cent in­vest­ments from GOP groups have raised eye­brows. The NR­CC launched an ad this week in Min­nesota tar­get­ing Demo­crat Terri Bonoff, des­pite pub­lic polls show­ing Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Erik Paulsen com­fort­ably lead­ing. The DCCC is con­tinu­ing to spend money in the race, and House Ma­jor­ity PAC re­cently ad­ded $800,000 to the dis­trict, after can­celing re­ser­va­tions there last month, ac­cord­ing to a Demo­crat­ic source. The Amer­ic­an Ac­tion Net­work is in­vest­ing in Vir­gin­ia’s 5th Dis­trict and Pennsylvania’s 16th Dis­trict, part of the GOP group’s ef­forts to build a Re­pub­lic­an fire­wall, along with its sis­ter su­per PAC, the Con­gres­sion­al Lead­er­ship Fund. An ex­pand­ing map is un­ques­tion­ably a pos­it­ive for Demo­crats, but the party likely won’t be match­ing Re­pub­lic­ans in some of those reach dis­tricts. “We are really only lim­ited by our budget in terms of the places we can go play,” Lapp said. Check out the link to the article here

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