Candidates shun party labels

Candidates shun party labels

Many Democrats and Republicans running for Congress this year are hiding their party affiliations.

About one-third of Democratic and GOP candidates in battleground House races do not openly reveal which party they represent, according to a review by The Hill of candidate websites.

The Hill analyzed the homepages and bios of the candidates in races identified by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report as competitive.

The results indicate that Democrats are feeling the wind at their faces this midterm election and that the anti-establishment mood of the electorate has GOP candidates wary of embracing their party as well.

While most campaign experts anticipate a Republican wave in November, they point out that polls show the Republican Party is still suffering from President George W. Bush’s unpopular last term.

Republican nominees were slightly more likely than their Democratic opponents to display their party affiliation on their homepages. Of the 46 races reviewed, 22 Republicans and 19 Democrats made some reference to their party affiliation on the homepage of their campaign website.

For example, Democratic Rep. Glenn Nye of Virginia bills himself as “an independent voice, for a change.” House GOP hopeful Alan Nunnelee’s (Miss.) website says he hopes to be a “true conservative” in Washington.

The numbers reflect a sharp turnaround from the 2006 midterm campaign, in which Democrats took control of both chambers of Congress.

A similar analysis by The Hill in 2006 found that only 25 percent of Republicans in competitive contests displayed their party affiliation on their homepages. Roughly half of Democrats in such contests had their party affiliation on their homepage in 2006.

Among the key Democrats who don’t mention their party on their homepage or bio pages are Rep. Chet Edwards (Texas), a subcommittee chairman whose district was won by Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Defense: States pull National Guard troops over family separation policy | Senators question pick for Afghan commander | US leaves UN Human Rights Council 13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families McCain, Coons: Trump should withdraw controversial refugee nominee MORE (R-Ariz.) in 2008 with 67 percent of the vote.

 Among Republicans, Rep. Charlie Dent (Pa.) doesn’t mention his party on his homepage or bio page. Dent, whose district was won by President Obama by 13 percentage points in 2008, labels himself an “independent thinker.”

 The Hill’s rundown excludes some House races whose nominees had not yet been determined.

In the most competitive Senate races whose party nominees have been decided, five of nine Democrats and four of nine Republicans showed their party affiliation on either their homepage or bio page.

There are also many candidates running for both the House and Senate who do not mention their party in campaign ads.

New-media strategist Josh Koster said the results stem from an anti-establishment mood that has damaged both parties’ brands. Increased political polarization and growing concerns about the deficit among voters have contributed to that mood, he said. 

“I think the anti-establishment sentiment is causing both sides to downplay the party brand,” Koster said. “The fact that the deficit is on average voters’ minds is causing both sides to react to that.”

Democratic nominees who don’t list their party are far more likely to tout their political “independence,” fiscal conservatism or bipartisan track records. Republicans who don’t list their party, meanwhile, are more likely to bill themselves as conservative political outsiders.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Ryan Rudominer said many Republicans are afraid to show their party because the Republican brand has a lot of baggage of its own.

“House Democrats are independent voices for their districts,” Rudominer said. “There’s a reason why the Republican brand remains so toxic — a key difference from 1994. Republicans are offering the exact same failed economic agenda of George W. Bush."

Some Democrats in highly competitive contests, such as Rep. John Adler (N.J.), bill themselves as fiscal hawks. Others, like Reps. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (S.D.), Patrick Murphy (Pa.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyActress Marcia Gay Harden urges Congress to boost Alzheimer's funding Manchin becomes final Democrat to back bill preventing separation of immigrant families Dems seek to leverage ObamaCare fight for midterms MORE (Ind.), mention their membership in the “fiscally conservative” Blue Dog Coalition without noting that it’s a Democratic group. 

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Greg Blair called the Blue Dog and independent labels “meaningless,” saying many candidates who use the label have voted yes on healthcare reform, the stimulus and other Democratic items he says are adding to the country’s fiscal problems.

“They’ve checked so many boxes for Nancy Pelosi and their party leadership that in order to save their careers they’re fleeing as quickly as possible,” Blair said.

Republicans who didn’t list their party ID also bill themselves as fiscal hawks, or as “true conservatives” who would fight to reduce the size of government.

Some Democrats and Republicans proudly display their red or blue colors.

Democratic Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy (Ohio), Betty Sutton (Ohio) and Paul Kanjorski (Pa.) put their party affiliation in website logos that appear on every page. GOP candidates Steven Stivers (Ohio) and Mick Mulvaney (S.C.) also have banners touting that they're Republicans.