Anti-Trump energy poses recruiting dilemma for Dems

Anti-Trump energy poses recruiting dilemma for Dems
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House Democrats face a recruiting dilemma in 2018 as the liberal backlash to President Trump looks poised to boost progressive candidates in primaries.
 
Democrats are seeing a groundswell of enthusiasm on the left, but that same energy could complicate the calculus in swing seats and districts carried by Trump that Democrats need to take back the House.
 
The party will likely need to strike a delicate balance between finding moderate candidates who best match the political profiles of the target districts on issues such as abortion and gun control without alienating its left wing.
 
"I think it may be helpful in some of the deep red districts or red-of-center districts to have some candidates who may be anti-abortion rights or pro-gun, maybe … more conservative side of some of these social issues,” said Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of campaign analysis site Sabato’s Crystal Ball.
 
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Democrats need to flip two dozen seats to regain the House majority. To win that many seats, they’ll need to put many Trump districts into play. Some strategists argue that means recruiting candidates that both fit the district politically and come off as “authentic,” even if they’re viewed as more liberal.
 
"If you have a candidate that doesn’t match the community, they’re likely not going to be successful,” said Bill Burton, who worked at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in 2006, when Democrats won a majority in the House.
 
But Burton questioned how important ideological nuance is in a campaign season that is shaping up to be dominated by voters’ opinions on Trump.
 
"I think it’s generally possible to elect candidates who are maybe a little more progressive than the districts they might represent because people are looking for someone who’s authentic and who has a spine, more so than someone they agree with on every single issue,” he said.
 
Other Democratic strategists echoed that sentiment, adding that in a midterm election, a candidate’s ideology could factor into a race less than general anti-Trump fervor.
 
Some pointed to the 2010 cycle, when Republicans took back the House during the rise of the Tea Party, noting that conservative candidates were able to win competitive swing seats.
 
"In some cases, Republicans will succeed in painting certain Democrats as out-of-touch extremists,” said David Nir, political director of liberal blog Daily Kos. “But I think we're going to see Democratic candidates' personal ideologies take a back seat in the face of Trump, Trump, Trump."
 
For Republicans’ part, they believe more liberal candidates running in GOP-trending seats will prevent Democrats from unseating their incumbents.
 
“It will be difficult for them to get the candidates they need because their base won’t allow it,” a House GOP strategist said. “They are going to want ideological purity.”
 
“It will be awfully hard to win those races, because you aren’t competing in New York City.”
 
Still, House Democrats are gearing up to capitalize on a potential wave election in 2018. Early indicators such as Trump’s underwater approval ratings and voter turnout in special elections have the party feeling bullish that they’ll have plenty of opportunities to flip seats — even in historically red districts.
 
Taking a page from the successful 2006 playbook, Democrats are already targeting dozens of districts — many of them easily carried by Trump — and recruiting candidates who are new to politics.
 
In 2006, Democrats picked up 31 seats and took back the House after more than a decade of being the minority party. Then-President George W. Bush’s low approval rating and the unpopularity of the Iraq War helped form a wave election that brought Democrats to victory. Of the 31 seats, more than half of those were in districts Bush has previously carried.
 
“I certainly hope those who do recruit candidates … aren’t simply writing off the districts Trump won, because there’s loads of opportunity even in a district that Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems win from coast to coast Falwell after Gillespie loss: 'DC should annex' Northern Virginia Dems see gains in Virginia's House of Delegates MORE won if 2006 is any guide,” said a strategist who worked closely with the DCCC in 2006.
 
So far, the DCCC has spoken with approximately 275 people about potential campaigns in 68 districts. There’s been a heavy focus on recruiting veterans to run for office.
 
Just this week, four veterans announced their campaigns against four vulnerable GOP incumbents: Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who is under criminal investigation, Ryan Costello (R-Pa.), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) and Barbara Comstock (R-Va.). With the exception of Hunter’s seat, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP rushes to cut ties to Moore Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Stephen Miller, helped edit Trump speech: report Bannon jokes Clinton got her ‘ass kicked’ in 2016 election MORE carried all of those swing districts.
 
Democrats are also eyeing other GOP-held districts that haven’t been targets in the past. Several candidates, including a former student of progressive stalwart Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBipartisan group of lawmakers aim to reform US sugar program Schumer: Dems want DACA fix in government spending bill The Hill interview — DNC chief: I came here to win elections MORE (D-Mass.), have jumped into the race to unseat Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Calif.). Democrats put a target on Walters’s back after she backed the House GOP’s ObamaCare replacement bill in committee.
 
Beyond military veterans, Democrats are looking to recruit more women, as well as those who have worked in small businesses. The party is veering away from people with experience in elected office, a strategy similar to 2006 DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel’s plan. Ahead of that midterm, the committee recruited more nontraditional candidates like sheriffs and coaches whose didn’t have voting records their opponents could have use against them.
 
“In the 2005-2006 cycle with Rahm, we made a real conscious effort in a recruitment strategy to be incredibly aggressive early, to really look outside the normal strain of state legislators and career politicians,” said John Lapp, DCCC executive director in 2006.
 
The DCCC said the group is getting approached more and earlier than ever by potential candidates who are inspired to run in the wake of Trump’s victory. The influx of candidates could lead to crowded Democratic primaries, which will also likely pit more moderate and progressive candidates against each other.
 
“We expect there will be some competitive primaries in districts across the country, but that competition will only make our eventual nominees more battle-tested for their general election matchups with vulnerable Republican incumbents,” a DCCC official said.
 
After a fierce intraparty battle between the Clinton and the Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersWorld leaders reach agreement on trade deal without United States: report Sanders on Brazile revelations: DNC needs ‘far more transparency’ Sen. Warren sold out the DNC MORE (I-Vt.) wings, Democrats are hoping to go into 2018 as a more united front. And progressive groups are hoping that the party doesn’t snub liberal candidates during the recruitment process.
 
“When it comes to candidate recruitment, there is this kind of false belief that the pathway to victory in a swing district is with that so-called mushy middle,” said Neil Sroka, spokesman for major progressive group Democracy for America.
 
Sroka argues that issues considered more progressive, including income inequality and Washington corruption, also play well with voters beyond their base.
 
“The truth is that there could be a far more potential in finding candidates who can speak strongly to progressive values and reach people across the ideological spectrum,” he said. 
 
Ben Kamisar contributed.