GOP anxiety rises over ’18 midterms

Distressed Republicans say Democratic victories across the country on Tuesday night show their congressional majorities are at risk in next year’s midterm elections.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainPence, Pompeo urged Trump to clarify Russia remarks: report GOP lawmaker renews call for Trump to release tax returns after Putin summit House conservatives criticize media, not Trump, for Putin furor MORE (R-Ariz.) said he “predicted” the rough election night and said the party needs to make changes quickly before the midterms arrive.

“Unless we get our act together, we’re going to lose heavily,” he said.

The results offered fresh evidence of a political backlash against President Trump, which several Republicans said, in combination with a failure to win legislative victories, could cost the party the House majority.

“The best way to get run over by this train is to stand still,” said Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation GOP centrists face decision day on Dreamer petition Bipartisan support for medical research is good news for all MORE (R-Okla.), a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).

Next year’s map makes it much tougher for Democrats to win back the Senate, since Republicans are only defending eight seats compared to 25 for Democrats. In the House, Democrats would need to gain two dozen seats to win back the majority.

House Republicans in swing districts acknowledged that showing independence from Trump will be critical. Some of the 23 GOP lawmakers who represent House districts carried by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Dem pollster: GOP women have a more difficult time winning primary races than Dems Mellman: (Mis)interpreting elections MORE insist they can again convince local constituents to support them.

“She won by 3,800 votes. I won by 38,000 votes. I like that extra zero,” said Rep. Leonard LanceLeonard LanceLawmakers split over how to expand rural broadband Lawmakers worry about rise in drugged driving GOP runs into Trump tax law in New Jersey MORE (R-N.J.), whose district was narrowly carried by Clinton last year.

Lance noted initial results indicate that the GOP nominee for New Jersey governor, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, won in his district on Tuesday despite losing the state. And he pointed to his vote against the House GOP health-care bill and current opposition to the party’s tax-reform proposal as evidence of his independence and centrist voting record.

“I’m confident my views are the views of the district,” he said.

Democrats won from coast-to-coast on Tuesday, sweeping the two gubernatorial contests and gaining seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates. In Maine, voters approved a ballot measure calling for the state to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare.

The party faces a tougher task in taking back the House, where many district lines were rewritten in 2010 to bolster incumbents. But Tuesday’s results have given the party new momentum.

Republicans were already facing headwinds. Historical trends show that the party of the incumbent president typically loses seats during the first term.

Nonetheless, a number of House Republicans seen as endangered struck a confident tone on Wednesday.

“You know, I go home every weekend. I shop and I meet with people. I’ve been doing that without fail for 17 years,” said Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaSparks fly at hearing on anti-conservative bias in tech House GOP questions FBI lawyer for second day More than 50 Dem House challengers outraise GOP incumbents MORE (R-Calif.), the former House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman who won reelection narrowly in a Clinton district.

“Eight people who voted for Hillary Clinton and voted for me, I think, creates a pretty good differential.”

Several lawmakers said it is crucial for the GOP to get a win on tax reform.

“We’ve got to be RINOs — Republicans in Need of Outcomes,” Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate adds members to pro-NATO group GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki On paper, Wilkie is the perfect candidate for VA secretary, but his qualifications go further MORE (R-N.C.) told reporters.

The party failed to repeal ObamaCare and cannot count on winning elections if it can’t deliver on campaign promises.

“The Democrats nationalized the election and the Republicans failed to nationalize the key issues of repealing ObamaCare and major tax cuts and draining the swamp,” said Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), whose red district is being targeted by Democrats. “We have to do a better job of keeping our word and achieving policy wins if we are going to do better in ’18.”

Of course, it’s also possible some of the policies being advanced in the House tax-reform bill could come back to haunt lawmakers such as Lance.

The bill would eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes and lower the limit on the property tax deduction. Those changes are unpopular in districts represented by a number of vulnerable Republicans in New York and New Jersey.

Democrats also have a huge advantage on the generic House ballot, leading by an average of nearly 10 points. These factors have led to a huge boost in candidate recruitment for House Democrats across the country. Democrats point to these structural advantages and high enthusiasm as evidence of why they should be confident.

“This was the Democrats’ first big test of the 2018 cycle, the biggest test so far of the Trump era, and we got through the finish line with flying colors,” said Joshua Karp, who works for Democratic super PAC American Bridge.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that “the door is certainly open for us” in 2018.

She compared Trump’s low approval ratings — currently hovering around 38 percent — to those of former President George W. Bush before Democrats won the House in 2006. The reduced GOP morale and sky-high enthusiasm among Democrats, she said, plays in their favor.

“That means we get the fresh recruits and they get the retirements,” Pelosi said.

Indeed, the string of Democratic victories came after a series of senior Republicans announced their retirements from the House in the last week. On Tuesday alone, Reps. Frank LoBiondoFrank Alo LoBiondoGOP campaign arm withdraws support from NJ House candidate who made racist statements GOP runs into Trump tax law in New Jersey Overnight Defense: VA pick breezes through confirmation hearing | House votes to move on defense bill negotiations | Senate bill would set 'stringent' oversight on North Korea talks MORE (R-N.J.) and Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeFive races to watch in the Texas runoffs Five Republican run-offs to watch in Texas Hillicon Valley: House Dems release Russia-linked Facebook ads | Bill would block feds from mandating encryption 'back doors' | AT&T hired Cohen for advice on Time Warner merger | FCC hands down record robocall fine | White House launches AI panel MORE (R-Texas) both said they won’t run for reelection next year.

LoBiondo’s retirement led the nonpartisan Cook Political Report to adjust its rating for his southern New Jersey district, which Trump won only narrowly, all the way from “solid Republican” to a “toss-up.”

Tuesday’s string of victories for Democrats also indicates that Republicans could be facing a harsher political environment in 2018, though they stress that there’s still a year to go and more time to make strides on their agenda.

Republicans acknowledge that one of the biggest hurdles for vulnerable members next year will be how closely they align themselves with Trump — especially if his poll numbers don’t improve.

“There should be no question that [Trump’s] low approval ratings dragged down Republicans across the board [Tuesday] night,” said Brian Walsh, a former spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.) said Republicans in tough races shouldn’t try to act like people they’re not.

“If they agree with the president, agree with him. If they disagree with him, say it. Do not be afraid to say you disagree with the president if you do. Do not be afraid to say you agree with the president if you do,” Taylor said.

Ben Kamisar and Scott Wong contributed.