House Democrats expand 2018 targets

House Democrats expand 2018 targets
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

The House Democratic campaign arm announced a second round of targets for the 2018 midterm elections on Monday in a sign of confidence they can gain from the House GOP’s healthcare bill and President Trump’s stumbles.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) unveiled 20 new targets on Monday, bringing the total number of districts in their crosshairs to 79.

All but two of the latest targets voted for the House GOP’s legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act earlier this month. Ohio Reps. Mike Turner and Dave Joyce were among the 20 Republicans to vote against the bill, but the DCCC has nonetheless aired attack ads in their districts and added them to the target list.

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Democrats had predicted dozens of potential opportunities to flip GOP seats in 2016 but ultimately fell short with a net gain of just six seats.

For next year, they’re banking on the historic trend of the president’s party losing seats in midterm elections, particularly given Trump’s unpopularity. 

Polling also shows that the House GOP’s bill to fulfill their seven-year pledge to repeal and replace ObamaCare is unpopular. A Quinnipiac poll conducted this month after the vote found that only 21 percent of respondents approved of the legislation, known as the American Health Care Act.

“Through self-inflicted wounds, chaos, ethical issues and a trail of betrayals and broken promises to voters, House Republicans and President Trump have made their long 2018 slog even more difficult. And it’s clear that the surface is starting to crack beneath them,” DCCC spokeswoman Meredith Kelly wrote in a memo.

Two of the latest targets have been dogged by accusations of ethical lapses, resulting in Democrats announcing challenges in districts that have long been safe GOP seats.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) is now officially a Democratic target, following allegations of improperly using campaign funds for personal expenses like airfare — including for his family’s pet rabbit — and his children’s school tuition, along with video games and jewelry.

The House Ethics Committee revealed in March that Hunter is under investigation by the Justice Department. Before that, the Office of Congressional Ethics, the House’s independent watchdog, had been reviewing potential campaign finance violations. 

At least seven Democrats have expressed interest in running against Hunter next year in the San Diego-area district that has long been considered a safe Republican seat.

Another lawmaker under review by the House Ethics Committee has also been named a Democratic target: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).

In April, Nunes recused himself from his committee’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The Ethics Committee announced on the same day that it was reviewing whether Nunes made unauthorized disclosures of classified information during a press conference where he announced that intelligence agencies incidentally collected information about associates of Trump.

News reports later revealed that the documents Nunes referred to in his press conference originated from White House officials. Nunes had served on Trump’s transition team, leading to accusations from Democrats that he was too close to Trump to properly conduct the investigation.

A total of six members from the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative hard-liners, are now on the DCCC’s target list. Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) was among the DCCC’s first targets given the nature of his swing district. 

But five other Freedom Caucus members in what have long been safe GOP seats, all of whom voted for the GOP healthcare bill, are on the latest round of targets: Reps. David SchweikertDavid SchweikertBipartisan lawmakers give blood in honor of Scalise GOP senators pleased with Ivanka Trump meeting on family leave, child tax credits GOP rep: Verbal discipline a factor in Trump obstruction question MORE (Ariz.), Ron DeSantis (Fla.), Steve Pearce (N.M.), Tom Garrett (Va.) and Dave Brat (Va.).

Trump won all of the districts on the DCCC’s latest target list. Just 23 Republicans represent districts carried by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonPro-Trump group pulls ads targeting GOP senator on ObamaCare repeal Stone to testify before House Intel Committee next month Overnight Cybersecurity: New ransomware attack spreads globally | US pharma giant hit | House intel panel interviews Podesta | US, Kenya deepen cyber partnership MORE, all of whom were named initial targets in January.

Trump's margin was relatively smaller in some Freedom Caucus districts compared to others where he won in landslides of 60 percent or more. He won 57 percent of the vote in DeSantis’s district, while the margins in the districts represented by Pearce and Brat were slightly smaller at 50.1 and 50.5 percent, respectively.

About 40 percent of voters preferred Clinton in each of those districts.

Republicans in swing districts targeted by the DCCC in the past have also been added to the official target list. The National Republican Congressional Committee’s chair of recruitment for 2018, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), was left off the DCCC's original round of targets in January but is now back on the DCCC’s list.

Stefanik, a co-chair of the centrist Tuesday Group, voted for the healthcare bill this month.

The NRCC dismissed the latest round of targets as out of reach for Democrats.

"It appears House Democrats haven’t given up on the old shotgun approach. Throwing out races to see which ones stick is the same strategy that’s kept them in the minority since 2010," NRCC spokesman Jesse Hunt said.

This story was updated at 4:01 p.m.