GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket

GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket

Republican strategists are worried their House majority is increasingly endangered by weak top-of-the-ticket candidates.

The GOP fears House candidates down ballot could be the casualties if moderate and independent voters balk at backing Republicans because of opposition to conservative Senate and gubernatorial candidates.

The concerns have been a theme of this year’s primary season, underlined once again with Tuesday’s results.

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In Minnesota, conservative Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson (R) defeated former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), a much more traditional politician seeking a comeback after eight years away from elected office. 

Hours earlier, another arch conservative won the GOP nomination for governor in Kansas after Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded defeat to Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a week after their state’s primary left the two candidates separated by just a few hundred votes. 

Kobach and Johnson both ran in the mold of Trump. Trump publicly endorsed Kobach. He did not weigh in on the Minnesota contest, but Pawlenty’s opponent hammered the former governor for his public criticism of the president. 

Some Republican strategists had hoped that having Pawlenty and Colyer at the top of the tickets would help insulate down-ballot House candidates from Democratic attempts to tie them to President TrumpDonald John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' MORE.

In Kansas, Republicans are worried about Rep. Kevin YoderKevin Wayne YoderK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Kansas Senate race splits wide open without Pompeo Mike Pompeo to speak at Missouri-Kansas Forum amid Senate bid speculation MORE (R), whose district voted for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump touts new immigration policy, backtracks on tax cuts Hickenlooper announces Senate bid MORE in 2016. The party also is defending a seat left vacant by Rep. Lynn JenkinsLynn Haag JenkinsAnti-corruption group hits Congress for ignoring K Street, Capitol Hill 'revolving door' K Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Pompeo seen as top recruit for Kansas Senate seat MORE (R), who is retiring. 

“Kobach is hated by independents. He energizes the [Democrats] to get out the vote,” said one Kansas Republican, who asked not to be identified while voicing concerns about his party’s ticket. “This race will be nationalized.”

In Minnesota, where advisers close to Reps. Erik PaulsenErik Philip PaulsenHopes dim for passage of Trump trade deal Fight over Trump's new NAFTA hits key stretch Blue states angry over SALT cap should give fiscal sobriety a try MORE (R) and Jason LewisJason Mark LewisFormer GOP Rep. Jason Lewis says he'll challenge Tina Smith in Minnesota Republicans must push through genuine health care reform Investigation concludes marijuana, medication impaired driver involved in GOP train crash MORE (R) urged Pawlenty to get into the race in the first place, some are concerned that Johnson will act as a drag on their chances in both congressmen’s districts; Hillary Clinton won Paulsen’s district, and President Trump won Lewis’s district by just a single percentage point. The GOP also hopes to win seats being vacated by Reps. Tim WalzTimothy (Tim) James WalzGun debate back in focus for states after mass shootings Minnesota program will pay homeowners to transform lawns into bee gardens as species inches closer to extinction Minnesota governor signs law making marital rape illegal MORE (D), the Democratic nominee for governor, and Rick NolanRichard (Rick) Michael NolanHold off on anti-mining hysteria until the facts are in Minnesota New Members 2019 Republicans pick up seat in Minnesota’s ‘Iron range’ MORE (D).

Paulson and Lewis “are both in more trouble with a weak gubernatorial nominee, and we can forget about picking up” Walz and Nolan’s seats, said one Republican strategist familiar with the Minnesota contests.

Not everyone agrees with that analysis.

Lewis, serving his first term in office, said Johnson’s win would energize a Republican base that needs to turn out in November.

“He’s obviously motivated the grass roots, and it’s one more piece of evidence that the grass roots are alive and well no matter what the pundits say,” Lewis told The Hill. “The Democrats are energized, and you need someone that’s energized the base as a counterbalance to that.”

Democrats need to net 23 House seats to win back the majority, putting a premium on every potentially competitive seat. The barest slip in GOP turnout could cost Republicans the Speaker’s gavel.

Republicans in Virginia, where arch conservative Prince William County Board of Supervisors chairman Corey Stewart won the Republican nomination to face off against Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineA lesson of the Trump, Tlaib, Omar, Netanyahu affair Warren's pledge to avoid first nuclear strike sparks intense pushback Almost three-quarters say minimum age to buy tobacco should be 21: Gallup MORE (D), face an even more severe situation.

Stewart, a Minnesota native, is perhaps best known around Virginia for defending Confederate memorials and statues, hardly a winning issue in a commonwealth increasingly dominated by socially liberal suburbs and exurbs of Washington, D.C. 

A recent Virginia Commonwealth University survey found Kaine leading Stewart by a 49 percent to 26 percent margin. Kaine held huge leads in Northern Virginia, where just 19 percent of voters backed Stewart; among women, 56 percent to 21 percent; and among voters with a college degree, 55 percent to 21 percent.

Virginia Democrats are targeting Reps. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockProgressives face steep odds in ousting incumbent Democrats K Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers GOP lawmaker introduces bill to stop revolving door MORE (R), Dave Brat (R) and Scott TaylorScott William TaylorFormer GOP rep launches Senate campaign in Virginia Virginia special prosecutor indicts former GOP campaign staffer The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority MORE (R) in November. Trump won Brat's and Taylor’s districts by less than 10 points each, while Clinton won Comstock’s district by 10.

In an indication of how differently the top of the ticket candidates will relate to their down-ballot compatriots, Kaine spent this week campaigning with the Democrats running against all three incumbent Republicans. He has held more than 30 events with all 11 Democrats running for Congress in Virginia since the June 12 primary.

Comstock, Brat and Taylor have all refused to say whether they support Stewart, and none have campaigned alongside him. 

A Taylor spokesman drew direct contrasts between the congressman and the Senate candidate over their respective responses to a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., last year. Comstock did not attend a July event with Stewart, hosted by the state Republican Party in the heart of her district. Brat dodged when asked on a June radio show whether he would work with Stewart.

In a sign of just how much Republican politics have changed since Pawlenty left the governor’s mansion and Colyer ascended to statewide office, both candidates struggled to overcome the influence of President Trump. 

Pawlenty’s opponent hammered him for his decision to rescind his endorsement of Trump weeks before the 2016 election, after the vulgar “Access Hollywood” tape came out. And despite intense lobbying from Washington Republicans and those close to Colyer, Kobach earned Trump’s endorsement, a nod that was almost certainly the decisive factor in his narrow win.

Those Republicans concerned about top-of-the-ticket conservatives as a drag on the rest of the ballot see the primary results as evidence that Trump is on voters’ minds — for better or worse.

“All in all I think the challenge for Virginia Republicans comes from the White House,” said Tucker Martin, a former communications director to ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). “That’s what’s responsible for the tough environment. It’s the driving factor over all others.”