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Dems seek to rebuild blue wall in Rust Belt contests

Dems seek to rebuild blue wall in Rust Belt contests
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Democrats are looking to rebuild their blue wall in the Rust Belt states that handed President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE a shocking victory in 2016, as they eye four states that will be critical in their plans to retake the House.

In 2016, Trump won perennial swing states Ohio and Pennsylvania, and scored narrower wins in Michigan and Wisconsin.

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But the region has come back into play this year, as Democrats target nearly a dozen House seats in the “toss-up” or “lean Republican” column. Winning those seats is vital if the party is to get to the 23 seats it needs to flip the chamber.

Democrats have several advantages on their side, and their main one is Trump.

Strong Democratic opposition to President Trump has powered an uptick in primary turnout and enthusiasm.

Trump has also been losing ground in the overall electorate, with a September poll from The Detroit News and WDIV-TV showing 37 percent view him favorably in Michigan, while 57 percent have an unfavorable opinion.

“It all centers on one person and that’s Donald Trump. The things that brought him victory in Michigan narrowly, in surprise, are working against him now: He never stopped tweeting, never stopped controversial behavior. In the long run, that just hurts them,” said Bill Ballenger, a former state GOP lawmaker who runs The Ballenger Report news website.

Democrats have also nominated a diverse slate of candidates, many of them female candidates running for the first time, in a region that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMueller's team asking Manafort about Roger Stone: report O'Rourke targets Cruz with several attack ads a day after debate GOP pollster says polls didn't pick up on movement in week before 2016 election MORE lost in 2016.

Trump has shown he is struggling with female voters nationally, especially among suburban women, in a year that has featured multiple sexual misconduct allegations amidst the “Me Too” movement, including most recently the political firestorm enveloping Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh has strongly denied an accusation from college professor Christine Blasey Ford that he tried to rape her when they were both high school students more than 30 years ago.

“If Democrats do well on Election Day, it’s not going to be laser-focused on the white working class. This is a different election than two years ago,” said Joe DiSano, a Michigan Democratic strategist, referring to Trump’s victory among that segment in 2016.

“This thing is being driven by women,” he said.

Michigan, which Trump won by just over 10,000 votes, is looking particularly promising for Democrats, with two toss-up races featuring female Democratic nominees.

Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Mich.), first elected in 2014, faces a tough reelection race against Democrat Elissa Slotkin in his Lansing-area district.

Slotkin, a former Defense Department official and CIA analyst under former President Obama, generated attention for an ad about the need to improve health care that featured her mother’s stage 4 ovarian cancer diagnosis. Meanwhile, Republicans are taking aim at her over national security issues.

And Michigan’s 11th District — currently held by the retiring Rep. Dave TrottDavid Alan TrottElection Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight House battlefield expands as ad wars hit new peak Dems seek to rebuild blue wall in Rust Belt contests MORE (R) — will be represented by a woman regardless of the party, with Republican Lena Epstein, who co-chaired Trump’s Michigan campaign, facing off against Democrat Haley
Stevens, a former staffer on Obama’s and Clinton’s campaigns.

The focus on Michigan is evident in the major spending seen from both sides of the aisle.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) reserved $5.7 million in fall advertising in Detroit, while the Congressional Leadership Fund has field offices in Bishop’s and Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonMidterms put GOP centrists in peril GOP, White House start playing midterm blame game Dems seek to rebuild blue wall in Rust Belt contests MORE’s (R-Mich.) districts.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and House Majority PAC have spent a combined $2.2 million in the Lansing and Detroit media markets.

Still, it won’t be easy. Democrats face a bigger uphill battle in flipping a few other Michigan targets, including the seats held by GOP Reps. Jack Bergman, Tim WalbergTimothy (Tim) Lee WalbergDems seek to rebuild blue wall in Rust Belt contests Record numbers of women nominated for governor, Congress Five takeaways from Ohio's too-close-to-call special election MORE and Upton. While Democrats are excited about the candidates they’ve recruited for those seats, all three are rated “likely Republican” by Cook Political Report.

Democrats also appear poised for a good night in Pennsylvania, where a landmark ruling from the state supreme court redrew districts throughout the state, giving Democrats strong pick-up opportunities this fall.

Democrats feel good about Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), who won a deep-red seat in a March special election, winning a newly created seat. But others like Rep. Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickGroup begins 'Nuns on the Bus' tour to protest Trump tax law ahead of midterms The Hill's Morning Report — Historic vote on Kavanaugh to come amid protests, anger Dems announce third-quarter fundraising bonanza MORE’s (R-Pa.) seat in the Philadelphia suburbs could become a bigger challenge for the party to flip.

Wisconsin has emerged as another top battleground, one that will feature a slate of tougher races.

While things look promising for Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinHillicon Valley: Facebook deletes accounts for political 'spam' | Leaked research shows Google's struggles with online free speech | Trump's praise for North Korea complicates cyber deterrence | Senators want Google memo on privacy bug Poll: Baldwin leads GOP challenger by double digits in Wisconsin The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Trump, Pence fan out to protect the Rust Belt MORE (D-Wis.), Democrats will face a tougher path in the state’s top two House races.

Democrats are salivating over the prospects of flipping Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel Ryan signals support for sanctions if Saudis killed Khashoggi MORE’s (R-Wis.) seat with their nominee Randy Bryce, also known as “Ironstache.” The ironworker has been a prolific fundraiser who’s been able to capture national attention, but he’s facing a tough general election race against former Ryan aide Bryan Steil.

Bryce has weathered a number of negative headlines that included past
arrests in the 1990s for driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana possession, which he has apologized for, and his own brother is featured in an ad endorsing his Republican opponent.

Democrats also have their eyes on Rep. Glenn GrothmanGlenn S. GrothmanDems seek to rebuild blue wall in Rust Belt contests Overnight Energy: Watchdog opens investigation into Interior chief | Judge halts Pruitt truck pollution rule decision | Winners, losers in EPA, Interior spending bill amendments House rejects proposal to boost Interior watchdog’s funding MORE (R-Wis.), who faces Democratic business executive Dan Kohl, but that race remains in the “likely Republican” column on Cook Political Report.

Ohio, with its GOP-leaning electorate, is looking like a much tougher state. Trump won it by more than 8 points, bigger than his margin in other Rust Belt states.

“You don’t know how big the wave is until it hits you. Judging from what I’m seeing, it’s going to be moderated here in Ohio as opposed to other states,” said Mike Hartley, the 2010 deputy campaign manager for Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R).

“Despite Democratic enthusiasm, we’re dealing with an electorate in a midterm that tends to be more Republican demographically,” he said.

The biggest prize for Democrats will likely be the 1st District where Rep. Steve ChabotSteven (Steve) Joseph ChabotElection Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage Credit union group to spend .8 million for vulnerable Dem, GOP incumbents Sessions calls on former colleagues to send drone legislation to Trump's desk MORE (R-Ohio) finds himself in a toss-up race in the Cincinnati-area seat. He’s been in Congress since 1995, with the exception of 2008 when he lost in a big year for Democrats. He was reelected in 2010 when Republicans easily won back the House.

Chabot faces Aftab Pureval, the 35-year-old Hamilton County clerk of courts who became the first Democrat to hold that office in more than 100 years.

Some Republicans worry that Chabot is in danger this cycle, with one Republican consultant familiar with Ohio saying the campaign is “not recognizing the demographic changes in the 1st.”

But Republican groups such as the Congressional Leadership Fund have been hammering Pureval on the airwaves, seeking to link him to the “liberal resistance.” And they are highlighting allegations that Pureval illegally used $30,000 from his county campaign on his congressional race. But the Ohio Democrat’s campaign has said the money was spent in the clerk of courts campaign.

Democrats are also banking on some long-shot races where they’ve recruited two female nominees — Theresa Gasper and Betsy Rader — for the seats held by Reps. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) and David JoyceDavid Patrick JoyceDems seek to rebuild blue wall in Rust Belt contests The Hill's 12:30 Report Bipartisan lawmakers agree — marijuana prohibition has failed and it’s time to change the law MORE (R-Ohio), respectively.