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 TrumpRussia's election interference is a problem for the GOP Pence to pitch trade deal during trip to Michigan: report Iran oil minister: US made 'bad mistake' in ending sanctions waivers 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 ClintonTrump rips Krugman, NYT after columnist writes GOP no longer believes in American values Klobuchar jokes to Cuomo: 'I feel you creeping over my shoulder' but 'not in a Trumpian manner' Dems seek to rein in calls for impeachment 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 TrottMeet the lawmakers putting politics aside to save our climate Michigan New Members 2019 Democrats flip Michigan seat in race between two political newcomers 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 UptonOvernight Health Care: Lawmakers get deal to advance long-stalled drug pricing bill | House votes to condemn Trump's anti-ObamaCare push | Eight House Republicans join with Dems | Trump officials approve Medicaid expansion in Maine The 8 Republicans who voted against Trump's anti-ObamaCare push House condemns Trump's latest anti-ObamaCare push 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 WalbergPro-trade group targets 4 lawmakers in push for new NAFTA Congress must take the next steps on federal criminal justice reforms Midterm results shake up national map 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. FitzpatrickFreshman House Dems surge past GOP in money race Cybersecurity Advisory Committee will strengthen national security through a stronger public-private partnership Congress is ready to tackle climate change 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 BaldwinOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Democratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts 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 RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday 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. GrothmanGOP lawmaker: Trump 'not quite popular enough' to advance an immigration bill Republicans offer 'free market alternative' to paid family leave Seven Republicans vote against naming post office after ex-Rep. Louise Slaughter 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 ChabotTop Myanmar court rejects jailed Reuters journalists' final appeal Four decades of the Taiwan Relations Act remains a monument to our resolve to uphold democracy House passes series of measures hitting Russia, Putin 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 JoyceThe STATES Act will expose flawed marijuana legacy Bipartisan bill to protect legal cannabis businesses introduced EPA chief doubles down on Trump's commitment to fully fund Great Lakes program MORE (R-Ohio), respectively.