Doctors boost Democrats' hopes to keep House

Doctors boost Democrats' hopes to keep House
© Hill Illustration / Hill File / istockphoto

Democratic physicians running for Congress are using their medical experience to campaign on health care as President TrumpDonald TrumpDOJ asks Supreme Court to revive Boston Marathon bomber death sentence, in break with Biden vow Biden looking to build momentum for Putin meeting DOJ tells media execs that reporters were not targets of investigations MORE and Republicans face backlash for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The physicians running as Democratic congressional candidates have used their experiences combatting the virus to shape their platforms and connect with voters. 

“Quite honestly, I feel like there’s never been a moment where it’s been more critical for us to have physicians and scientists at the table,” said Hiral Tipirneni, a former emergency room doctor running to challenge Rep. David SchweikertDavid SchweikertShakespeare gets a congressional hearing in this year's 'Will on the Hill' On The Trail: Arizona is microcosm of battle for the GOP DCCC targets Republicans for touting stimulus bill they voted against MORE (R) in Arizona’s 6th District. 


Arizona is one of the major coronavirus hot spots in the U.S., reporting 1,559 new cases and 23 deaths on Monday. 

“It’s very worrisome,” Tipirneni said. “Unfortunately, we’ve had an abject failure of leadership both at the federal and at the state level.” 

“What concerns me the most is that right now, there is not a comprehensive strategy or plan in place that clearly leads us out of this crisis,” she added. 

Tipirneni is the underdog against Schweikert, but with presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenFormer Rep. Rohrabacher says he took part in Jan. 6 march to Capitol but did not storm building Saudis picked up drugs in Cairo used to kill Khashoggi: report Biden looking to build momentum for Putin meeting MORE leading Trump in some polls of the state, the congressional race is considered competitive. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates it as “lean Republican.” 

The Democrat is being supported by 314 Action, which is devoted to electing Democratic candidates with science backgrounds to office. 

The group elected eight candidates with science backgrounds to the House and one to the Senate in 2018 and plans to spend between $10 million and $12 million on down-ballot elections in 2020. 


“This pandemic has just exposed so much that’s wrong and why we need physicians in office to think about health care beyond just a campaign slogan,” the group’s founder and president, Shaughnessy Naughton, told The Hill. 

The group has already endorsed 20 doctors this cycle, including eight at the federal level and 12 at the state and local levels. Additionally, 314 Action has backed six other medical professionals, including one nurse at the federal level, as well as five nurses and one physician’s assistant at the state and local levels. 

Naughton said she has witnessed an uptick in the number of Democratic physicians and scientists looking to run for office since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We are hearing from folks that are [thinking about running for office beyond 2020],” she said. “Physicians are thinking about running and organizing their communities because this pandemic has exposed so much that’s wrong.”

Cameron Webb, an internal medicine physician and former member of President Obama’s health care team, is running for a congressional seat in Virginia and is also backed by the group.

“If I could just bridge these worlds and let people see that this is a very real, imminent threat and we have to do everything in our power to prevent it, I think that’s the value of bringing real expertise into the political space,” said Webb. 

The seat is held by outgoing Rep. Denver RigglemanDenver RigglemanDemocrats plot next move after GOP sinks Jan. 6 probe Cheney calls Greene's comments on House mask policy 'evil lunacy' Greene under fire for comparing mask policy to the Holocaust MORE (R-Va.), who lost his reelection bid in the primary to Republican Bob Good after Riggleman officiated a same-sex wedding. Webb will face off against Good in November in the district, which The Cook Political Report rates as “lean Republican.” 

The Trump administration has come under enormous criticism for its response to the coronavirus pandemic, in large part because of actions by the president.

Trump earlier this year downplayed the risk posed by the coronavirus. In the spring, he suggested that people inject disinfectants into their bodies to treat COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

For months, he refused to wear a mask in public, and he more recently came under criticism for suggesting the country would do less COVID-19 testing to reduce the number of positive cases.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Friday found that 60 percent of respondents said they disapproved of the president’s handling of the pandemic. 

Trump in the last week has been focused on ensuring that schools open this fall, something that could help improve the economy by making it easier for parents to be at work. The president referred to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s school reopening guidelines as “very tough & expensive” earlier this month and threatened to withhold funding from schools that delay reopening. 

Despite a record number of cases and deaths in the U.S., Trump reaffirmed over the weekend that the virus would eventually disappear. 

“I’ll be right eventually. I will be right eventually. You know, I said, ‘It’s going to disappear.’ I’ll say it again,” Trump said in an interview with “Fox News Sunday.”

Trump has also been questioned about critical remarks from White House officials targeting Anthony FauciAnthony FauciUK study: Pfizer, AstraZeneca vaccines offer protection against Delta variant The tale of the last bipartisan unicorns Delta variant's UK dominance sparks concerns in US MORE, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert. Trump denied that the White House was running a campaign against Fauci on Sunday but referred to the doctor as a “little bit of an alarmist.” 

Some of the Democratic doctors running for House seats have seized on such comments.

“The fact that the president is currently challenging the expertise of Dr. Fauci is unconscionable,” Webb said. “Hearing somebody with his expertise, his leadership, who has led our nation through the HIV epidemic, and hearing President Trump, with no expertise, question that, that tells you everything is on the table.” 

A number of Republicans who are physicians are also running for offense, but they have at times had to play defense because of Trump.


“We’re all working on the same thing and that is to try to keep people as safe as possible, to limit their exposure and their risk, but to know that the virus is still here, it’s still around and we need to reopen the economy,” said ophthalmologist and Iowa state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R), who is running to replace Rep. Dave LoebsackDavid (Dave) Wayne LoebsackPelosi to seat Iowa Republican as Democratic challenger contests election results Iowa Democrat who lost by six votes will appeal to House Iowa officials certify Republican Miller-Meeks's 6-vote victory MORE (D) in the state’s 2nd District. 

The Cook Political Report rates the race as a “toss-up.”

“My experience is people want to be out, they want to be doing things, and many people feel that if you’re in a vulnerable population that you can self-isolate, or you can limit your interactions,” she added. 

In Florida, where more than 10,000 new positive cases have been reported for five consecutive days, Republicans have acknowledged the public health crisis but add that the state’s tourism-based economy must be allowed to open.

Leo Valentin, an interventional radiologist running to challenge incumbent Rep. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyDemings raises Democrats' hopes in uphill fight to defeat Rubio Florida state senator announces bid for Demings's House seat The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - One year later — has George Floyd's killing changed the world? MORE (D) in the state’s 7th District, has emphasized the importance of strengthening the economy, citing its connection to the health care industry. 

“What has happened with COVID-19 is that it’s brought that to the forefront for a lot of other people to see how everything in our community is really connected,” Valentine told The Hill.


“We know that socioeconomic status influences health care outcomes,” he continued. “It’s part of our health policy to have that in mind.” 

The Cook Political Report has rated the district as “solid Democratic.” 

Trump’s rising disapproval rating on the coronavirus appears to have affected down-ballot races. Democrats lead Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 49 percent to 40.7 percent, according to the FiveThirtyEight average.

“Scientists and physicians are in a very good position to reach out to voters and earn their trust,” Naughton said. “Americans are looking to health professionals and scientists to lead us out of this pandemic because the political leaders have largely failed us.”