Republicans face worsening outlook in battle for House
Republicans face an uphill climb in the fight for control of the House as Democrats seek to nationalize the federal coronavirus response 100 days ahead of November’s election.
Democrats have sought to tie Republicans running for Congress to President Trump’s response to the coronavirus as cases skyrocket in hot spots across parts of the U.S.
The tactic appears to be working, with Democrats leading Republicans on the generic congressional ballot 49 percent to 40.7 percent, according to the FiveThirtyEight average.
Additionally, nonpartisan political prognosticators, including The Cook Political Report, have moved a number of races in favor of Democrats. Cook moved 20 races toward Democrats last week.
Republicans need a net gain of 20 seats to take back the majority, while also taking into consideration the redistricting in North Carolina, which will endanger two GOP-held seats, as well as retiring Rep. Will Hurd’s (R-Texas) district, which Democrats are favored to take.
“There is the sense that elections are becoming more national. In the House, you still need good candidates. You still need to have solid operations on the ground,” said Vanderbilt University professor Thomas Schwartz.
“I would tend to think that unless things were to change really drastically that you’re not looking at a change in the House control,” he added. “The real issue is the size of the Democratic majority.”
Cook shifted ratings toward Democrats in a number of seats held by members of the party, including Pennsylvania’s 8th District, which is held by Rep. Matt Cartwright (D), and Virginia’s 10th District, which is occupied by Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D).
The findings also showed shifts favoring Democrats in districts that were once considered Republican strongholds, including GOP Rep. Chip Roy’s race in Texas’s 21st District, which was moved from “lean Republican” to “toss-up.”
Additionally, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) last week added six candidates to its program aimed at flipping GOP-held seats in November’s elections.
Much of the focus of November’s House elections will also be on districts Democrats flipped in 2018.
These districts include Virginia’s 10th District, Pennsylvania’s 8th District, California’s 39th District and Colorado’s 6th District.
“Democrats are expanding the map in a way that Republicans are struggling to keep up with,” said one Democratic strategist.
However, Republicans argue that they are not struggling, citing a win last May in the special election in California’s 25th District, where former Navy fighter pilot Mike Garcia (R) was voted in to replace former Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.).
“I think the prognosticators had that [race] starting as likely Democrat, then lean Democrat, and then it was a toss-up, and then Mike Garcia won by 9 points,” said one Republican strategist. “I would just caution everyone taking the prognosticators’ word as fact. The reality is that it’s July. No ballots have been cast.”
Republicans say they are focused on districts Trump won handedly in 2016 but are currently occupied by House Democrats. The seats include New Mexico’s 2nd District, South Carolina’s 1st District, Minnesota’s 7th District, New York’s 22nd District and Oklahoma’s 5th District. All have been rated by Cook as “toss-ups.”
The GOP strategy involves tying the incumbent Democrats in these seats to progressives and far-left Democrats, painting them as radical.
“It’s going to focus on the fact that these folks sold voters a lie in 2018,” the Republican strategist said. “They promised to be bipartisan solution finders and work across the aisle to get things done. And all voters have seen since Nancy Pelosi took the Speaker’s gavel is partisan infighting.”
“For the next 100 days, House Democrats are going to spend millions of dollars lying to voters and trying to defend using tax dollars to fund their campaigns, defunding the police and raising folks’s taxes,” said National Republican Campaign Committee spokesman Michael McAdams.
Meanwhile, Democratic candidates are homing in on health care, arguing Republicans are working to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, known as ObamaCare, in the midst of a global pandemic.
Democrats successfully campaigned on health care in 2018 to win back control of the House.
A Fox News poll conducted last month found that 56 percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of ObamaCare, up from 52 percent last July.
Meanwhile, a Reuters-Ipsos poll released last week showed that 21 percent of American adults polled said health care was the most important issue to them, followed by the economy at 18 percent.
“Suburban voters are abandoning the Republican Party in droves. But Washington Republicans are doubling on their attempted lawsuit to rip health care from millions of Americans — and turn voters away from their candidates in November,” said DCCC spokesperson Robyn Patterson. “It’s understandable that House Republicans are concerned about losing their jobs this fall. But they shouldn’t take away Americans’ health care on their way out the door.”
Republicans are still touting an economic message, arguing that the party under Trump’s leadership has handled the economy successfully.
“He’s done an incredible job getting the economy back on its feet and on the road to being where it was before this pandemic,” the Republican strategist said.
Trump has polled well on his handling of the economy, although some recent surveys suggest his approval with voters on the issue may not be that solid. A Quinnipiac University poll earlier this month showed that only 44 percent of respondents said they approved of the president’s job on the economy, down from a 52 percent approval rating in June.
However, Republicans will likely see a boost in enthusiasm if the economy signals a return to normalcy.
“Even though you can say we had the greatest economy going in January or February, people’s judgement on that is going to be closer to what’s going on in September or October,” Schwartz said. “If you got a workable vaccine in process before the election in the sense that the country would be heading back to normal quickly, that might help some marginal cases for some of the Republicans.”