Chamber-backed Democrats embrace endorsements in final stretch

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Almost two dozen House Democrats are embracing their recent endorsements by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as their GOP challengers ramp up criticisms of the pro-business lobbying group that has also drawn the ire of the Trump administration.

Many of the first-year Democratic lawmakers, who flipped Republican seats in 2018, have welcomed the group’s endorsement by putting out press releases and tweeting about the support.

Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.) said he was honored and “will continue to support policies that create jobs, promote growth, and reignite our economy.”

Two years ago, the Chamber endorsed Cunningham’s opponent, Republican Katie Arrington, in a district President Trump won by more than 13 percentage points in 2016.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) said she is “proud to be on the side of our region’s small and medium-sized businesses” and citied her support for the United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement and for the Paycheck Protection Program.

The Chamber’s endorsements are determined by a lawmaker’s scorecard, which measures how often their congressional votes align with the Chamber’s priorities. Many of the endorsements stemmed from support for the USMCA, a measure the Chamber spent heavily on during the 116th Congress.

But the group’s decision last month to reward 23 first-term Democrats with endorsements was quickly bashed by Republicans, with President Trump reportedly asking CEO Tom Donohue if they were a “done deal.” First-term House Republicans earned just a few more endorsements, at 29.

Some observers have argued that the Democratic endorsements are a sign that the Chamber doesn’t see Republicans winning back the House in November, a view shared by political handicappers.

Still, GOP challengers looking to unseat the two dozen Democratic incumbents have blasted the Chamber, which traditionally supports Republican candidates, for backing their opponents.

 “Either the U.S. Chamber isn’t doing its homework, or it has some explaining to do to its Kansas City members,” a spokesman for businesswoman Amanda Adkins, who is running against Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), said in a statement, according to the Kansas City Star. “Kansas City families can’t afford Sharice Davids’ radical, tax-and-spend agenda.”

Davids’s race with Adkins is listed as a “likely Democrat” by the Cook Political Report.

Genevieve Collins, a businesswoman challenging Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas), said the Chamber has “completely lost its way.”

“When I speak to business owners large and small here in the 32nd district, they don’t care about an endorsement from the disconnected and bloated D.C. special interest U.S. Chamber,” Collins said, the Dallas Morning News reported.

Allred’s race with Collins is also listed as “likely Democrat” by Cook.

Former Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.), who is looking to unseat Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), condemned the endorsement.

“The U.S. Chamber, without asking for input from the Hampton Roads or Virginia Chambers, graded Elaine and other liberal Democrats on a curve and gave them participation trophies. The reality of Luria’s actual voting record is anti-business and would harm our economy and reduce our jobs,” he said in a statement.

Luria represents a district Trump won by 3 points. Her race with Taylor is listed as a toss-up by the Cook Political Report.

Seven of the 23 Democrats who received endorsements are competing in races deemed a “Toss Up” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Twenty of the 23 flipped GOP seats in 2018, and 13 represent districts that Trump won in 2016.

Neil Bradley, Chamber executive vice president and chief policy officer, defended the endorsements.

“For the last 108 years, the role of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been to advance the priorities of the business community and our members,” he told The Hill on Friday. “In the political arena, the Chamber will continue to endorse candidates from both sides of the aisle with a proven track record and vision to support public policy that will bolster economic growth.”

In the same month that the Chamber unveiled its endorsements, it also forced out its top political adviser, Scott Reed, saying that an internal review found that he breached confidentiality, distorted, withheld information from leadership and leaked internal information to the press.

“Our decision is not based on a disagreement over political strategy but rather it is the result of Reed’s actions,” a spokesman said at the time.

The controversy surrounding the endorsements also puts local chambers in a tough spot.

Oklahoma Chamber CEO Chad Warmington questioned the endorsement of Rep. Kendra Horn (D-Okla.), saying her record is not pro-business.

“I question how the U.S. Chamber could endorse a candidate who consistently voted against the largest industry in Oklahoma, employing over 90,000 workers throughout the state. That is hardly a pro-business record,” Warmington said, the Oklahoman reported.

More recently, the U.S. Chamber has not only endorsed more Republicans, it’s also started running ads in their support.

Just this week, the Chamber endorsed Republican House challengers Chele Farley, who is running to unseat Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), and Jeanne Ives, challenger to Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.). It also endorsed former White House physician Ronny Jackson in Texas, and endorsed ex-Rep. Darrell Issa in California this week.

The group launched ads this week for Republican Sens. Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Susan Collins (Maine), who are both considered vulnerable Republicans.

But, the Chamber has still taken fire from traditional GOP allies, notably House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). McCarthy said he didn’t want the Chamber’s endorsement “because they have sold out.”

McCarthy is seeking reelection in a reliably red district.

As the 2020 campaign enters the final stretch, House Democrats seeking a second term are more than happy to tout the Chamber’s support.

Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) said he is “grateful” for the endorsement, which came two years after the group backed his predecessor, ex-Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.). Kim represents a district Trump won by 6 points in 2016.

For Rep. Dean Phillips (Minn.), the endorsement gave him another opportunity to talk up bipartisanship in the final leg of his reelection bid. 

“As one of the few entrepreneurs in Congress, I’m especially grateful to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for their endorsement,” Phillips said in a statement.

Tags Abigail Spanberger business community Colin Allred Darrell Issa Dean Phillips Donald Trump Elaine Luria endorsements Joe Cunningham Joni Ernst Kendra Horn Kevin McCarthy Scott Taylor Sean Casten Sharice Davids Susan Collins Tom MacArthur

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