Energized by polls, House Democrats push deeper into GOP territory
House Democrats are pushing deeper into Republican territory as they seek to capitalize on President Trump’s polling weakness and a tough overall environment for Republicans with two weeks to go before Election Day.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which has outraised the House GOP campaign arm by more than $57 million this cycle, is up with new ads in districts that Trump won by 10 points or more in 2016 in Arizona, Minnesota, Montana, Michigan, Missouri and Colorado.
All told, the DCCC is on the airwaves in 11 of the 18 “red to blue” districts they’ve targeted where Trump won by double-digits in 2016.
The DCCC says least 32 of the 38 candidates in their “red to blue” program outraised their GOP rivals in the third quarter — some by huge margins. In a shocking development, the DCCC has slightly more cash on hand than the Trump campaign.
It’s not all offense for House Democrats, who are defending more than 30 seats in districts Trump won in 2016. That includes Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), chairwoman of the DCCC, whose race was moved from “likely Democrat” to “leans Democrat” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report on Wednesday.
Democrats will also have to defend the three House seats they won in 2018 in districts Trump carried by 10 points or more, which are held by Reps. Kendra Horn (Okla.), Anthony Brindisi (N.Y.) and Jared Golden (Maine).
But Bustos says the Democrats are running up the score in the suburbs and that the political environment is so toxic nationally for Republicans that red districts that seemed out of reach at the beginning of the cycle are now in play.
“We’ve built a strategy positioning us to win deep into Trump Country,” Bustos said.
She said Democratic nominee Joe Biden is “doing well in really tough regions,” underscoring the degree to which House Democrats have been able to expand the map heading into Nov. 3.
The DCCC has new ads this month targeting Reps. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Jim Hagedorn (R-Minn.), as well as seats being vacated by Reps. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) and Justin Amash (L-Mich.).
Trump won Montana by 20 points. He won Hagedorn’s district by 15 points, and he carried the Schweikert and Amash districts by 10 points each.
The Cook Political Report has the Arizona, Montana and Michigan districts rated as toss-ups, with the Minnesota district still leaning Republican.
The DCCC is hitting Schweikert over ethics violations pertaining to his campaign spending — one of its few attack ads that does not focus on health care.
Schweikert won reelection by 24 points in 2016 but his margin was reduced to only 10 points in 2018, as suburban Phoenix voters began to gravitate away from the GOP.
“We are competing with and outperforming Republicans … primarily in suburban districts,” said DCCC executive director Lucinda Guinn. “Suburban America, women in suburban America, the growing diversification in suburban America, they are fleeing the Republican Party.”
A recent poll found Trump leading Biden by only 1 point in Arizona’s 6th Congressional District, with Schweikert ahead by 3 points over his Democratic challenger, Hiral Tipirneni. However, Tipirneni outraised Schweikert by almost $2 million in the third quarter alone.
The DCCC ads in the red districts in Minnesota, Montana and Michigan attack the GOP candidates on issues pertaining to health care, which Bustos says will be the primary focus of the party’s closing message.
In Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District, Democratic nominee Dan Feehan outraised Hagedorn in the third quarter by more than $1.3 million. In Montana’s at-large district, Democrat Kathleen Williams outraised Republican Matt Rosendale by about $1 million this quarter.
The DCCC has also recently put up ads targeting Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) in a district Trump carried by 11 points, and against Republican Lauren Boebert, who upset Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) in a primary in a district Trump carried by 12 points.
Democrats are also eyeing Indiana’s 5th Congressional District following the retirement of Rep. Susan Brooks (R). Trump won the district by 12 points in 2016 and Brooks carried it by 18 points in 2018.
A DCCC-sponsored poll from over the summer in Indiana’s 5th Congressional District found Democrat Christina Hale leading by 5 points over Republican Victoria Spartz. The same poll found Biden ahead by 13 points in the Indianapolis-area district.
Some Republicans are dismissive of Democratic investments in the districts Trump carried easily.
“These are of course seats Republicans want to protect but we always knew Democrats would challenge us for open seats and in districts with a lot of suburban voters, this isn’t new,” said one GOP strategist who works with House campaigns.
And the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) pointed to instances in which Democrats are on defense.
Democrats running in rural areas, such as longtime Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.), face tough battles as the rural-urban cultural divide deepens.
When asked about the DCCC investments in districts Trump won easily in 2016, NRCC spokesman Chris Pack responded: “Does that include Cheri Bustos’s own district where her opponent Esther Joy King is nearly within the margin of error?”
Trump narrowly carried Bustos’s downstate Illinois district in 2016 after it went for former President Obama in 2012. Bustos has won her past two elections by more than 20 points but Republicans have high hopes for Esther Joy King, the 34-year-old member of the U.S. Army JAG Corps who is challenging Bustos. The DCCC is not spending in the race.
“I’m one of 30 Democrats serving in a district Trump won,” Bustos said. “I go into every single race I have knowing it’s a tough district and this election cycle is no different. We’re well prepared to finish strong.”
The DCCC says its polling indicates Trump has shed 5 to 10 points of support in many of the districts he won in 2016 because of his handling of health care and the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’d certainly rather be a Democrat running for Congress right now than a Republican,” said Bustos.
“The fact that we are well positioned as we go into Nov. 3 in these districts Donald Trump won by 10 or more points just one presidential cycle ago is pretty remarkable,” she added.
Republicans acknowledge the bleak polling data but are hopeful Democrats are reading too much into surveys suggesting Trump will lose big.
“It’s something Republicans have to be aware of because the suburbs are a tough place right now if you’re a Republican, no matter where you are on the ballot,” said the GOP strategist. “If that bleeds into rural or exurban areas that could have additional effects, but I’d throw cold water on the idea that Democrats are moving into Trump Country.”
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