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House Democrats’ campaign chief defends focus on Trump

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The head of the Democrats’ House campaign arm is defending his party’s focus on former President Trump as a central pillar of its political strategy, even as some Democrats debate the effectiveness of such a tactic after Virginia’s gubernatorial election.

In an interview with The New York Times, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), contested the notion that Trump had lost his potency as a talking point for Democrats, arguing that Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) made a concerted effort throughout his campaign to distance himself from the former president.

That in itself, he said, was proof that Trump is still “a tremendous liability” for Republicans, even when he’s not on the ballot himself.

“Glenn Youngkin ran like a teenaged girl in a slasher movie away from Donald Trump,” Maloney told the Times. “They’re making fun of him on ‘Saturday Night Live’ for how much he tried to run away from Donald Trump.”

How much Trump should factor into Democrats’ campaign message heading into the 2022 midterm elections has become a topic of debate among party leaders and operatives since Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s loss to Youngkin last week. 

Throughout his campaign for governor, McAuliffe sought to tie Youngkin to Trump in hopes of replicating the strategy that helped power Democratic victories in recent years, especially among suburban voters who soured on the GOP under Trump’s tenure in the White House.

Youngkin, meanwhile, took a delicate approach to dealing with the former president. While he accepted his endorsement in the race, he never campaigned alongside Trump, opting instead to focus on issues like education and taxes.

For some Democrats, Youngkin’s victory underscored the limits of their Trump-centric strategy, prompting them to urge the party to focus more on policy issues and legislative accomplishments in 2022, when their razor-thin House and Senate majorities will be on the line.  

Maloney acknowledged that his party’s losses in Virginia and other states last week “ought to be a wake-up call that we’re not getting the job done on messaging.” But he also argued that the situation is more complicated than simply saying that an anti-Trump message is no longer effective.

“The competitive congressional districts are in largely suburban swing areas, and in those areas, Glenn Youngkin underperformed Mitt Romney,” he said, referring to the U.S. senator and 2021 GOP presidential nominee. “I think it’s more complicated than people are saying. Trump’s toxicity continues to be a tremendous liability with suburban swing voters.”

Tags 2022 midterms DCCC Donald Trump Glenn Youngkin Mitt Romney Sean Patrick Maloney Terry McAuliffe Virginia elections Virginia governor's race

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