House Democrats amplify anti-Trump strategy

House Democrats amplify anti-Trump strategy
© Greg

House Democrats are doubling down on their strategy in the general election’s home stretch: Make everything about Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Ocasio-Cortez: Trump contributed less in taxes 'than waitresses and undocumented immigrants' Third judge orders Postal Service to halt delivery cuts MORE.

“He is the beginning and the end of the conversation about this election for voters, and we are … making sure that Republicans don’t try to run away from him,” Kelly Ward, executive director of House Democrats’ campaign arm, said in an interview with The Hill.

Republican leaders are insisting their candidates are running strong campaigns independent of their party's presidential nominee. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose RNC chair on election: We are on track to win the White House Kenosha will be a good bellwether in 2020 MORE (R-Wis.) said he had a good feeling the GOP would fend off a Democratic takeover of the Senate and preserve its strong majority in the House. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) went further, boldly predicting that Republicans would buck the pundits and actually pick up seats in November.

But Democrats are doing everything they can to tie Republican candidates to their erratic standard-bearer.

They say they’ve been energized by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAppeals court pauses 6-day extension for counting Wisconsin absentee ballots Trump, Pentagon collide over anti-diversity training push Sunday Shows: Trump's court pick dominates MORE’s performance during last Monday's presidential debate — “She exceeded every one of our expectations,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.) — and they’re predicting her numbers will only improve in the final stretch, lending a lift to down-ballot Democrats.

“There is no question Democrats are going to be winning seats this cycle. There is no question that this is a nationalized election where House races are tied directly to their presidential election. There is no question that voters are looking at this election through the lens of Donald Trump,” said Rep. Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

In an interview with The Hill at Democratic National Committee headquarters, Luján and Ward laid out their thinking about Trump six weeks out from the Nov. 8 elections.

They believe the New York billionaire businessman and reality TV star is politically toxic, soils the GOP brand and will sink vulnerable down-ballot House Republicans.

The latest Trump controversy: a Friday morning tweetstorm that left fellow Republicans cringing. Trump urged his nearly 12 million Twitter followers to “check out” a rumored sex tape of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, whom the Clinton campaign has highlighted to portray Trump’s mistreatment of women.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has given Trump a nickname: “the gift that keeps on giving.”

“His statements … help register voters. They help mobilize at the grassroots level; they help raise money; they help us differentiate in messaging,” Pelosi said as lawmakers left Washington to return to the campaign trail. “So I think we're in a very good place.”

The math puts the Democrats at a stark disadvantage. The Republicans currently hold 246 seats in the lower chamber — their largest majority since the Great Depression — and the Democrats would have to flip 30 of those to reclaim the Speaker’s gavel.

Leading election handicappers are predicting the Democrats will swipe between 10 and 20 seats from the GOP majority. But Democratic leaders are quick to note that two sweeping wave elections have rocked Capitol Hill in the past decade — one in 2006 and another in 2010 — and they’re holding out hope that 2016 will bring another.

The volatile and bombastic Trump, they say, boosts those odds.

“Tying these Republicans to Donald Trump in these districts is working,” Luján said.

Republicans reject that claim altogether, arguing that Trump’s influence down-ballot won’t be nearly as pronounced as the Democrats claim.

“It's hard to believe the DCCC is still able to push this strategy with a straight face,” Katie Martin, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), said in an email.

Martin said the polls defy the Democrats’ predictions and “prove” that Republican candidates “are in the perfect position to win this fall.”

“While we applaud the DCCC for being painfully on message — as flawed as their message and strategy is — it's probably time for them to give voters credit for being smart and move on to another topic,” she said.

Undeterred, the DCCC is running Trump-focused ads targeting Republican incumbents with large Hispanic constituencies that have been appalled by Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric. Among them are Reps. Mike Coffman (Colo.), Carlos Curbelo (Fla.), Will Hurd (Texas) and Cresent Hardy (Nev.).

Democrats are also zeroing in on affluent suburban House seats.

Hoyer, the Democratic whip, huddled with reporters in his Capitol office on the first day of the recess, listing six Republican seats he says the Democrats can flip — aided in part by what he called the “bombastic, blustering, bullying verbiage” of Trump.

Among his targets are Rep. Scott GarrettErnest (Scott) Scott GarrettBiz groups take victory lap on Ex-Im Bank Export-Import Bank back to full strength after Senate confirmations Manufacturers support Reed to helm Ex-Im Bank MORE, a seven-term Republican representing northern New Jersey.  

“A suburban New York district,” Hoyer noted. “Trump is, we don't think, going to do well there.”

The Democrats are also hoping to pick off Rep. Barbara Comstock (R), a Northern Virginia freshman and party insider who has gone to pains to avoid questions about the GOP nominee.

Northern Virginia's become bluer, Hoyer said. “And we think this is a district we're going to pick up.”

In suburban Minneapolis, the DCCC is hammering four-term GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen with an ad likening him and Trump to flatscreen TVs that are identical models.

“Still buying?” a salesman asks. “Not what they’re selling,” a female customer replies.

DCCC officials say their polling shows Democratic state Sen. Terri Bonoff neck and neck with Paulsen. But not all Democrats are convinced the seat in suburban Minneapolis is competitive.

Just this week, the House Majority PAC, which works to elect Democrats to the House, canceled nearly $600,000 in TV ad reservations in the race. That time could be re-booked if the political climate changes, said PAC spokesman Jeb Fain.

“We make adjustments to our reservations all the time across a dynamic national map for House Democrats,” Fain said. “That doesn’t change the fact that Terri Bonoff is a terrific candidate running a tremendous campaign or that House Majority PAC will still be spending on her behalf. Nor does it change the fact that Trump is an electoral liability for numerous down-ballot Republicans including Erik Paulsen.”

Down in Miami, Curbelo — one of the most vulnerable House Republicans in the country — insists Trump won’t be the deciding factor in his rematch against former Rep. Joe GarciaJose (Joe) Antonio GarciaOvernight Defense: Biden honors McCain at Phoenix memorial service | US considers sending captured ISIS fighters to Gitmo and Iraq | Senators press Trump on ending Yemen civil war Biden pays tribute to McCain at emotional memorial service Mueller indictments: Congressional candidate asked Russian operatives for info on opponent MORE (D-Fla.).

Garcia lost to Curbelo, 52 percent to 48 percent, amid a campaign fraud scandal that led to the indictment of Garcia’s top political adviser and chief of staff. Curbelo is a Cuban-American with deep ties to the Miami area’s Latino community. And he’s refused to endorse Trump and has been one of his fiercest critics on Capitol Hill.

“I know my community and my community knows me,” Curbelo told The Hill.