McCarthy: Virginia election ‘makes me nervous’

McCarthy: Virginia election ‘makes me nervous’
© Greg Nash

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthySunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election House to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power Ginsburg becomes the first woman to lie in state in the Capitol MORE (R-Calif.) said in an interview he is confident Republicans will retain their majority in next year’s midterm elections, though he admitted the political landscape is challenging for the GOP.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Hill, to air on this week’s episode of the Power Politics podcast, McCarthy said last month’s elections in Virginia — where Democrats outperformed expectations to win the governorship and nearly captured control of the state House of Delegates — had gotten his attention.

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“I’m not going to say it’s not going to be a competitive time. I look at Virginia, makes me nervous,” McCarthy said. “But we’re more than a year away.”

History argues Democrats will gain seats in the first midterm election after Republicans capture the White House. Nine of the last ten presidents have seen their party lose House seats in the midterms following their first election victory. President George W. Bush was the lone exception, in midterms that came when his approval rating stood at 67 percent.

“Next year is a long way away. I can give you every statistic that says in the first year of a presidency, that party in power, the party that has the White House, loses a double digit number [of seats] inside the House,” McCarthy said. 

A president’s party historically suffers especially severe losses if the president’s approval rating is below 50 percent. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose Is Congress reasserting itself? Trump-Biden debate: High risk vs. low expectations MORE’s approval rating stood at 45 percent just before the 2010 elections, when Republicans captured 63 Democratic-held seats.

Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonIs Congress reasserting itself? Trump-Biden debate: High risk vs. low expectations The role (un)happiness plays in how people vote MORE’s approval rating stood at 48 percent before the 1994 midterms, when Democrats lost 52 seats. Republicans gave up 26 seats in 1982, when Ronald Reagan’s approval rating hung at 42 percent.

President Trump’s approval rating is far worse than any first-term president in the polling era. Gallup measured his approval rating at just 36 percent this week. Both a Quinnipiac poll and a Reuters/Ipsos poll pegged his rating at 38 percent, in surveys conducted before and after Thanksgiving.


But McCarthy said Republicans still have the opportunity to turn the political tide, especially if they are able to pass a tax-reform package that measurably boosts the American economy.

If reform passes, McCarthy said, “You’ve got a country working stronger, you’ve got more people back to work, you’re keeping your promises. That’s what the decision will be made at the end of the day. So we do have our work cut out for us, but we do have an opportunity to prove that we can do it.”

“I believe that approval rating’s going to get better. Think of this: Unemployment is at a very low number. How many times has the stock market broken new records? How many jobs next year are going to be created?” he added.

McCarthy pointed to special elections held in Kansas, South Carolina, Georgia and Montana earlier this year, all of which were held to replace Republican members of Congress who quit to take jobs in the Trump administration. Republicans won all four of those seats — albeit by far narrower margins than the departing incumbents had won by in 2016.

And he pointed to strong Republican recruits in seats like Washington’s 8th District, where Rep. Dave ReichertDavid (Dave) George ReichertWashington Rep. Kim Schrier wins primary Mail ballot surge places Postal Service under spotlight Bottom Line MORE (R) said earlier this year he would retire. Former state Sen. Dino Rossi (R) announced he would run just days later, and pulled in hundreds of thousands of dollars almost overnight.

“You get worried about seats like that. Those are competitive seats even when the wind is at our back,” McCarthy said of Reichert’s district. “Look at the recruit, Dino [Rossi]. This is an individual that’s been very successful, that’s been able to win that district.”

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Power Politics, hosted by Alexis Simendinger, airs weekly on Saturday.