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Midterms put GOP centrists in peril

Midterms put GOP centrists in peril
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A potential blue wave and string of Republican retirements could wipe out a huge chunk of GOP moderates this fall, leaving an even more conservative House caucus behind them.

Some of the most competitive races this election cycle feature centrist Republicans like Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanColorado governor says he was not exposed to COVID-19 after Aurora mayor tests positive Colorado mayor says he called protesters 'domestic terrorists' out of 'frustration' Colorado governor directs officials to reexamine death of Elijah McClain in police custody MORE of Colorado, Leonard LanceLeonard LanceThomas Kean wins GOP primary to take on Rep. Tom Malinowski Gun debate to shape 2020 races GOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs MORE of New Jersey and Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickDivided citizenry and government — a call to action for common ground OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Down ballot races carry environmental implications | US officially exits Paris climate accord  Fitzpatrick wins reelection in Pennsylvania MORE of Pennsylvania.

And the GOP’s most prominent and outspoken moderate voices — including Reps. Ryan CostelloRyan Anthony CostellloBottom Line Trump struggles to stay on script, frustrating GOP again Bottom line MORE (Pa.) and Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenHouse Hispanic Republicans welcome four new members The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by UAE - US records 1 million COVID-19 cases in a week; governors crack down Trump-backed Republican unseats Shalala in Miami House race MORE (Fla.) and former Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentThe magnificent moderation of Susan Collins The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare front and center; transition standoff continues Republicans who could serve in a Biden government MORE (Pa.) — have decided to head for the exits instead of face tough reelection battles back home.

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Centrist GOP lawmakers are in a difficult political climate in the era of Trump, where they are constantly walking a political tightrope as they try to respond to a never-ending stream of White House controversies without upsetting their Republican base.

“Look, it’s a nasty political environment and moderate Republicans in competitive seats get the worst of it,” Costello told The Hill. “The atmospherics are against Republicans. But there are many battle-tested Republicans that possess the acumen to pull through.”

That tough dynamic was on full display Friday, when Lance joined a handful of moderate Republican senators in calling for an FBI investigation into sexual assault allegations made against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

Trump agreed to authorize the FBI to conduct a supplemental background investigation into Kavanaugh. The decision comes a day after Kavanaugh and one of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, testified publicly before the Judiciary panel in a rollercoaster hearing about the sexual assault allegations.

“Dr. Ford’s testimony yesterday was credible and believable. But I also found Judge Kavanaugh to be credible in his own defense,” Lance said in a statement. “It’s in the best interest of the nation that a full and thorough examination by federal law enforcement of these serious charges against Judge Kavanaugh occurs.”

Lance represents just one of the dozens of vulnerable House seats that Republicans are defending this election cycle, where Democrats who are furious with Trump and energized by the “Me Too” movement hope to win back the House and Senate majorities. Independent and moderate Republican women in the suburbs are expected to form a crucial voting bloc that could determine the outcome of the November elections.

Other Republican centrists facing tough reelection races include Reps. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloHouse Hispanic Republicans welcome four new members House adjusts format for dinner with new members after criticism Former GOP congressman calls for Biden to receive presidential briefings MORE (Fla.), Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdHouse Hispanic Republicans welcome four new members Democrats lead in diversity in new Congress despite GOP gains Senate passes bill to secure internet-connected devices against cyber vulnerabilities MORE (Texas) and Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamBusiness groups breathe sigh of relief over prospect of divided government Ex-RNC, Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy charged in covert lobbying scheme Bottom line MORE (Calif.). The trio led an unsuccessful, insurgent rebellion this summer to circumvent GOP leadership and force floor action on immigration legislation using a so-called discharge petition.

Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoRundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day Republicans who could serve in a Biden government Fitzpatrick wins reelection in Pennsylvania MORE (R-N.Y.), co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group who was also involved in the immigration talks, is facing a competitive reelection race, while Rep. Tom MacArthurThomas (Tom) Charles MacArthurChamber-backed Democrats embrace endorsements in final stretch Republican David Richter wins NJ primary in race to challenge Rep. Andy Kim What to watch in New Jersey's primaries on Tuesday MORE (R-N.J.), a former leader of the group, is locked in a tight race rated as a “toss-up” by election prognosticators.

And Reps. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonPressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win Republican Michigan congressman: 'The people have spoken' GOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics MORE (R-Mich.) and Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisGOP Rep. Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19 Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter tests positive for coronavirus Biden's gain is Democratic baseball's loss with Cedric Richmond MORE (R-Ill.), two centrists from the Midwest, could also be in trouble if a blue wave materializes this fall.

It’s not unusual for either party to see their moderates in danger, especially since swing districts are usually represented by lawmakers closer to the middle.

And to be sure, there are some ultra conservative members who are also deeply at risk of losing their seats, including House Freedom Caucus members Rod Blum (R-Iowa) and Dave Brat (R-Va.)

But the majority of the GOP’s vulnerable seats — and a large share of the conference’s retiring members — are more closely aligned to the center.

“I think most would agree with me when I say that for every seat we lose in the House, the center of gravity in the conference moves right,” Costello said.

Centrist lawmakers, however, are used to running in competitive races every election cycle, which is giving some hope to the GOP.

Some of those moderate Republicans are hoping to sell their center-right principles and calls for sensible bipartisanship on the campaign trail, where they say their constituents have grown fed up with the extreme polarization in Congress.

A number of vulnerable lawmakers signed a pledge this week promising to withhold their votes for the next Speaker unless the candidate agrees to dramatically reform the House rules.

The ambitious effort to “break the gridlock” is designed to make the House more inclusive and bipartisan, in part by making it easier for members to offer and pass their own legislation, especially if it has support from both parties.

“Of all the issues that concern residents in the district that I serve, the most important issue is not health care or taxation or immigration,” Lance said at a press conference earlier this week. “The most important issue is bipartisan cooperation. ... And that is what we are attempting to do.”

— Scott Wong contributed