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 CoffmanBottom Line Koch political arm endorses Colorado Sen. Gardner 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform MORE of Colorado, Leonard LanceLeonard LanceBottom Line Push for ‘Medicare for all’ worries centrist Dems Incoming Dem lawmaker: Trump 'sympathizes' with leaders 'accused of moral transgressions' MORE of New Jersey and Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickHouse Democrats targeting six more Trump districts for 2020 Ensuring quality health care for those with intellectual disabilities and autism House Democrats target 2020 GOP incumbents in new ad MORE of Pennsylvania.

And the GOP’s most prominent and outspoken moderate voices — including Reps. Ryan CostelloRyan Anthony CostellloHead of Pennsylvania GOP resigns over alleged explicit texts Lobbying world Overnight Energy: Park Service closing Joshua Tree after shutdown damage | Dems deliver trash from parks to White House | Dems offer bills to block offshore drilling | Oil lobby worries about Trump trade fight MORE (Pa.) and Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenRepublican Salazar seeks rematch with Shalala in key Miami House district Latina leaders: 'It's a women's world more than anything' Ex-GOP Rep. Roskam joins lobbying firm MORE (Fla.) and former Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller testimony gives Trump a boost as Dems ponder next steps The Hill's 12:30 Report: Muller testimony dominates Washington Lawmakers, press hit the courts for charity tennis event 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 CurbeloOvernight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument Carbon tax shows new signs of life in Congress Democratic lawmaker pushes back on Castro's call to repeal law making illegal border crossings a crime MORE (Fla.), Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes Democrat running for Will Hurd's seat raises over million in first 100 days of campaign Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (Texas) and Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamEx-GOP Rep. Roskam joins lobbying firm Ex-GOP Rep. Denham heads to lobbying firm Crazy California an outlier? No, we are the canary in the coal mine 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 KatkoRepublicans should get behind the 28th Amendment Student loan borrowers are defaulting yearly — how can we fix it? Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker 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 MacArthurRepublicans plot comeback in New Jersey Republicans spend more than million at Trump properties The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority 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 UptonThe 9 House Republicans who support background checks Al Green says impeachment is 'only solution' to Trump's rhetoric Trump primary challenger Bill Weld responds to rally chants: 'We are in a fight for the soul of the GOP' MORE (R-Mich.) and Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisHouse Democrats targeting six more Trump districts for 2020 House Democrats target 2020 GOP incumbents in new ad Illinois House Republicans call on Trump to not commute Blagojevich's sentence 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