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 LanceGun debate to shape 2020 races GOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Bottom Line MORE of New Jersey and Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickKey races to watch in Tuesday's primaries Expanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support Gun control group rolls out House endorsements MORE of Pennsylvania.

And the GOP’s most prominent and outspoken moderate voices — including Reps. Ryan CostelloRyan Anthony CostellloBottom line Former GOP Rep. Costello launches lobbying shop Head of Pennsylvania GOP resigns over alleged explicit texts MORE (Pa.) and Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenWomen are refusing to take the backseat in politics, especially Latinas Watchdog groups call for investigation into Ros-Lehtinen's foreign lobbying work Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm MORE (Fla.) and former Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: WHO vs. Trump; Bernie's out The biggest political upsets of the decade Ex-GOP lawmaker: Former colleagues privately say they're 'disgusted and exhausted' by Trump 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 CurbeloTrump, GOP go all-in on anti-China strategy Republicans can't exploit the left's climate extremism without a better idea Progressive Latino group launches first incumbent protection campaign MORE (Fla.), Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdJulián Castro launches PAC to support progressive candidates The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump visits a ventilator plant in a battleground state The Hill to interview Mnuchin today and many other speakers MORE (Texas) and Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamBottom line Bottom line Lobbying world 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 KatkoExpanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support States plead for cybersecurity funds as hacking threat surges GOP Rep. Pete King to buck party, vote for Democrats' coronavirus relief bill 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 UptonBipartisan Senate group offers new help to state, local governments Bipartisan bill aims to help smallest businesses weather the coronavirus crisis Lawmakers press HHS for answers on coronavirus drug distribution MORE (R-Mich.) and Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump visits a ventilator plant in a battleground state The Hill to interview Mnuchin today and many other speakers The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga says supporting small business single most important thing we should do now; Teva's Brendan O'Grady says U.S. should stockpile strategic reserve in drugs like Strategic Oil Reserve 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