Contested NC House race in dead heat: internal poll
GOP hopes dim on reclaiming House
The 2020 election is more than a year away, but some Republican lawmakers are pessimistic about their chances of winning back the House.
President Trump's approval ratings in key swing states are under water. Infighting on the GOP leadership team and a notable retirement have raised questions about the party's campaign strategy.
And Republicans acknowledge that many of the at-risk Democratic freshmen in Trump districts are going to be difficult to beat as they resist calls for impeachment and stay focused on kitchen-table issues such as health care and infrastructure.
"It's going to be tough. [The Democrats] have really good majority-makers - [Reps.] Abigail Spanberger, Dean Phillips, Max Rose. They've got some good members that know what they're doing. They seem to not be embracing the crazy," said one senior GOP lawmaker who requested anonymity.
"There is a path for us to take it back, but they have good candidates. They have money they are still raising left and right," the source added. "You just don't know if the intensity of our voters will be enough, because [Democrats] are still engaged."
In the first three months of this year, the House Democrats' campaign arm hauled in more than $32 million, while the GOP's campaign operation raised $25 million.
Another GOP lawmaker said it will be hard for Republicans to make the case to voters they deserve the majority when they failed to repeal ObamaCare or fund Trump's border wall in the last Congress when they controlled all the levers of the government.
"It would be very difficult to take back the majority when most people see it as a squandered opportunity when Republicans had the majority," the second GOP lawmaker told The Hill.
Democrats rode an anti-Trump wave in last fall's midterm elections, picking up a net 40 seats and winning the House majority for the first time in eight years.
Democrats now enjoy a 235-198 advantage, meaning Republicans need to win a net of 20 seats to win back control of the House in 2020.
GOP leaders maintain they can pull it off, pointing to the low unemployment rate, strong economy and defeat of ISIS under Trump. They also believe that liberal bomb throwers like Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) are driving the Democratic Party too far to the left, alienating middle-of-the-road voters.
In a private gathering at the Capitol Hill Club, National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Rep. Tom Emmer (Minn.) told rank-and-file Republicans on Wednesday they have a "real opportunity" to pick up seats and take back the lower chamber.
Emmer specifically singled out the Orange County seat of freshman Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) as a prime pickup opportunity after she endorsed this week the idea of launching an impeachment inquiry into the president, sources in the closed-door meeting said.
"I think there's a great chance we're going to take the House back. I think Trump's well-positioned to win reelection, too," said Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), who beat back a tough challenge from Democrat Aftab Pureval last fall.
"The bottom line is the country is better off under his leadership," Chabot said.
But the GOP leadership team has experienced turmoil in recent weeks that has rattled the Republican conference. Emmer, the NRCC chairman and a close ally of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), privately clashed with GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and two other GOP leaders last week over whether they were pulling their weight in raising money for the party.
That fight spilled out into the public, an embarrassing episode for McCarthy's leadership team.
Then came another blow: Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), whom Emmer had hand-picked to lead candidate recruitment in the 2020 cycle, abruptly announced she was retiring from Congress. Brooks, one of only 13 GOP women in the House, had specifically been brought on to help recruit more women to run for Congress.
In Wednesday's campaign meeting, Brooks stood up in front of colleagues and told them her retirement would allow her to spend more time traveling the country to recruit candidates and raise campaign cash.
"The flip side," one Republican said after the meeting, "is that she's the recruitment chair and she's leaving. That is a negative."
A third House GOP lawmaker who asked for anonymity suggested the NRCC and broader party had done little to shore up support among suburban women, who fled from Trump and the GOP in droves during the disastrous 2018 election.
"What lessons have we learned from 2018, when we got shellacked in the suburbs? What have we done to make up ground there? Are we appealing to those suburban women?" the third GOP lawmaker asked. "I think we haven't done much here perception-wise with Trump to bring in some of those voters."
Many in the GOP fear that, just like last fall, Trump will be an albatross around the necks of congressional candidates. Recent polls show Trump trailing former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democratic hopefuls in battleground states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
Three polls even showed Trump trailing Biden in Texas.
"In 2016, Trump won Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania ... those are bellwethers," said the third GOP lawmaker. "Trump's numbers in those states today are in trouble."
Still, other Republicans cautioned that it's far too early to panic. While many agree Biden would be a strong match-up against Trump, Democrats could eventually nominate a liberal like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), which Republicans argue could help them flip the House.
"Elections aren't referendums; they're choices," said Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. "So, if you have the choice of President Trump delivering for you on the economy versus these [Democrats] who want to undo everything, it's a totally different dynamic."