House Republicans voice optimism on winning back the House following special election victories

Coming on the heels of two special election wins, House Republicans are feeling a new sense of optimism about their odds of taking back control of the lower chamber, with National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) saying he feels the House is more than just in play. 

While independent political forecasters have largely projected that Republicans face a steep uphill climb to win back the majority — citing the number of retirements, the number of seats that flipped in the midterms and the fact that Democrats have a cash advantage — top GOP lawmakers say Rep. Mike Garcia’s (R-Calif.) victory over Democrat Christy Smith in a competitive swing district indicates political analysts may be underestimating the party’s momentum. 

“The Garcia election in Los Angeles I think was a wake-up call to all the skeptics out there that in the middle of all of these difficult challenges, a Republican just flipped a seat in the suburbs of L.A., and that hasn’t been done in 22 years,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told The Hill. 

“And that, by the way, that that would be considered one of the longer-shot races,” he added. “There are a lot of other races that are much more likely to flip from Democrat to Republican to get us the majority.” 

Emmer, the head of the House GOP’s campaign arm, said he believes the success in the recent special elections — particularly in a swing seat such as California’s 25th District — has provided the conference with a motivational boost. The Minnesota Republican touted the recruitment of diverse candidates leaders feel will provide the party with an edge in November and said that following Garcia’s win, even the skeptics within his conference are starting to voice that they think the party has a shot. 

“I use the term bullish. You know, part of this job is you’ve got to put together a game plan, and then you got to get all the players on your team to buy into the game plan. And once they start believing, once they start to see it actually being effective when you implement the game plan, you’re going to hear a lot of our members start telling you, ‘You know what? I thought this was a 50-50 chance, you know, maybe a little bit less … but I’m starting to believe that our chances are much better than 50 percent,'” he told The Hill in an interview, noting that he feels confident with where they stand with five months to go. 

Garcia won his May 12 election by just under 10 points in a district The Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index — a nonpartisan, independent report — rates as “even,” while Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-Wis.) edged out his Democratic opponent, Tricia Zunker, by 14 points in the race for Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, which leans Republican. 

Democrats netted 41 seats during the 2018 midterm election cycle, providing the party with the largest gains since Watergate. But Emmer said he feels the GOP has proved its strategy is effective, noting that the party wasn’t expected to win the special election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, faced hurdles with California’s 25th and won Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, which Democrats had viewed as a seat in play.

“Just do the math. There are 43 House Democrats sitting in more Republican seats than the one we just won in California last week. And remember, we now only need 17 to reclaim the majority,” he said. “One of the reasons the House flipped 2002 was because of the momentum that was created by special election victories.” 

Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), a former NRCC chairman, said he thinks Democratic leaders’ handling of the pandemic could also work in Republicans’ favor. 

“It is certain that Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] has overreached on spending and politicizing the pandemic,” he said. “There’s still a lot of things which will play out before November, but I think we have a good chance to take back the House today.”

While Republicans may feel the tide is turning in their direction, Democrats argue that the GOP may be overplaying its hand, making the case that special elections often don’t draw the same number of voters as a general elections and that the results can often be anomalies. 

One Democratic operative noted that nonpartisan handicapper Inside Elections shifted 10 seats toward Democrats on Friday and highlighted that Democrats hold a median 6-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has also outraised the NRCC by more than $40 million this cycle and has more than $30 million more cash on hand. 

Democrats have also seized on the NRCC recently having to pull an endorsement of a GOP candidate, Ted Howze, after controversial social media posts emerged and highlighted a recent NBC article in which GOP lawmakers took issue with a new program where House Republicans are tasked with helping the Trump campaign in its fundraising efforts. 

“Between Republican leadership’s early endorsement of racist candidates like Ted Howze and [House Majority] Leader [Kevin] McCarthy’s [R-Calif.] decision to moonlight as a fundraiser for the Trump campaign, even Republican members of Congress are complaining that McCarthy and the House Republican campaign arm haven’t put in the work necessary to flip the chamber,” DCCC spokeswoman Robyn Patterson said in a statement. 

“House Republicans have failed at recruiting, fallen behind on fundraising, and the NRCC even recently admitted that Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis will be a drag on Republicans in November,” she added.

But Emmer said he doesn’t see Democrats’ cash advantage as something the GOP can’t overcome in other areas, noting that the NRCC outraised the DCCC in two out of the last three months.

“We’re not going to have the same money they do, but we just have to have enough money to get our message out, and we’ve got to be smart about how we use it, and I’m telling you, California 25th, take a close look — it’ll show you just how razor-focused our team is on how we run these elections. It’s how we’re going to be successful,” he said. 

Al Weaver contributed.

Tags 2020 election special elections Steve Scalise Steve Stivers Tom Emmer
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