Finance

GOP challengers hit vulnerable Dems over Trump tax law votes

Republican candidates are taking aim at vulnerable Senate Democrats by reminding voters that their opponents did not support one of President Trump's top agenda items: the 2017 tax-cut law.

GOP challengers in states that Trump carried, often overwhelmingly, have been making the case that Democratic incumbents seeking reelection are more in line with liberal politicians than the president. And Democratic votes against the tax law have found their way into the Republican arsenal to help hammer home that point.

"[Trump] needs a true ally, not somebody who says something when you're in Indiana and does something differently when you're in D.C.," Republican businessman Mike Braun, who is challenging Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), said at a rally with Trump on Thursday. "Joe Donnelly voted against tax reform."

The campaigns of red-state Democrats counter that the tax law is not a big issue with voters, who they say care more about the cost of health care and Trump's trade actions. But when they do talk about it, many Senate Democrats argue the tax overhaul will benefit the wealthy, add to the federal debt and increase health-care costs for taxpayers.

"Joe Donnelly opposed Senator Mitch McConnell's tax plan because it meant more tax breaks for folks like [former state] Rep. Mike Braun and big insurance companies, while raising health care costs for Hoosier families and passing on trillions of dollars in new debt to their kids," said Kate Oehl, press secretary for the Donnelly campaign.

The tax debate in the Donnelly-Braun match-up is similar to ones playing out in other states where Democrats are defending Senate seats.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report lists five Senate races with incumbent Democrats as a "toss-up." The Indiana race is joined by competitive campaigns in Florida, Missouri, North Dakota and West Virginia.

Trump carried all of those states, except Florida, by double digits in 2016.

Taxes are by no means the only divisive issue in those Senate races, with many GOP challengers highlighting topics such as health care and the Senate's upcoming Supreme Court nomination battle.

Still, the Republican nominees are touting the benefits of the tax law at events and on social media, highlighting how the measure will help businesses and individuals in their states.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who's challenging Sen. Joe Manchin (D), toured a mining equipment manufacturer last month and used the opportunity to tout the GOP tax cuts. He also tweeted that the tax law has led to the creation of "opportunity zones" in West Virginia by way of a program designed to encourage investment in economically distressed areas by providing tax breaks to those who make investments in the zones.

"When Joe Manchin voted no on Trump's tax cuts, he put the interest of Washington liberals like Schumer and Pelosi ahead what is best for West Virginia families," Morrisey campaign spokesman Nathan Brand said, referring to Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

In North Dakota, campaign ads from Rep. Kevin Cramer (R) have hit Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) on the tax law. One advertisement not only promoted Cramer's support for the measure in the House, it also argued that more than 90 percent of North Dakotans will keep more of their money under the law.

"North Dakota voters got a good look at Heidi Heitkamp's priorities in Washington when she voted against letting them keep more of their hard-earned money," the Cramer campaign said in a statement to The Hill.

Every Senate Democrat voted against the tax measure in December 2017.

GOP candidates going up against red-state Democrats are also getting help from Trump and Vice President Pence, who both highlight the tax cuts at campaign-style events. Trump has brought up Democrats' tax-law votes and says Democrats want to raise people's taxes.

Pence, meanwhile, has been traveling the country speaking at "Tax Cuts to Put America First" events, with stops in states like Indiana, Missouri and West Virginia.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) has come under fire recently by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), both of which released ads attacking the senator for her vote.

"Senator McCaskill's opposition to cutting taxes on middle-class families is just one of many examples of her not being on the side of Missouri. When it matters most to Missourians, she lets us down," said Kelli Ford, a spokeswoman for Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, the GOP challenger.

Republicans argue that the tax law will help them in the midterms because taxpayers are feeling positive about their financial situations.

"While the Democratic Party continues to push for the repeal of these successful tax cuts, red state Democrats are now feeling the heat for their wrong calculation in voting against the GOP plan, and they'll pay the price for it this November," said NRSC Communications Director Katie Martin.

But Democrats think the tax law will backfire on Republicans, noting that the measure isn't popular nationally and many businesses have been using their tax savings to buy back their own stock.

"The Republican tax scam has reinforced the fact that Republicans are using their total control of Washington to look out for the wealthy and well-connected, not hard-working Americans," said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman David Bergstein.

Red-state Democrats have defended their votes against the tax law, highlighting the fact that it's expected to add more than $1 trillion to the federal deficit and warning that the increase could lead to cuts to Medicare and Social Security.

"I'm in favor of permanent, meaningful tax cuts for the middle class - not a partisan tax bill that explodes the deficit and burdens our children and grandchildren for years to come," Heitkamp tweeted in August.

Heitkamp spokeswoman Julia Krieger said that Cramer's move to help "rack up $2 trillion in debt for foreign shareholders' benefit" and his actions on issues such as health care and trade aren't a "winning message in a fiscally conservative state."

Manchin has a section on his campaign website focused on taxes that compares the tax cuts he enacted as governor to the the GOP tax law.

"The major difference between what Manchin accomplished as governor and what Washington Republicans just did is that Manchin didn't cut Medicare and Social Security or destroy healthcare. Manchin's priority is the middle class," his website reads.

Democratic campaigns also say they don't see taxes as a top issue in the campaigns, and that voters are more likely to talk about health care and trade - the latter issue particularly relevant in agriculture-heavy states such as Missouri, North Dakota and Indiana that have been impacted by tit-for-tat tariffs.

"It's just not one of the top issues that people are talking about," a McCaskill campaign spokesperson said of the tax law. McCaskill views the tax law as a boon for corporations and pharmaceutical companies that will hurt middle-class taxpayers.

Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said Republicans have overestimated the impact the tax law will have on their electoral prospects.

"I think Democrats successfully raised a lot of questions during the debate on the bill," he said. "I think Republicans oversold this thing."

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