Against the Grain

GOP Slackers Endanger House Majority

Many of the most vulnerable House Republicans may end up winning reelection. That doesn’t mean the GOP’s control of the chamber is secure.

Rep. Dave Brat speaks with a reporter just before passage of the Republican tax-reform bill in the House on Dec. 19, 2017.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Josh Kraushaar
Add to Briefcase
Josh Kraushaar
Feb. 6, 2018, 8 p.m.

For House Republicans, the pathway to salvaging their majority looks a little bit clearer. Economic optimism has trimmed the Democratic edge on the generic congressional ballot to around 6 points. President Trump’s job-approval rating, in most polls, has ticked up to around 40 percent. The Democratic Party has been catering to the whims of its progressive base at the expense of more-pragmatic voices.

But the spate of encouraging news should be tempered by one uncomfortable fact: There are a whole lot of Republican slackers in the House, representing GOP-friendly districts that will be vulnerable in a down year for the party. There doesn’t need to be a Democratic tsunami to win some of these seats. All it takes are unprepared Republican members, overconfident about their reelection prospects and ideologically cocooned in their hard-right caucus.

Here’s how vulnerable many of these members are: Of the 23 Republicans representing seats that The Cook Political Report rates as “likely Republican,” 12 were outraised by at least one Democratic challenger in the most recent fundraising quarter. By contrast, only one Democratic member in the same “likely Democratic” position was outraised by a GOP challenger.

Many of these newly targeted Republicans posted unusually low fundraising numbers. Ethically challenged Duncan Hunter of California brought in just $51,000 and only has $291,000 in cash on hand. Freshman Ted Budd of North Carolina posted less than one-third ($183,000) of the money that upstart Democratic challenger Kathy Manning did ($564,000). Dave Brat brought in just $137,000 in the quarter, and was outraised by two Democratic challengers in a suburban Richmond seat. Six of the 23 members in the “likely Republican” category didn’t even raise $150,000 last quarter, a low baseline for anyone facing a competitive race.

The sheer number of unprepared members should be a major warning for Republicans looking to hang on to their House majority. It’s very possible that outside GOP money and political savvy will keep many of the most-vulnerable Republicans from losing. After all, a lot of the Republicans on top of the Democrats’ target list have survived wave elections before. Many, like Mike Coffman of Colorado, Erik Paulsen of Minnesota, and Will Hurd of Texas, have routinely beaten predictions of political doom despite representing Democratic-leaning seats. Others, such as Peter Roskam of Illinois and Jeff Denham of California, hold strong brands back home.

But there’s little outside help that Republicans can give to the growing number of members who look entirely unprepared to run a tough reelection campaign. Outside groups can’t play a game of Whac-A-Mole, repeatedly having to bail out members who should be secure. The previous two wave elections in the House (2006, 2010) featured plenty of members who lost because they didn’t do much to help themselves.

What makes Republican officials especially alarmed this time is that the threat of a Democratic takeover has been apparent for nearly a year. In recent landslide elections, many losing members got caught flat-footed when the political mood turned south as the midterms approached. This year, they’ve had time to read the political tea leaves and prepare accordingly—yet plenty of them haven’t. While Trump carried most of their districts, they are far from safe seats.

Making things more challenging is that some of these potentially-vulnerable members are catering to their hardcore base instead of appealing to persuadable swing voters. Many aren’t acting like they’re in a tough race at all.

Lee Zeldin of New York is taking the side of conservative hard-liners, calling for a special counsel to investigate the FBI for alleged abuses. His Long Island district, which voted for President Obama in 2012, is filled with law enforcement officials who may not look kindly on his rhetoric. Virginia’s Tom Garrett, who represents Charlottesville, compared Robert Mueller’s investigation to birtherism in a CNN interview this week. North Carolina’s Robert Pittenger, who represents suburban Charlotte, accused individuals in the Justice Department of “obstruction of justice” at a recent town hall.

If there’s one constant that strategists in both parties acknowledge, it’s that Democratic turnout will be sky-high, fueled by deep-seated antipathy towards Trump. It’s a pattern that’s repeated itself over the last year, even in some of the most conservative constituencies in the country. For Republicans to mitigate the impact, they need to persuade enough independent voters to support them and turn out their own voters in similar numbers. Candidates who lack the resources or political standing in their districts will find it particularly challenging to pull off the trick.

Even if the growing economy spares Republicans from a midterm disaster, they still have a lot to be concerned about. They could hang on to many of their most-vulnerable seats, but still see the bottom fall out because of red-hot Democratic intensity and lackluster GOP preparation. It’s why Democrats still hold the edge in the battle for House control, even if the anti-Trump tsunami never materializes.

What We're Following See More »
SAYS HIS DEATH STEMMED FROM A FISTFIGHT
Saudis Admit Khashoggi Killed in Embassy
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"Saudi Arabia said Saturday that Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident Saudi journalist who disappeared more than two weeks ago, had died after an argument and fistfight with unidentified men inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Eighteen men have been arrested and are being investigated in the case, Saudi state-run media reported without identifying any of them. State media also reported that Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, the deputy director of Saudi intelligence, and other high-ranking intelligence officials had been dismissed."

Source:
ROGER STONE IN THE CROSSHAIRS?
Mueller Looking into Ties Between WikiLeaks, Conservative Groups
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is scrutinizing how a collection of activists and pundits intersected with WikiLeaks, the website that U.S. officials say was the primary conduit for publishing materials stolen by Russia, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Mueller’s team has recently questioned witnesses about the activities of longtime Trump confidante Roger Stone, including his contacts with WikiLeaks, and has obtained telephone records, according to the people familiar with the matter."

Source:
PROBING COLLUSION AND OBSTRUCTION
Mueller To Release Key Findings After Midterms
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"Special Counsel Robert Mueller is expected to issue findings on core aspects of his Russia probe soon after the November midterm elections ... Specifically, Mueller is close to rendering judgment on two of the most explosive aspects of his inquiry: whether there were clear incidents of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, and whether the president took any actions that constitute obstruction of justice." Mueller has faced pressure to wrap up the investigation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, said an official, who would receive the results of the investigation and have "some discretion in deciding what is relayed to Congress and what is publicly released," if he remains at his post.

Source:
PASSED ON SO-CALLED "SAR" REPORTS
FinCen Official Charged with Leaking Info on Manafort, Gates
1 days ago
THE DETAILS
"A senior official working for the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has been charged with leaking confidential financial reports on former Trump campaign advisers Paul Manafort, Richard Gates and others to a media outlet. Prosecutors say that Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a senior adviser to FinCEN, photographed what are called suspicious activity reports, or SARs, and other sensitive government files and sent them to an unnamed reporter, in violation of U.S. law."
Source:
FIRST CHARGE FOR MIDTERMS
DOJ Charges Russian For Meddling In 2018 Midterms
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"The Justice Department on Friday charged a Russian woman for her alleged role in a conspiracy to interfere with the 2018 U.S. election, marking the first criminal case prosecutors have brought against a foreign national for interfering in the upcoming midterms. Elena Khusyaynova, 44, was charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States. Prosecutors said she managed the finances of 'Project Lakhta,' a foreign influence operation they said was designed 'to sow discord in the U.S. political system' by pushing arguments and misinformation online about a host of divisive political issues, including immigration, the Confederate flag, gun control and the National Football League national-anthem protests."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login