Wednesday Q+A With J.B. Poersch

The head of Democrats’ top super PAC for Senate races discusses his party’s chances of holding on to—or even picking up—seats on a difficult map for the minority.

J.B. Poersch
Liz Lynch
Zach C. Cohen
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Zach C. Cohen
June 5, 2018, 8 p.m.

Senate Majority PAC President J.B. Poersch is responsible for overseeing millions of dollars in advertising in competitive Senate races as his fellow Democrats hope to reelect 24 incumbents and flip a few of the eight contested seats held by Republicans. Poersch, who was executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for three cycles, talked to Zach C. Cohen about his party’s prospects and strategies during this election year.

How do you feel about Democrats’ chances of taking back the Senate today compared to when you took over Senate Majority PAC about a year ago?

Even from a data standpoint, our chances have gotten better in the last three to four months. … Democrats in red and purple states’ standing has improved. … We have bigger leads than we did, and a couple of races have gotten closer. I think in part it reflects that Senate Democrats are actually performing well with Trump voters—that it’s probably fair to say that we have a higher level of support percentage-wise with Trump voters than Senate Democrats did in ‘16.

How should the 10 Democrats seeking reelection in Trump states balance their alignment with Trump versus their outreach to the progressive base?

I think the idea that in these states that incumbents in particular are working with Trump where it makes sense for their state, and there are times where [they disagree] and they stand up for their states first—I think that message is common sense to many voters. … That’s what a check-and-balance election looks like.

Are there any particular races you’re worried about?

The states that demographically are the most Republican are the ones that’ll be the most challenging. I wouldn’t say they worry me. But certainly from that demographic standpoint, you have to recognize that that takes a lot of effort.

Are there any particular fundamentals you’re watching over the next few months to determine who controls the Senate after November?

I think fundamentally you’ll hear Democrats talk about lowering health care costs and working to increase working Americans’ wages. And my hunch is that the rhetoric on the Republican side will be very different. They had promised a conversation about tax cuts, and in most races … it seems to have [dissipated]. And I think what you’ll see is campaigns that resemble and look a lot like [Ed] Gillespie’s race in Virginia for governor [in 2017], which was about dividing and getting at the lowest common denominator. Even though Gillespie lost his race by 9 points, I don’t think the playbook will be any different.

Even in states that don’t necessarily have the same demographic makeup as Virginia?

I think that’s the conclusion they’ll come to. … I’m not convinced that “all division, all immigration, all the time” is quite the payoff that they think, and they’re somewhat frustrated they haven’t been able to get ahead on their tax plan, so this is likely where they’re going.

You don’t anticipate much discussion about Robert Mueller or Russia then?

Look, voters pretty much across the board support the rule of law and want to hear what the Mueller investigation comes to and want to see it seen through. … I don’t think, for voters, they see it on any kind of timeline. There’s certainly a lot of confusion about where it stands, probably in part because we hear so much from the president and they don’t hear a lot from Mueller yet. How it factors into the election, I’m uncertain. That said, what’s also true is the voters are very unhappy with the way Washington works, and they know Republicans are in charge.

Republicans have President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence stumping across the country. Who do you think are Democrats’ top surrogates this year?

I get asked about whether President Obama will be in, and I’m certain that around the country the president will play a role. That said, our senators, our candidates are pretty good advocates for themselves.

As you’re making the pitch to donors or other stakeholders, if they’re deciding to get involved in Senate races versus House races—given the chances of one or both flipping—how do you make the argument that Senate races are important this year?

Look, I think that our donors, our activists, the party supporters understand the Senate matters and have seen the importance of the Senate Democrats standing together when necessary when the president might be headed in the wrong direction and to the detriment of the middle class, and they recognize the benefit of the authority that comes with the Senate, whether it’s foreign policy or judges or what have you. The Senate matters. Secondly, I think that we haven’t been a divided party. You don’t see a whole bunch of conflicting primaries. You’ve seen Democrats that are focused towards winning and hopefully getting the opportunity to work for America as a majority someday. That’s the hope.

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