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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

August 31: House GOP Kicking Weak Incumbents To the Curb

All sorts of big things begin happening in election cycles around Labor Day. I discussed one of them at New York:

There comes a time in any campaign cycle when parties and the donors affiliated with them review their investments and cut their losses. It can be an especially painful process in a potential “wave” election year, particularly a midterm when the party in power knows it’s going to lose House seats but is focused on maintaining control.

For Republicans right now, that means holding the line at 22 net lost House seats at worst. Since there are very, very few vulnerable Democratic seats that could offset GOP losses (of the 66 House races the Cook Political Report considers competitive, only four are in districts held by Democrats), Republicans must triage their most afflicted incumbents. And as Politicoreports, the process is fully under way:

“Behind the scenes, senior party strategists have begun polling to determine which incumbents may be beyond saving. Among those most in jeopardy of getting cut off, they say, are Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, Pennsylvania Rep. Keith Rothfus, and Iowa Rep. Rod Blum, all of whom are precariously positioned in their districts.

“The party has to date reserved millions of dollars of future advertising time to buttress Comstock and Rothfus. Yet those funds are not guaranteed — they still might be diverted to other incumbents viewed as more likely to win in the fall.”

Cook rates the Comstock and Rothfus races as “Lean Democratic,” but still has Blum’s race as a toss-up. The three districts are illustrative of the range of problems the GOP is having this year. Comstock’s district is a classic suburban enclave loaded with college-educated voters who are hostile to Donald Trump. Rothfus was stricken by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s remapping of the state’s congressional districts to erase the effect of an earlier GOP gerrymander. He was tossed into a district with Democrat Conor Lamb, fresh from his astonishing special election win in more difficult terrain. And Blum is a conservative ideologue who won and was reelected in Iowa’s very good Republican years of 2014 and 2016, but is endangered by what appears to be a Democratic comeback in that state.

But these incumbents are just the low-hanging spoiled fruit, and others may soon get the financial heave-ho:

“The anxiety is already rising among lawmakers and their allies. Kansas Rep. Kevin Yoder, an imperiled suburban congressman whom Democrats are spending heavily to defeat, has recently complained to allies that the national committee hasn’t done enough to help him in his reelection bid, according to four people familiar with the conversations.”

Such complaints, however, go in both directions:

“During a House GOP Conference meeting this spring, NRCC [the party’s House fundraising committee] Chairman Steve Stivers told members not to expect the party to bail them out later in the campaign if they failed to pull their weight. He pointed out that the party had already waged a costly and ultimately unsuccessful effort to rescue an underperforming candidate in a Pennsylvania special election.

“As proof of that approach, the House GOP campaign arm has barely budged despite pleas for additional financial support from endangered Iowa Rep. David Young and his campaign team — at least partly because they view him as a sluggish campaigner, said two senior Republicans familiar with the party’s deliberations.”

It’s true that incumbents are likely to get a thumb on the scales in such calculations as opposed to open seat candidates or those challenging Democrats, since the party committees are supervised by incumbents and the “outside” groups tend to follow their lead. But when all those chairmanships and other perks of the majority are in danger, collegial solidarity will only go so far:

“‘The NRCC isn’t going to be able to help those who haven’t helped themselves,’ said former Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Phil English, who was involved with the committee during his House tenure. ‘These are very Darwinian decisions. It means selection of the fittest.'”

Donald Trump’s party can’t expected to do too much for “losers.”


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