CLEVELAND — Cleveland is the place vulnerable House Republicans don’t want to be this week.
And the National Republican Congressional Committee — the campaign arm of the House GOP conference — is more than alright with that.
“Be home in your districts all the time,” NRCC Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., said at briefing Monday on the first day of the convention.
For months, consultants have coached their candidates to localize their campaigns and run their races independent of the presidential election.
And yet, three months out from the election, Republicans see themselves having an advantage because of an issue that resonates on both the national and local stage. Recent domestic shootings and acts of terrorism abroad have raised concern about national security that the party thinks gives them an edge.
Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke‘s made that argument Monday.
He may have
pulled out of being a delegate
several days before the convention, but he still had a prominent presence in Cleveland, strolling through the media center ahead of his prime time speaking slot Monday night and addressing the New Hampshire delegation before that.
A freshman sitting in a safe Republican seat Democrats are targeting, Zinke didn’t seem to have any qualms about appearing at speaking at Trump’s confab. A former Navy SEAL, Zinke spoke during the “Make America Safe Again” portion of the convention.
“Donald Trump isn’t afraid to talk about radical Islamic terrorism, and he won’t be afraid to destroy it,” Zinke said.
“We need a commander in chief who will support our troops rather than abandon them in Benghazi,” Zinke said.
Zinke has endorsed Trump, but he’s feeling even more comfortable with him as the nominee now that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is his running mate.
Pence will help discipline Trump, Zinke told the New Hampshire delegates. If Trump is throwing mortars, Zinke said, “Pence is the aimer.”
Zinke’s appearance at the convention symbolized an in-between strategy that some down-ballot Republicans may be trying to do this election season. He both played up his national security credentials and that of his party, while leaving some space between himself and all of the presumptive nominee’s positions.
Zinke’s flexibility on Trump, though, is a luxury that Republicans in more vulnerable seats cannot afford. Florida’s Carlos Curbelo and Illinois Robert J. Dold, for example, have disavowed Trump completely.
Trump has already lashed out against incumbents who haven’t backed him — as he did against Sens. Jeff Flake and Mark Kirk when he came to Washington earlier this month.
Could he do the same to House incumbents?
“You haven’t seen Trump call out any House members for not supporting him,” Walden said. “And I hope he won’t.”
Even for those who haven’t disavowed Trump, Walden and NRCC Executive Director Rob Simms see their freshmen members pushing legislation that benefits them at home in their districts and insulates them from being tied too closely to the top of the ticket.
“Voters aren’t turning Mike Coffman into a Donald Trump,” Walden said, referring to endangered Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, a perennial Democrat target in his 6th District seat, who speaks Spanish and has made an effort to court diverse voters.
Meanwhile, there are districts, like Minnesota’s 8th District, for example, where Republicans expect Trump to play well and help their down-ballot candidates — if they position themselves correctly and have good operations.