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Democrats Expanding Battlefield Into Trump Country

DCCC adds 20 more GOP seats to its target list

The DCCC is targeting California Rep. Devin Nunes in 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
The DCCC is targeting California Rep. Devin Nunes in 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Monday added 20 seats to its target list for 2018. The House Democrats’ campaign arm is now going after 79 Republican-held seats in the midterms.

President Donald Trump won these newly targeted seats by anywhere from 6 to 49 points. The first round of 59 targets, announced in January, included the 23 GOP-held seats that Hillary Clinton carried last fall. But it also included plenty of red districts, including at least eight districts that Trump carried by 15 points or more.

The newest additions reflect Democrats’ hopes of expanding the battlefield even further into Trump territory. Democrats need to gain 24 seats to win control of the House.

Historically, the party out of control of the White House has picked up seats in midterm elections. Democrats are optimistic that a volatile and increasingly unpopular president will increase those odds. The House GOP’s health care vote has also emboldened Democrats who know that not all Republican incumbents can easily be tied to Trump. They see their voting records as a way to tie them to the White House and GOP leadership. 

“House Republicans started the 2018 cycle in a defensive crouch as part of the President’s party in his first midterm,” DCCC Communications Director Meredith Kelly wrote in a memo announcing the new targets.

“But what has transpired since is much more disturbing and damaging. Through self-inflicted wounds, chaos, ethical issues and a trail of betrayals and broken promises to voters, House Republicans and President Trump have made their long 2018 slog even more difficult,” Kelly wrote.

On their end, Democrats have seen increased interest from potential candidates, with the DCCC having already spoken with more than 300 Democrats interested in running for Congress in 75 districts.

The expanded target list signals that these seats will be a higher priority for recruitment — and potential investment down the road. In fact, some of these races are on the list because Democrats are optimistic that strong recruits can make them competitive.

But the list doesn’t necessarily portend competitive races in all of these districts. Often, these lists — which both parties’ committees produce — are used to bring attention to specific races and help candidates raise money. For example, within hours of the DCCC’s release, a Democratic candidate in California’s 22nd District had blasted out his own release heralding the seat being “branded a battleground district.”

Here are the 20 new GOP seats in the DCCC’s crosshairs:

Rep. David Schweikert (Arizona’s 6th District)

Trump carried this district by 10 points, last fall while Schweikert won re-election by 24 points. The four-term congressman is one of five House Freedom Caucus members added to the list Monday. The DCCC is now going after seven members of the caucus, including Iowa Rep. Rod Blum and West Virginia Rep. Alex X. Mooney, who were initially targeted in January.

Race Rating (from Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales): Solid Republican.

Rep. Devin Nunes (California’s 22nd District)

Trump carried this district by 10 points, too, and the eight-term congressman won re-election by an even steeper 35 points. But his handling of the House investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and his subsequent decision to step down from that role, has encouraged Democrats to take him on.

Race Rating: Solid Republican

Rep. Duncan Hunter (California’s 50th District)

This is another district where Trump and the congressman did well, winning by 15 and 27 points, respectively. But Hunter is under investigation for potentially misusing campaign funds, which Democrats are hoping will make him vulnerable.

Race Rating: Likely Republican 

Rep. Ron DeSantis (Florida’s 6th District)

The three-term congressman, who backed out of a Senate campaign last year, is another Freedom Caucus member. Both he and Trump won this district by 17 points, so it’ll be a tough fight for a Democrat. 

Race Rating: Solid Republican 

Rep. Vern Buchanan (Florida’s 16th District) 

This is another seat where Trump and the six-term congressman did well, winning last fall by 11 and 20 points, respectively. But in the two prior presidential contests, Mitt Romney and John McCain won here by narrower margins. 

Race Rating: Solid Repblican 

Rep. Rob Woodall (Georgia’s 7th District)

Trump won this district by single digits, significantly underperforming Romney and McCain, who both won it by more than 20 points. But it’s still a red seat. The four-term lawmaker won re-election by 21 points himself last fall. 

Race Rating: Solid Republican 

Rep. Mike Bost (Illinois’ 12 District)

Trump and the two-term congressman both won the 12th District by 15 points last fall. But President Barack Obama previously carried this district in 2008 and again more narrowly in 2012. 

Race Rating: Solid Republican  

Rep. Jackie Walorski (Indiana’s 2nd District)

Trump and the three-term lawmaker carried the 2nd District by more than 20 points. But Obama very narrowly carried this district in 2008 when he won the Hoosier State. 

Race Rating: Solid Republican 

Rep. Jack Bergman (Michigan’s 1st District)

Bergman is a freshman, and incumbents are usually most vulnerable during their first re-elections. Democrats contested this district last year with a well-connected candidate. But he ended up losing to Bergman by 15 points. Trump won here by 21 points. 

Race Rating: Solid Republican 

Rep. Fred Upton (Michigan’s 6th District)

Trump won this district by 8 points, but four years earlier, Romney carried it by less than 2 points. And four years before that, Obama carried it by nearly 8 points. Still, unseating the former chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, who won his 16th term by 22 points, won’t be an easy feat.  

Race Rating: Solid Republican 

Rep. Ann Wagner (Missouri’s 2nd District)

The three-term congresswoman is likely running for the Senate against Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill. Trump won the 2nd District by 10 points, and Wagner doubled that victory margin, but Democrats likely see an open seat as easier to crack if they can field the right candidate. 

Race Rating: Solid Republican  

Rep. George Holding (North Carolina’s 2nd District)

Holding won this Raleigh-area district after it was redrawn last spring. (He’d previously represented the 13th District, which got moved across the state). Trump won by 10 points here, and Holding did even better, winning by 13 points. But Democrats are likely hoping to tap into a more educated and affluent suburban electorate to try to make this seat competitive with the right candidate.

Race Rating: Solid Republican 

Rep. Steve Pearce (New Mexico’s 2nd District)

Pearce, another Freedom Caucus member, is still mulling a run for governor. He won his seventh term by 25 points in a district Trump carried by 10. More recent presidential contests here have been closer, though, with Obama losing by less than 2 points here in 2008.

Race Rating: Solid Republican  

Rep. Elise Stefanik (New York’s 21st District)

Democrats tried to target Stefanik last year, but she ended up winning by 35 points in an upstate New York district that Trump won by 14 points. Stefanik is the first female chair of recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee, and will likely have all the support she needs should her race get competitive. But earlier presidential margins make the 21st look like more of a swing district: Obama carried it by 6 points in 2012 and by 5 in 2008. 

Race Rating: Solid Republican 

Rep. Tom Reed (New York’s 23rd District)

Democrats also tried to put this district on the map last year, but Reed won a fifth term by 15 points — the same margin by which Trump carried the district. But this upstate district was much closer in 2012, when Romney carried it by 1 point, and in 2008, when Obama carried it by the same margin.

Race Rating: Solid Republican  

Rep. Michael R. Turner (Ohio’s 10th District)

Trump won here by 7 points, which is among the smallest margins of these 20 additional Trump seats the DCCC is targeting. But the presidential margin was much closer here in 2012 and 2008. Still, Turner won an eighth term by 31 points last fall.

Race Rating: Solid Republican 

Rep. David Joyce (Ohio’s 14th District)

This Buckeye State district tells a similar story. Trump won it by 12 points, but 2012 and 2008 featured much closer races at the presidential level. Still, Joyce won a third term by 25 points last fall.

Race Rating: Solid Republican 

Rep. Tom Garrett (Virginia’s 5th District)

This freshman lawmaker is a new member of the Freedom Caucus. He won by 17 points in a district Republicans poured late outside money into — part of a ‘just in case’ firewall to prevent an anti-Trump wave late last year. Trump ended up winning by 11 points, but presidential margins were also narrower here in 2012 and 2008.

Race Rating: Solid Republican 

Rep. Dave Brat (Virginia’s 7th District)

Another Freedom Caucus member, Brat sits in a district Trump won by 7 points — a smaller margin than many of these districts. Other GOP presidential nominees have run slightly stronger here. Brat won by 15 points, but Democrats may be hoping that opposition to the health care vote, including at a raucous town hall earlier this month, could help chip away some support from the three-term congressman. 

Open (West Virginia’s 3rd District)

Rep. Evan Jenkins is vacating this seat to run for the Senate. Trump won the seat by a whopping 49 points (while Jenkins carried it by an similarly strong 44 points). But until Jenkins ran for this seat in 2014, when he switched parties to do so, the 3rd District had been represented for years by long-time Democratic Rep. Nick J. Rahall II — even while Republicans carried it at the presidential level. Democrats’ best chance at making this open seat competitive is landing a strong recruit who fits the district. 

Race Rating: Solid Republican 

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