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Trump Country Democrats Hold Their Own

Trump’s policy agenda was not a winning message for Republican challengers

Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois was one of nine Democrats who have held onto their seats in districts Donald Trump won in 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois was one of nine Democrats who have held onto their seats in districts Donald Trump won in 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Of the 12 Democrats running for seats in districts won by Donald Trump in 2016, nine had claimed victory by Wednesday afternoon.

Democrats were aided by flawed opponents who ran on Republican legislative priorities that poll poorly among independent voters — including the 2017 tax bill and the prolonged push to strip protections for patients with preexisting conditions from the 2010 health law.

The challengers positioned themselves as outsiders. They sought to link their  moderate Democratic opponents to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, but that line of attack proved to be insufficiently potent.

The race for Arizona’s 1st District had yet to be called Wednesday afternoon. Democratic incumbent Tom O’Halleran led Wendy Rodgers by 7 points with 99 percent of precincts reporting.

Two traditionally Democratic districts that Trump won in 2016 flipped to Republican control, both in Minnesota

Prior to  Pete Stauber’s victory Tuesday night, Minnesota’s 8th District had been a Democratic stronghold — a Republican has only represented the district for two of the last 80 years, according to the Star Tribune — but it broke for Trump by nearly 16 points in 2016. Outgoing Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan announced his retirement earlier this year after squeaking out a victory by less than a percentage point in his last election. 

Trump elevated Stauber’s profile when he stumped for him in June. His opponent, longtime Nolan aide Joe Radinovich, was tarnished by millions in attack ads by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with close ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan.

In keeping with a widespread Democratic strategy this year, Radinovich knocked Stauber by tying him to the Republican health care agenda. But Stauber evaded questions about whether he would have backed Republican-led efforts to repeal the 2010 health law in an interview with MinnPost. He did run an ad featuring his son Isaac, who has Down syndrome, in order to assure voters he would protect patients with preexisting medical conditions. Candidates who heartily backed “repeal and replace” in their campaigns did not fare as well.

Republicans will also pick up Minnesota’s 1st District. Jim Hagedorn won narrowly over Democrat Dan Feehan for the seat Rep. Tim Walz vacated to run for governor. Hagedorn ran for a fourth time despite longstanding concerns about disparaging comments he made about women and Native Americans on his blog. 

“If someone wants to run a political correctness and identity politics campaign against us, we’ll see what happens,” Hagedorn said in August.

But most Democrats in Trump country held on to their seats.

Iowa’s 2nd District: Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack clinched reelection with 55 percent of the vote while opponent Christopher Peters took 43 percent of the vote. Loebsack promised to tread common ground with Republicans on Internet accessibility in rural areas, according to the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Peters, a surgeon, expressed support for a health care system dominated by bare-bones insurance policies and steered to a greater degree by market forces, according to his campaign website

New Hampshire’s 1st District: Chris Pappas will fill outgoing Rep. Carol Shea-Porter’s seat come January, keeping the district in Democratic hands. Pappas bested Republican Eddie Edwards by nine points. In September, Pappas came out ahead in a crowded primary field that included a well-heeled former Obama administration official. Edwards supported dismantling the 2010 health law and supported tweaking insurance regulations to allow patients to purchase policies across state lines.

Pappas pledged to get corporate money out of politics and attracted support from national LGTBQIA groups. He will be the first openly gay representative from the Granite State. Pappas’ victory comes despite the capricious nature of the district: Party control has flipped in each of the last four cycles.

New Jersey’s 5th District: Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer secured reelection with 55 percent of the vote to Republican challenger John McCann’s 44 percent. McCann’s campaign aligned with the Trump administration’s agenda on taxes, health care and immigration, according to But McCann also received disapproval from members of his own state party for fundraising with former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka. Gottheimer knocked off Rep. Scott Garrett in 2016 in the wake of comments Garrett made criticizing the NRCC for supporting a gay candidate.

Nevada’s 3rd District: Susie Lee will replace newly elected Sen. Jacky Rosen in the House Democratic Caucus. Lee defeated Republican Danny Tarkanian by nine points. Lee centered her platform on universal health care, while Tarkanian expressed a preference for high-risk pools over the protections for patients with preexisting conditions enshrined in the 2010 health law.

Lee supported the DREAM Act, while Tarkanian supported more hardline immigration policies and referred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as “one of the most important” law enforcement agencies in the country.

The matchup took a vituperative turn when Tarkanian issued a cease-and-desist letter to Lee over attack ads accusing him of involvement in telemarketing schemes, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal.

New York’s 18th District: Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney rebuffed a challenge from Republican James O’Donnell, winning reelection by a 10-point margin. Maloney pitched himself to voters as a crusader for the 2010 health law and championed his record on the opioid epidemic, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal. O’Donnell expressed support for the 2017 GOP tax bill.

Pennsylvania’s 8th District: Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright won reelection over Republican challenger John Chrin by nine points. Cartwright hit on some themes of his campaign in his victory speech Tuesday night, the Times Leader reported, including fending off cuts to Medicare and Social Security. On the campaign trail, Chrin proposed annual hikes in the Social Security retirement age indexed to rising life expectancy, which provided fodder for a Cartwright attack ad, McClatchy reported. 

Wisconsin’s 3rd District: Rep. Ron Kind defended his seat from first-time candidate Steve Toft by a wide margin: Kind took 60 percent of the vote to Toft’s 40 percent. Kind advocated for Medicaid expansion and the preexisting conditions protections conferred by the 2010 health care law, while Toft supported opening the door to weaker protections by allowing for state waivers similar to those proposed in the Graham-Cassidy bill considered by the Senate last year, according to the La Crosse Tribune.

Toft also defended the Trump administration’s anti-immigration tactic of separating young children from their parents at the Mexican border.

Illinois’ 17th District: Rep. Cheri Bustos easily fended off Republican opponent Bill Fawell by nearly 24 points. Fawell’s fortunes fell when reporters resurfaced old blog posts peddling conspiracy theories, including a February 2013 missive alleging that Beyoncé and Jay Z belong to the Illuminati. The posts included racist, anti-Muslim and misogynistic comments about Democratic politicians.

Minnesota’s 7th District: Over the course of his 14 terms in office, Collin C. Peterson has earned loyalty in the conservative-leaning and heavily agricultural 7th District by breaking with Democrats on key issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. He also wields power as the highest ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, where he has been an outspoken opponent of the Trump administration’s stance on tariffs.

His challenger Dave Hughes did not attract the same interest and fundraising from the Republican campaign arm as Stauber’s neighboring district. Peterson defeated Hughes by just 4 points.

Braun: ‘It’s Gotten Way Too Nasty On Both Sides’

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