Campaigns

Fate of ‘national security Democrats’ provides key to House majority

Republicans hope for impeachment backlash; these races tell a different story

From left, Democratic Reps. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan pose for a selfie taken by Rep. Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania in February 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Four months ago, seven freshman Democrats accelerated the impeachment process with an op-ed in The Washington Post. With less than a year before Election Day, their electoral fates represent a microcosm of the Republican challenge to win back the House majority.

For much of the impeachment discussion and process, Republicans have been emboldened. They believe Democrats will be held accountable for the time spent investigating President Donald Trump and experience a backlash similar to the one Republicans faced in the late 1990s when President Bill Clinton was impeached.

While the national narrative paints one scenario, an individual look at each race reveals a difficult road ahead for the GOP. The seven “national security Democrats” all represent districts recently represented by Republicans. All were elected in 2018 — four of them in districts Trump carried and three in districts that backed Hillary Clinton — with 53 percent or less of the vote.

Not only have the seven Democrats not shied away from impeachment, one of them, Colorado’s Jason Crow, is among the seven House impeachment managers.

Based on the partisanship of their districts now and the national political environment, along with the strength of the incumbents and challengers, the outlook is not good for the GOP. The best case scenario for Republicans, at this stage, is knocking off two or three of these seven freshmen. It’s also plausible that the GOP gets shut out — with no wins out of the seven races.

These aren’t all “must wins” for Republicans, but since the districts were part of the previous GOP majority, Republicans will have to find other seats to win around the country if they don’t win enough of these seven. And the story in many of those races is similar, where Republican candidates are getting lapped by Democrats in fundraising.

Here’s a look at each race:

Rep. Gil Cisneros, California’s 39th District

The good news for Republicans is that former state Assemblywoman Young Kim kept pace with Cisneros in cash on hand through Sept. 30 ($658,000 for the incumbent to $638,000 for Kim). The bad news is that Cisneros is a lottery winner with personal money to spend, and Clinton won the San Gabriel Valley/northern Orange County district with 52 percent in 2016. And there’s little evidence the district has shifted away from Democrats. Kim came within 2 points of a win in 2018, but it’s still a tough environment. Current rating: Likely Democratic.

Rep. Jason Crow, Colorado’s 6th

Less than a year into his first term, Crow was chosen as one of the impeachment managers. He represents a previously competitive district in the Aurora area, but Clinton’s 50 percent win in 2016, Crow’s 10-point victory in 2018 and the lack of a credible challenger in 2020 fuels Democratic confidence that impeachment won’t be a liability. Crow had $1.1 million in the bank on Sept. 30, while the next closest Republican candidate had $191,000. Current rating: Solid Democratic.

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, Pennsylvania’s 6th

Mid-decade redistricting solidified the seat’s turn from competitive to Democratic. Clinton would have received 53 percent under the current lines. In addition, Houlahan had $1.8 million in her campaign account at the end of September compared to $133,000 for Republican John Emmons. Current rating: Solid Democratic.

Rep. Elaine Luria, Virginia’s 2nd

Republicans believe they’ve got a top-tier challenger with former Rep. Scott Taylor in the Virginia Beach district that Trump won with 49 percent. Taylor lost to Luria by 2 points in 2018 and started the cycle running against Democratic Sen. Mark Warner. After switching races a few weeks ago, he’s now playing catch-up with Luria in fundraising. On Sept. 30, she had $1.1 million, while he had $167,000 in his Senate account that could be transferred. Current rating: Leans Democratic.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill, New Jersey’s 11th

Sherrill took over a Morris County-area seat that had been in Republican hands for generations, and the GOP will have a hard time winning it back in 2020. Trump won it with 49 percent, but the congresswoman is one of the Democrats’ best fundraisers — she had $1.7 million in the bank on Sept. 30. Republican Rosemary Becchi, who recently switched from the 7th District race to run here, had $267,000 at the end of September. Current rating: Likely Democratic.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, Michigan’s 8th

The Republican National Committee tried to pressure Slotkin into rejecting an impeachment inquiry, and Trump won her Lansing/exurban Detroit district with 51 percent. But defeating Slotkin won’t be easy. She raised a considerable $1.27 million in the last three months of the year and finished 2019 with $2.8 million in the bank. State Board of Education member Nikki Snyder, who is supposed to be Slotkin’s top GOP challenger, entered the race in early October and is playing catch-up in fundraising. Current rating. Lean Democratic.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, Virginia’s 7th

The race only recently saw the entry of top-tier GOP challengers, while Spanberger had $1.5 million in her campaign account on Sept. 30. Trump won the suburban Richmond district by 7 points, but Republican state Dels. Nick Freitas and John McGuire won’t likely be able to ramp up their fundraising until the GOP selects a nominee in the spring. Nonprofit co-founder/director Tina Ramirez has been running since April and had $52,000 at the end of September. Current rating: Tilts Democratic.

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