Headlines have trumpeted this November’s historic Senate Republican 2020 defeat. Tillis down 12 in North Carolina. Gardener down 6 in Colorado. McSally down 16 in Arizona. Susan down 5 in Maine. Attracting much less attention, but deserving more, is the pounding that Republicans will take in the House.
“If the economy continues to crater, I think that presents serious problems for the president,” said Michael McAdams, the press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee, to PBS Newshour’s Daniel Bush.
“Trump, once feared by GOP candidates who watched the president thwart the political futures of those Republicans deemed not sufficiently loyal, are finding he may bring them down this fall. And what’s worse for vulnerable Republicans running for House and Senate seats, separating themselves from the man whose poll numbers are plummeting may be more damaging than hitching themselves to his hip,” reports Susan Milligan of US News.
What follows is stone-cold proof that Donald J. Trump will bring down House Republicans as his own ship sinks.
Five Thirty Eight reports Democrats winning the race for Congress by 8.5% as of July 28. Data trends suggest that Five Thirty Eight’s generic poll of polls is pointing to a sound beating in November for Republican House candidates across the country as voters flee the party. Note that the following polling data comes from several poll providers. All data is available at Five Thirty Eight.
Analysis of individual House races identify voters fleeing Republicans
In 2018, Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones lost to Rep. William Hurd by less than 1% for Texas‘ 23rd congressional district seat. In mid-May, she leads Republican Tony Gonzales by two points. In August 2019, Republican Wesley Hunt lead incumbent Democrat Lizzie Fletcher by two points for Texas’ 7th. They are now tied among likely voters.
Between May and July, Democrat Alyse Galvin increased her lead over Republican incumbent Don Young by a point in the race for Alaska’s 1st congressional district seat. In 2018, she lost to Young by seven points.
In 2018, Republican Susan Brooks won Indiana’s 5th congressional district seat by 13 points. As Brooks retires, Democrat Christina Hale leads Republican Victoria Spartz by six points as of late June.
In 2016 Republican incumbent Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania’s 16th congressional district was so formidable that he ran unchallenged. Democrat Ron DiNicola shrank an eight-point lead for Kelly to four in the 30 days prior to the 2018 election. 2020 Democratic challenger Kristy Gnibus trails Kelly, also by eight points in late June.
Democrat Kara Eastman lost to Republican incumbent Don Bacon by two points for Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district seat in 2018. In September, Eastman was down one to Bacon in a rematch. By May, she is up one.
Also in 2018, New York congressional district 24 incumbent John Katko defeated Democrat Dana Balter by six points. In June, she leads Katko by three.
Georgia’s 7th congressional district representative Rob Woodall held onto his seat by less than a 1% margin in 2018. Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux returns and leads Woodall by three points in mid-June.
In another rematch, Democrat Dan Feehan leads incumbent Jim Hagedorn by a point as of mid-June for Minnesota’s 1st congressional district seat. He lost to Hagedorn in 2018 by one.
In 2018, South Carolina Democrat Joe Cunning achieved the impossible, winning the state’s 1st congressional district seat after 40 years of Republican dominance. As of mid-May, he trails two potential rivals (Kathy Landing and Nancy Mace) by between one and two points.
Republican leads have shrunk by five points in Ohio (from 7 to 2 in 60 days for incumbent Steve Chabot against Kate Schroeder), by seven points in Montana (from 9 to 2 for Matt Rosendale against Democrat Kathleen Williams in 30 days) and by five points in Texas (from a 7-point victory for incumbent Ronald Wright in 2018 to a 2-point lead over Democrat Stephen Daniel in late June).
In Virginia’s 5th congressional district, Republican incumbent Dennis Riggleman won his seat handily in 2018 by seven points. In 2020, the Trump-backed congressman lost his primary. As of late June, Republican Bob Good leads Democrat Cameron Webb by just two points.
In New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, Jeff Van Drew beat his 2018 Republican challenger Seth Grossman by eight points. Having changed party affiliation, the now-Republican Van Drew leads Democratic challenger Amy Kennedy by three as of early July.
In Pennsylvania’s 1st congressional district, Republican incumbent Brian Fitzpatrick lead Democrat Debbie Wachspress by 14 points in November. By mid-June, he leads Wachspress replacement Christina Finello by just two.
In Michigan’s 3rd congressional district, retiring Republican Rep. Justin Amash beat Democrat Cathy Albro by 11 points in 2018. Republican Lynn Afendoulis, who won her most recent state race by 20 points, is tied with Democratic challenger Hillary Scholten as of early June.
And in New Mexico’s 2nd congressional district, Democrat Xochiti Torres Small trailed Republican incumbent Yvette Herrell by two points in December. By July the race is a dead heat.
Numerous, sometimes surprising down-ballot influences that will trip up Republican candidates
Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016, while Republican congressional candidates won 1.1% more votes than did Democrats, which according to New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz, proves that Trump was not tied to the 2016 Republican party in the eyes of voters.
Since then, Trump’s support has plummeted as he now singularly defines his party.
The presidential effect
Five Thirty Eight’s Geoffrey Skelley states that in a study of election results “from 1992 to 2016, we found a strong correlation (0.655) between the national margins for presidential and House races.” Studies find between a 0.2% to 0.5% bump for every point increase in “vote share of the party’s presidential candidate.” This is a small bump – unless the vote share of the party’s presidential candidate shifts dramatically, which is all but certain for Trump in 2020.
“Now Biden is ahead in many of these [Trump] districts . . . [The president is] just out of touch with where voters are, and that continues to be a drag on these Republican candidates,” states House Majority PAC executive director Abby Curran Horrell to The Washington Post’s Rachel Bade.
The mail-in conundrum
As Trump rails against mail-in voting, Republican voters are listening and refusing to adopt the option. For Republican candidates in southern and western states being hit hard by Covid-19, this reticence is particularly damaging.
Republican Party county chair Rohn Bishop of Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin tells USA Today’s Joey Garrison “What the president is doing when he keeps saying that this mail-in balloting thing is fraudulent, he’s scaring our own voters from using a legit way to cast your ballot,” Bishop said. “We’re kind of hurting ourselves, and I don’t think that’s the wisest way to go.”
Republicans love the rally – and they should
Trump rallies are more than the mood-enhancer-of-choice for the president’s handlers. They are also important earned-media opportunities for down-ballot candidates. Politico’s Gabby Orr reports that most local and state Republican officials and candidates attend the events, all sitting in proximity to Trump for photo opportunities and many speaking to the large crowds in front of local media.
Trump held 323 rallies in 2016. In July of that year, he headlined six rallies in four states over 72 hours.
After his Tulsa failure, the Trump rally is dead.
Following the money
Supporting our analysis of individual House races, Rachel Bade of The Washington Post reports that “nonpartisan political handicappers have moved GOP-held House races from Republican to Democratic in recent weeks in Texas, Indiana and Pennsylvania. 37 of the most vulnerable House Democrats have raised over $500K last quarter and 34 have $2 million cash on hand.”
In a Houston district held by Tom Delay for 20 years, Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni raised $950,000 last quarter. This in a district that went for Trump by eight points in 2016.
And Democrats are returning to Nancy Pelosi’s 2018 winning playbook, “healthcare, healthcare, healthcare,” a message all the more powerful as the Covid-19 pandemic rages on.
Past performance on future performance
Brookings Institute’s William H. Frey identifies voting trends between 2016 and 2018 that bode well for 2020 Democratic House candidates.
More than four-fifths of 2018 voters reside in counties with rising Democratic support.
In 2,445 out of 3,111 counties, Fey finds a positive Democrat to Republican margin shift between 2016 and 2018, regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican won the midterm contest. This identifies a greater Democratic advantage and a smaller Republican one.
Furthermore Fey reports that 83% of voters reside in these counties that have increased their Democrat to Republican margins since 2016. 26% live in counties where the Democrat to Republican margin increased by 10 percentage points.
This trend is particularly notable in large suburbs. The white Republican vote advantage in House races decreased by half between 2016 and 2018, while Democratic advantage among blacks, Latinos and other minorities increased.
Fey concludes by observing that the Census Bureau records a 53.4% turnout in 2018, the highest for a midterm election since collecting these data began in 1978.
“Donald Trump is becoming risky, and therefore Republicans that support him become risky as well,” says Rick Ridder, a Colorado-based Democratic consultant to Daniel Bush of PBS Newshour.
If you think Trump is bad for Republican Senate candidates, wait till you see what he does to the House.