Trump Heading To Trip up a Dem Senator Near You

The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 23

This week:

  • The great Trump mystery Senate tour — will it work?
  • Dems risk missing out on a few key House pickup opportunities long before November
  • Feinstein may be at risk, but not from a Republican.

This Tuesday, June 5, features primaries in Alabama, California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota.

Senate 2018

Trump Senate Tour: Republicans are not just optimistic, but downright excited at the possibility that President Trump can insert himself into a few key Senate races that seemed off the table before, and put them back into play.

So is Trump, and he’s just started a national tour of sorts that is intended to do just that. You could call it a win-win for everyone. Trump gets to go before adoring crowds in friendly states, and Republican Senate candidates in the heart of Trump Country get to bask in the warmth.

The first stop was in Tennessee, where well-placed insults of former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen as “Philbert,” “whatever the hell his name is,” and a “tool” of Chuck Schumer is intended to help Republicans shore up a defensive action in an open Republican seat.

Trump will be spending time soon in Indiana, North Dakota, Montana, West Virginia, and Missouri, all states where he did unusually well in 2016 compared to earlier Republican presidential candidates. In each state, he will be pointedly attacking a Democratic incumbent and trying to help jumpstart a Republican campaign in a state where Republicans have a natural advantage.

Trump’s activity now might seem daft if you’ve studied earlier attempts by presidents to make themselves relevant in midterms. It usually backfires. Think back to the 2010 election. Having assured congressional Democrats that they were safe because of his presidency, President Obama traveled the country in 2010 to try to help his incumbents survive. It didn’t work. In fact, it was a disaster. Democrats did best in places he didn’t visit. And a similar result came in 2014, when his visits to Maryland and Maine presaged Democratic losses there

But thanks to the unusually lopsided Senate map, this time it might really work. Think again of 2010: What if there had been a bunch of Republican incumbent senators running for re-election in states like Maryland, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and California? If that had been the case, Obama might have actually been an asset in the 2010 campaign.

Trump has just that opportunity. And this time, the playing field is conducive to having it work.

California: Well, okay, here’s a good example of a state where Trump isn’t going to be able to help at all.

With the Republican vote split between eleven poorly funded candidates, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., will likely face a Democrat in the general election, thanks to the state’s top-two jungle primary rules. State Sen. Kevin DeLeon, who is challenging Feinstein from her Left, has a serious chance of defeating her this fall.

Montana: This primary takes place Tuesday. State Auditor Matt Rosendale will likely ride his financial advantage and (relatively) high profile as a statewide officeholder to the nomination. His closest rival is Judge Russell Fagg, who has tried to make as much of Rosendale’s East Coast roots as possible.

Whoever wins, Republicans would love to see this race become a serious contest. It seemed off the table when their best-positioned candidate, former Rep. Ryan Zinke, was taken out of contention when Trump brought him into his administration.

As noted above, the NRSC is counting on President Trump (who will be in Montana soon enough) to escalate his feud with Democratic incumbent Sen. Jon Tester in order to turn the state’s marginal voters against him. It’s quite doable — Tester has never won 50 percent of the vote — but Montana has much deeper Democratic roots than other surrounding states like Idaho and Wyoming. Trump has to make a strong case against Tester, it won’t be enough for him just to show up.

House 2018

California: California’s relatively new top-two primary system was designed to suppress Republican turnout statewide by creating more top-of-the-ballot races where they won’t have a candidate in November. That’s why it’s at least a bit amusing to watch when this system backfires.

There are three U.S. House districts in Southern California where Democrats risk being shut out as two Republicans advance.

Two are open Republican seats that should be prime pickup opportunities for them — those of retiring Reps. Darrell Issa (the 49th) and Ed Royce (the 39th).

The third is the 48th District seat of the always-controversial Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R, which should also be a prime pickup chance. But Rohrabacher faces a single Republican opponent, former Orange County GOP chairman Scott Baugh, and then too many Democratic challengers who will split the vote on the other side. National Democratic recruitment efforts (the party’s once-favored recruit, Hans Keirstead, had a sexual harassment scandal in his background) made the party’s chances of coming in second significantly worse. Democrats’ only hope of participating in the November election in that seat is that Republicans divide their vote very unevenly between their two candidates.

Michigan-1: No matter how many seats Democrats pick up this year, here is one they are definitely not getting. Freshman Republican Rep. Jack Bergman gets a free pass in his Upper Peninsula district because the only Democrat who filed for the race, Matt Morgan, failed to submit the required 1,000 valid signatures to appear on the ballot. That’s right — Michigan’s surprisingly low bar for signature gathering, which some years ago ended the political career of former Rep. Thad McCotter,  has once again foiled a big-time candidate, about whose fundraising the DCCC had been bragging only recently.

Although this district perfectly fits the mold of those that have been slipping away from Democrats culturally (rural, mostly white, Catholic, blue collar), it was a Democratic district for nearly 80 years starting in 1933. It could have loomed large in Democrats’ attempts to pick up seats in 2018, but better luck in 2020.

New Mexico-2: The last time Republican Rep. Steve Pearce left this seat to run for statewide office, in 2008, a Democrat picked it up. He returned and reclaimed it in 2010 and hasn’t had trouble since, but now he’s out again to run for governor.

But Democrats that year fielded the moderate Harry Teague, who carried the NRA’s endorsement and fit the seat well enough to serve at least one term. They won’t be fielding a moderate this year.

The Democratic Party-handpicked candidate is Xochitl Torres Small, a former aide to Sen. Tom Udall who has the backing of the abortion group EMILY’s list. Veteran and college instructor Madeleine Hildebrandt, who has raised only about half as much money, conforms to the same left-wing model otherwise: environmentalism, looser immigration enforcement, universal government health care, and higher Social Security taxes. Both candidates use moderate language on Second Amendment issues, but their positions (background checks on private sales, “assault weapon” bans, etc.) are basically all stock progressive.

On the Republican side, state Rep. Yvette Herrell has the inside track for the conservative vote. The more establishment-friendly Monty Newman, former state GOP chairman and mayor of Hobbs, has gone negative late in the race, possibly fearful that it is slipping away from him.

Virginia-5: The sudden decision by Rep. Tom Garrett, R, to drop out of his re-election race probably makes it easier for Republicans’ to keep his seat. Garrett blamed his alcoholism, but he faced an ethics investigation for using his congressional staff as personal servants, and it probably had a lot more to do with that. Over the weekend, Republicans chose distiller Denver Riggleman, who has promised to join the Freedom Caucus in the House, as their candidate. He will face Democrat Leslie Cockburn, who has taken significant flack for anti-Semitic or at least stridently anti-Israel writings in the early 1990s.

Cockburn’s nomination in the Democrats’ early May convention might have mattered less if Garrett had stayed in the race. Now it threatens to lock Democrats out of yet another potential pickup opportunity.