House Democrats are training their resources on once-solid Republican footholds in affluent suburban districts where voters feel alienated by President Trump.
Christina Hale, a Democrat, is running in a House district in Indiana that President Trump won by eight points in 2016. Four years later, her party sees her as among multiple viable prospects for expanding their majority in the chamber.
VERONA, N.Y. — Pushing further into Republican territory one week before Election Day, Democrats are poised to expand their majority in the House while Republicans, weighed down by President Trump’s low standing in crucial battlegrounds, are scrambling to offset losses.
Bolstered by an enormous cash-on-hand advantage, a series of critical Republican recruitment failures and a wave of liberal enthusiasm, Democrats have fortified their grip on hard-fought seats won in 2018 that allowed them to seize control of the House. They have trained their firepower and huge campaign coffers on once-solid Republican footholds in affluent suburban districts, where many voters have become disillusioned with Mr. Trump.
That has left Republicans, who started the cycle hoping to retake the House by clawing back a number of the competitive districts they lost to Democrats in 2018, straining to meet a bleaker goal: limiting the reach of another Democratic sweep by winning largely rural, white working-class districts like this one in central New York where Mr. Trump is still popular. Depending on how successful those efforts are, Republican strategists, citing a national environment that has turned against them, privately forecast losing anywhere from a handful of seats to as many as 20.
That is starkly at odds with Mr. Trump’s own prediction just days ago that Republicans would win back control of the House, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared “delusional,” echoing the private assessments of many in the president’s own party.
“The Democrats’ green wave in 2018 has turned into a green tsunami in 2020, which combined with ongoing struggles with college-educated suburban voters, makes for an extremely challenging environment,” said Corry Bliss, a Republican strategist who helped lead the party’s failed effort in 2018 to protect its House majority, referring to the torrent of Democratic campaign cash. “There are about a dozen 50-50 races across the country, and the most important factor in each is if the president can close strong in the final stretch.”
Republicans are trying to limit the reach of another Democratic sweep by winning largely rural, white-working class communities where Mr. Trump is still popular, like Verona, N.Y.
- More than 69.5 million Americans have already mailed in their ballots or voted early in person.As crowd chants ‘lock her up,’ President Trump attacks Michigan’s governor, again, at Lansing rally.In Florida, Democrats have cast more mail-in ballots and Republicans have cast more early in-person votes.
But Mr. Brindisi, who has sought to build a platform rooted in health care and local constituency work and legislation, argued that Ms. Tenney lost in 2018 because she had failed to deliver on her promises to the district.
“People don’t want to turn back the clock. They want to continue to go forward,” Mr. Brindisi said. “At the end of the day, if I meet with people on the street in this district, what they’ll tell me is, ‘Anthony, I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or Republican, just get things done.’”
Mr. Brindisi, Democrat of New York, flipped his traditionally conservative district in 2018, winning by about 4,500 votes.Credit…Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times
Elsewhere around the country, some challengers whom Republicans had promoted as strong recruits, like Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from the Citadel who is running against Representative Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, have found themselves stunted by a dismal national environment and unable to get their attacks against centrist lawmakers to stick.
“When you try and paint somebody that’s clearly a moderate as super extreme, I just don’t think it works,” said A.J. Lenar, a Democratic ad maker and strategist who works with Mr. Cunningham and cut an ad poking fun at attempts to brand him a socialist.
Making matters worse for Republicans is the state of their fund-raising. Democrats in the most competitive races are sitting on a 5-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage over their Republican challengers, and Democratic candidates overall were poised to spend nearly twice as much on television ads from Labor Day to Election Day, according to strategists tracking the buys. In New York, Democrats are outspending Republicans by $9 million on television in support of Representative Max Rose, who holds a Staten Island seat that Republicans believe is one of their best opportunities.
Some Republican candidates, including Ms. Tenney, were out-raised so handily that outside groups, like the Congressional Leadership Fund, a House Republican super PAC, have been forced to step in to carry out campaign fundamentals like advertising and phone calls, as well as get-out-the-vote programs. Ms. Tenney is among a group of Republican candidates this cycle who have run almost no ads themselves, leaving the super PAC to carry their entire television campaign.
Democrats’ giant cash advantage also means they can afford to play in longer-shot races in Alaska and Montana, forcing Republicans to sink millions into those at-large seats in an effort to build a firewall against a potential wave.
Even though his party appeared to be playing more defense than offense, Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, argued in an interview that Republicans could still take back the House. Democrats in districts like New York’s 22nd, which Mr. Brindisi flipped two years ago, appear to be on stronger footing than they actually are, he said, because of national polls that undercount conservatives — an assertion few of his peers share.
But he acknowledged his prediction assumed Mr. Trump was as popular with voters in those districts as he was four years ago.
“It really depends on if the president performs at or near 2016 levels,” Mr. Emmer said. “If not, it becomes a lot more difficult.”
That is also the challenge for Victoria Spartz, the Republican state senator who is running against Ms. Hale in the suburbs of Indiana, where internal polls show support for Mr. Trump eroding. She has used her rags-to-riches story of emigrating from the Soviet Ukraine to emphasize her strong belief in limited government.
But Ms. Spartz is facing the same headwinds buffeting her party in districts around the nation. After prevailing in a crowded primary by flaunting her conservative credentials, she must now convince voters of her independence from Mr. Trump and Republicans.
“I wish people would pay more attention and actually vote for the candidate,” she said in an interview, “not for the party.”
Emily Cochrane reported from Verona, N.Y., and Catie Edmondson from Washington. Luke Broadwater contributed reporting from Washington.