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Luján bullish on Democrats’ chances in U.S. House

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., is calling his shot – saying Democrats will retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives from Republicans in the November general election.

Republicans hold a 237-193 majority in the 435-member chamber – five seats are vacant – but many political pundits believe Democrats are positioned to pick up dozens of House seats in the November midterm election, which would give them control for the first time since 2008.

Democratic control of the U.S. House could also make it more difficult for President Donald Trump to push his agenda through Congress in the final two years of his current four-year term.

Luján, 46, who is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in an interview last week that he’s feeling good about Democrats winning control of the House.

“I’m confident Democrats will take back the House,” said Luján, who said he wouldn’t predict how many seats Democrats might pick up in November, but indicated the DCCC has identified 111 competitive congressional districts nationwide.

Due to his current position, the five-term representative from northern New Mexico could also see his national stature rise if Democrats reclaim a majority, but he said he’s not thinking about a possible House leadership post – at least for now.

Rather, he’s focused on his New Mexico constituents and his DCCC leadership responsibilities, he said.

“That’s where my focus is, and that’s where it’s going to continue to be,” Luján said. “There will be plenty of time to have other conversations after Nov. 6 when we’re in the fortunate position to hold the majority in the House of Representatives as Democrats.”

Asked what general message Democratic candidates would be espousing on the campaign trail, Luján said many are using their personal stories to connect with voters. He also said that while the national economy has shown recent improvement, many working-class families are still struggling to make ends meet.

In addition, Luján cited the legal troubles of several incumbent Republicans as ammunition for Democrats.

Specifically, he cited Rep. Chris Collins of New York, who was recently charged with insider trading; Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, who is facing charges of using campaign funds to pay for an expensive lifestyle; and Rep. Scott Turner of Virginia, whose campaign has been accused of submitting forged voter signatures to get an independent candidate on the ballot.

“Republicans are having to explain one scandal after another,” Luján said.

However, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee said Democrats have plenty of their own ethics issues.

“The party of Al Franken, Bob Menendez and Harvey Weinstein has no business pointing fingers,” NRCC spokesman Jack Pandol said. “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones – particularly after Chairman Luján’s organization was made aware of sexual harassment allegations that caused a congressman to resign in disgrace, yet continued spending millions on his behalf.”

That’s a reference to U.S. Rep. Ruben Kihuen of Nevada, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election this year after being accused last year by a former staffer of sexual misconduct. The woman reportedly told a DCCC staffer in 2016 she was quitting Kihuen’s campaign because she was uncomfortable around him. Luján and other Democrats called for Kihuen to resign after news reports came out last year.

In New Mexico, Luján is facing opposition in the state’s 3rd Congressional District from Republican Jerald Steve McFall of Angel Fire and Libertarian Christopher Manning of Kirtland. He has easily won re-election in his most recent bids.

Meanwhile, New Mexico’s two other congressional districts are open seats this year because incumbents Steve Pearce, a Republican, and Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, are both giving up their seats to run for governor.

Luján expressed confidence that Democrat Deb Haaland will defeat Republican Janice Arnold-Jones and Libertarian Lloyd Princeton in the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District. He also said Democrats could complete a rare sweep if Xochitl Torres Small emerges victorious against Republican Yvette Herrell, but he said the outcome of the southern New Mexico-based 2nd Congressional District race could hinge on voter turnout levels.