The day after Donald Trump rolled up presidential primary victories in Florida, Illinois and elsewhere last week, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico and his fellow Democratic congressional campaign architects could hardly contain their glee.
Not because they want Trump to win the White House, obviously, but because they think the New York billionaire’s nomination – and all the controversy and baggage that would accompany it – potentially spells doom for Republican congressional candidates.
Lujan, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters at the Democratic National Committee headquarters that having the bombastic and polarizing Trump at the top of the Republican ticket could especially hurt GOP congressional candidates in swing districts.
As DCCC chairman, Lujan is responsible for recruiting Democratic House candidates and making sure they have the money and other resources necessary to win elections. He said if Trump is the nominee, Republican candidates will be forced to answer for the real estate mogul’s sometimes incendiary comments about women, immigrants, Muslims and others.
“Donald Trump is creating a better environment for Democrats all across the country, up and down the ballot,” Lujan said. “Many traditional Republican voters are turned off and even repelled by Donald Trump. It will help Democrats in districts with a huge number of independent voters, socially moderate voters, millennials and even minority voters.
“We are going to be well positioned to take advantage of this development,” Lujan added while stopping short of predicting a Democratic House takeover.
Naturally, I asked Lujan’s counterparts at the Republican National Congressional Committee for their reaction to the New Mexico Democrat’s suddenly bullish view of the upcoming House elections. And naturally, they weren’t buying it.
“House Democrats have been pushing their far-fetched fantasy about a wave election sweeping them to a majority every cycle since voters rejected Nancy Pelosi’s speakership in 2010,” said Katie Martin, the NRCC’s communications director. “Here in the real world, a combination of their recruiting failures in races across the country and their own presidential candidate’s abysmal favorability ratings ensure that Democrats’ chances of winning the majority this year are as laughable as they were in 2012 and 2014.”
Democrats need to pick up 30 seats to reclaim the U.S. House – a prospect that few, if any, professional election handicappers thought was possible just six months ago. Not many are predicting a House takeover by Democrats now, even with a Trump nomination, but most are saying that the party could make major gains.
Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report, which closely tracks electoral developments and trends nationwide, told me that “a Trump nomination would change the cycle dramatically.”
“A Democratic wave would be more likely to develop, giving Democrats the (four or five) seats they need to take over the Senate,” Rothenberg said. “They would also make substantial House gains.
“But Dems have such a steep road to travel to win the House that they would not yet be on that road,” Rothenberg added. “Substantial gains in the 10-15 seat range? Absolutely — and maybe even a few more. But the 30 seats they would need? No, they are currently a ways off from that. Of course, that could change. But Democratic suggestions that they could take back the House are premature.”
Rothenberg also echoed the NRCC’s contention that Lujan has had some trouble fielding strong enough candidates to beat Republicans in key districts. “They failed to recruit credible candidates in a number of districts – two in Illinois alone – and that will limit their gains,” Rothenberg said.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., told me that the Democratic Party and its congressional candidates will aggressively try to force Republican House candidates to go on the record about their views of Trump and his positions if he is the nominee.
“There are some very uncomfortable questions that we are going to make sure that Republican incumbents in the House and Senate in competitive districts are going to have to answer,” she said.
Wasserman-Schultz was careful to note that Democrats take Trump himself seriously as a presidential candidate. After the remarkable political run he’s had over the past year, they’d be fools not to.
“We’re not laughing him off or assuming that he’s completely beatable,” she said. “But Donald Trump creates a host of opportunities for us.”