The 2018 midterms will likely be a national contest based on visceral antagonism toward President Trump. He’s not on the ballot, but his enablers are. That makes it harder for many incumbents or challengers simply because they have “R” after their name. Nevertheless, local concerns and particular issues may aggravate matters. Let’s look at two burdens that a bunch of Republicans will have to shoulder.
The first is the tax bill. Stu Rothenberg writes:
Seats that looked safe before the wave will eventually be categorized as endangered …
So, some GOP incumbents who won comfortably in the past are at risk this year. I would certainly keep an eye on Trump districts that went for Barack Obama twice.
Those 11 districts include four in the Empire State — New York’s 1st (Lee Zeldin), 2nd (Peter T. King), 19th (John J. Faso) and 21st (Elise Stefanik) — and two in the Garden State: New Jersey’s 2nd (left open by retiring Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo) and 3rd (Tom MacArthur).
That list also includes two seats in Iowa — the 1st District (Rod Blum) and 3rd (David Young) — and one each in Illinois, Maine and Minnesota — Illinois’ 12th (Mike Bost), Maine’s 2nd (Bruce Poliquin) and Minnesota’s 2nd (Jason Lewis).
Rothenberg also identifies two more GOP-held seats that we should keep an eye on — New York’s 22nd (Claudia Tenney) and 23rd (Tom Reed).
What’s interesting in that breakdown is the number of representatives from high-tax blue states whose constituents may get whacked by the tax bill. Minnesota has the third-highest state income tax, Iowa the fourth-highest, New Jersey the fifth-highest (Rothenberg also notes that in New Jersey’s 11th, Rodney Frelinghuysen may be vulnerable), and New York the eighth-highest. Lots of voters in these states were panicking at year’s end to figure out how to prepay property taxes. (In New York, California and other high-tax states, some rather outlandish schemes are afoot to try to get around the $10,000 cap on the state and local tax deduction.)
Next is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, in the event DACA recipients are not protected — or even if a DACA fix passes over the objections of Republicans. There are plenty of states with already at-risk Republicans in states with a high percentage of Hispanic voters. Contrary to Trump’s ludicrous tweet (“Democrats are doing nothing for DACA – just interested in politics. DACA activists and Hispanics will go hard against Dems, will start ‘falling in love’ with Republicans and their President! We are about RESULTS”), there is only one party that is united in support of a DACA fix. Those familiar with the progress of talks tell me Republicans are treading water, as one might expect of those with no idea what Trump really wants to do. A plugged-in Senate adviser says Republican leaders are not about to “sign off on something not knowing if the president is going to rip them on Twitter for agreeing to a big deal.”
This issue may affect a whole slew of seats. Republicans have practically written off Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat in Florida’s 27th. Add in Rep. Carlos Curbelo in Florida’s 26th; the 7th, 23rd and 32nd districts in Texas (where Republicans were already on many watch lists) and six California seats (the 10th, 25th, 39th, 45th, 48th and 49th were already vulnerable). In a wave election, even the seats of Reps. David Valadao (California’s 21st), Duncan Hunter (California’s 50th), Brian Mast (Florida’s 18th) could fall into Democratic hands. Even if every one of them voted for a DACA fix, unless it passes voters could well conclude the only solution is to give Democrats the majority. Add to that mix the administration’s efforts to bully locales dubbed “sanctuary cities,” an increase in deportations of non-criminals and ominous signals of making voting access harder (e.g., Trump’s fake voter integrity commission), and you have the makings of a Hispanic backlash.
Remember that in Nevada, a state Hillary Clinton won with the help of organized labor and Hispanics, GOP Sen. Dean Heller is already vulnerable. In Arizona, the open seat resulting from GOP Sen. Jeff Flake’s announced retirement may also turn on immigration issues.
A potent immigration issue also raises the possibility of a stiffer-than-expected challenge to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a vitriolic opponent of anything he thinks sniff of “amnesty.” Democrats have a favored candidate in Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Cruz’s team is nervous enough to drop a meaningless early poll showing him 18 points ahead. Even with Cruz-ized numbers, there is a flashing red light: “Cruz clocked in with a favorability rating of 50 percent, while 42 percent of likely voters have an unfavorable opinion of the senator. For O’Rourke, 14 percent of those who had heard of him have a favorable view, while 7 percent said they have an unfavorable view.” Cruz’s negatives are high, while O’Rourke has the potential to make a favorable first impression with many voters.
It’s far from clear that Democrats will play hard in Texas, but, frankly, if they have a bunch of potential House pickups and can commit to a major Hispanic registration drive, they’d be silly not to give it a shot.