One of the likeliest Democratic pickups in the country just got much more likely. A Republican candidate for Congress in New Jersey was found to have made offensive comments about black and Hispanic people and, as soon as those particular comments came to light, the House Republicans' campaign arm pulled its endorsement.
(Though liberal groups have been sharing controversial comments made by Seth Grossman for more than a month.)
On Monday, the final straw came for Republicans. A liberal watchdog group revealed that in 2014, Grossman, the recent Republican nominee in New Jersey's 2nd District, shared an article on Facebook from a white-nationalist website that said that African Americans “are a threat to all who cross their paths, black and non-black alike.” In the wake of the revelation, the House GOP campaign arm retracted what was a nominal endorsement of Grossman, who was not the party's favorite candidate in the first place.
“Bigotry has no place in society — let alone the U.S. House of Representatives,” Rep. Steve Stivers, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement Monday night.
In the battle for the House this fall, officially giving up on a Republican-held seat is not what the party needs right now. President Trump won this Atlantic City-area district by four points, and it has been in Republican hands since 1994, when Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo, who is retiring, first won it.
Republicans maintain that this race hasn't been competitive for a while and that the latest news doesn’t throw a wrench in their strategy to keep their House majority.
LoBiondo's retirement immediately moved the seat to the top of competitive races on Democrats' list. In June, Democrats nominated their strongest possible candidate, conservative state Sen. Jeff Van Drew. Republicans openly acknowledged that they didn't have a solid candidate to respond. As far back as April, Stivers called the seat a “recruiting hole.” In that vacuum, a pro-Trump firebrand, former Atlantic City Council member Grossman, won his party's nomination, which Republicans in Washington were none too happy about.
In other words, that Democrats would probably flip this New Jersey district was a foregone conclusion on both sides months before Republicans pulled their endorsement of Grossman. In The Fix's most recent rankings, right after Grossman won his primary, we put New Jersey's 2nd Congressional District second out of 10 that are most likely to flip parties.
But to restate the obvious: Having to denounce one of their own candidates for approvingly sharing a white-nationalist article — this is the same candidate who weeks earlier had been found saying that “the whole idea of diversity is a bunch of crap” — isn't helpful right now.
To keep control of the House, Republicans have to prevent Democrats from netting 23 seats. There are 23 districts that Republicans hold that Hillary Clinton won in November, and 2018 is shaping up to be a year in which Republicans are on the defensive on many fronts.
Like retirements. We're entering an election cycle in which every pickup for Democrats matters, and Republican retirements are set to be a major factor because open seats are easier for an opposing party to compete in instead of trying to oust an incumbent.
LoBiondo is among a historic number of House Republicans leaving Congress this year, and his retirement opened the door for Democrats to become the favored party in this district.
In neighboring Pennsylvania, GOP Rep. Ryan Costello retired after the filing deadline (in part over his frustration with Trump), leaving Republicans without a strong candidate in that competitive 6th District race.
And in a lean-Republican seat in Kansas, CNN reported that one of the GOP front-runners to try to replace retiring Rep. Lynn Jenkins, state Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, recently told local Republicans that “outside Western civilization there is only barbarism.”
Redistricting is another head wind blowing against Republicans. This year, Pennsylvania's highest court forced the redrawing of the state's entire congressional map, which gives Democrats an opportunity to pick up as many as half a dozen seats. (Though Republicans in other states caught a break when the Supreme Court declined to weigh in on other major redistricting cases that could have transformed the redistricting rules.)
Democratic voter enthusiasm in November is more of an open question, but Democrats have some key data points to share about why they remain optimistic.
Democrats have already celebrated wins in Trump country in Pennsylvania, with Democrat Conor Lamb winning a House special election in March in a district that Trump won by 20 points.
And Democrats have flipped more than 40 statehouse seats across the nation, including some deep in Trump country.
A Washington Post average of polls this past month shows that Democrats have a six-point lead in the question of whether voters want a generic Democrat or a generic Republican to represent them in Congress. That's right on the edge of what election forecasters say Democrats need to win the House majority.
Republicans giving up on one House race after their candidate implodes with controversial comments doesn't make or break which party will control the House after the November elections.
But in light of everything else that Republicans have to battle this year to keep their majority, it's not what they want to be dealing with.