WASHINGTON – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s sudden and severe slide in the national polls following claims from several women that he sexually abused them, mixed in with a video that shows him speaking crudely, has some GOP leaders thinking what at one time would have been the unthinkable – the party could lose the House.
Republicans currently maintain a substantial 246-to-186 edge over minority Democrats in the lower chamber – a 60-seat bulge. The 114th Congress began with the GOP holding its largest majority since 1931 – the final Congress before the Franklin Delano Roosevelt tide.
Democrats would need to pick up 30 House seats to grab the majority and reinstall House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, into the speaker’s chair she was forced to abandon after the 2010 Tea Party rout.
A pick-up that large would constitute a political tidal wave, an event that appears unlikely outside of a total Trump collapse. With little more than three weeks to go, Democrat Hillary Clinton maintains a 5.5 percent advantage over the GOP standard bearer, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average.
Even at this late date there isn’t sufficient survey data to venture a guess as to how the Trump implosion is affecting down-ballot races. If such information was available, further downbeat disclosures – occurrences many analysts are anticipating — would make the numbers obsolete anyway.
Immediately after the videotape release about 40 members of the House and Senate announced that they were withdrawing their support from Trump. Some have returned to the fold, but the reaction shows the unsettled nature of the House races.
RealClearPolitics maintains that 231 seats – more than a majority – either lean or are safe Republican, compared to 189 lean or safe Democrats. There remains 15 toss-ups, most of them – 11 – currently held by Republicans.
The most vulnerable appear to be:
Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.): Jolly has held the seat since winning a special election in 2014 to replace Rep. Bill Young, who died in office. He garnered only 48.5 percent of the vote then and this go-round he’s facing a prominent opponent, former Republican governor turned Democrat Charlie Crist.
Jolly originally intended to vie for the Senate seat that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) intended to abandon in favor of a run for president. When that flamed out, Rubio decided to run for re-election to the Senate after all, essentially forcing Jolly to drop out and seek his old congressional seat.
The district was redrawn in 2015 as the result of a Florida Supreme Court order and now is considered safe Democrat by most analysts. Jolly is not helped by the fact that he was not considered a team player by GOP lawmakers – he sponsored legislation to ban members of Congress from personally soliciting funds – and has little money to spend.
Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.): In his first two-year term, Hardy is campaigning to return to Washington representing a decidedly Democratic district in central Nevada that includes a portion of northern Clark County. President Obama won the district with 54.4 percent of the vote in 2012 and Democrats maintain a 42 percent to 32 percent voter registration advantage.
Hardy, in a major surprise, upset incumbent Democrat Steven Horsford two years ago even though he was outspent and out-staffed. But that was during an off-year election when disaffected GOP voters went to the polls and Democrats didn’t. He has received some help from the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee in his effort to fend off Democratic state Sen. Ruben Kihuen but he may be one of those Republicans hindered by Trump – he has withdrawn his support for the nominee in light of recent events.
Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.): The 10th Congressional District is described by Ballotpedia, which calls itself the encyclopedia of American politics, as “one of the most competitive districts in the country.” It has consistently swapped party hands since redistricting following the 2010 census.
Dold won the district composed of the northern Chicago suburbs two years ago with just over 50 percent of the vote. This marks the third time he has faced off against Democrat Brad Schneider, who won the first battle in 2012.
Dold is considered one of the most moderate Republicans in the lower chamber and was one of the first to declare he would not be supporting Trump, stating in May that his party was “looking for a uniter, not a divider.”
Obama won the district handily in both 2008 and 2012, gathering 58 percent of the vote four years ago. Dold has a slight fundraising advantage, but Democrats are likely to comprise a larger percentage of the electorate during a presidential election year.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.): This is another example of a rematch where the current Republican office-holder defeated an incumbent Democrat during an off-year election, with the defeated Democrat coming back two years later during a presidential year, with additional Democratic Party regulars heading to the polls.
Curbelo defeated incumbent Democrat Joe Garcia in the Sunshine State’s southernmost congressional district, which includes Key West, with 52 percent of the vote in 2014. Again, he is considered a Republican moderate – House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has campaigned on his behalf – and he has refused to endorse Trump, going so far as to hint the Republican nominee might be a ringer planted by the Democrats.
The district is now more Democratic than it was when Curbelo won in November 2014, thanks to that Florida Supreme Court decision approving a revised political map last December. The change gives the district a Democratic majority.
Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine): In another rematch in a district comprising all of the state outside the southernmost region, Poliquin is taking on former state Sen. Emily Ann Cain, who he defeated by five percentage points two years ago while drawing only 45.2 percent of the vote.
That election, as is often the case in Maine, featured an independent, conservative Blaine Richardson, who probably drew votes away from Poliquin by capturing 11 percent. But polling this year shows the race neck-and-neck, with the presidential campaign once again looming large.
Maine 2 is one of only two New England congressional district currently held by Republicans. The district had been in Democratic hands, with Mike Michaud leaving Congress in an unsuccessful pursuit of the governorship.
Trump may be affecting the race in a different way. He remains fairly popular in the district – the RealClearPolitics polling average in the race gives the New York businessman a 7.5-point lead over Clinton. But Polquin studiously avoided referencing Trump for most of the campaign, finally saying last week that he found the remarks by the party’s presidential candidate “repulsive,” adding “there is no place in Maine and America to demean any person.”
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.): Garrett differs from most others on the vulnerable list in that he is a veteran lawmaker – seeking his seventh term from the central and northern suburbs of New York City. It is a GOP seat dating back to the 1930s. Marge Roukema held it for 10 years before Garrett and Millicent Fenwick before that.
Garrett, with ties to the Tea Party movement, is considerably more conservative than his moderate predecessors but that hasn’t proved problematic in the past, grabbing 55 percent of the vote two years go against Democrat Roy Cho. Despite reservations about Trump’s comments, Garrett said he still intends to vote for him.
But some of Garrett’s own comments seem to have him in hot water as he seeks to fend off Democrat Josh Gottheimer, a former Microsoft executive. Politico reported earlier this year that the congressman in a closed-door meeting said he would not pay dues to the National Republican Congressional Committee because the group was backing gay GOP candidates.
That comment, which he later denied making, plus his opposition to legislation banning the Confederate battle flag at military cemeteries has drawn criticism and dried up some of his fundraising in a campaign that relies on the prohibitively expensive New York media market.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.): Polls show Hillary Clinton with a solid lead in Colorado – nine points according to the RealClearPolitics polling average – and that may be having an impact on Coffman’s re-election chances against Morgan Carroll, onetime president of the state Senate.
Colorado’s centrally located 6th District, which includes parts of the eastern Denver suburbs, served as the political base for former Rep. Tom Tancredo, a feisty Republican considered one of the chamber’s most conservative members. Coffman, the former Colorado secretary of state, succeeded Tancredo and carried the district in the 2008 and 2010 elections with 61 percent and 66 percent of the vote.
But then came redistricting. The sixth lost a couple of Republican strongholds and picked up the city of Aurora, which generally votes Democratic. It is now seen as a swing district and Coffman’s vote totals show it — he barely beat Democrat Joe Miklosi by two percentage points in 2012, earning only 48 percent. He improved to 52 percent in 2014 but, as is the case with others on the list, it was an off-year election.
What’s more, while Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, carried the district with 53 percent in 2008, Obama carried it with 52 percent in 2012.
Coffman once co-sponsored legislation to make English the nation’s official language. Now he is running in a district with a 20 percent Latino population.
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas): Yet another rematch involving an incumbent Republican rolling out of his first term. Hurd defeated incumbent Democrat Pete Gallego by two points in what has proved to be a flip-flop district since longtime Republican lawmaker Henry Bonilla lost in 2006. Since then it has been filled by Democrat Ciro Rodriguez for four years, Republican Francisco Canseco for two years, Gallego for two years and now Hurd.
The district stretches for 800 miles from San Antonio to El Paso. No congressional district shares a longer border with Mexico than Texas 23, making the border wall proposed by Trump an issue.
Hurd is one of only two African-American GOP House members in a district that is almost 70 percent Latino, a factor that could work in Gallego’s favor — Mexican-Americans generally turn out to vote Democratic in presidential year elections, even in otherwise solidly red Texas.
Like several others on the list, Hurd has never endorsed Trump and, in fact, called upon him to retire from the presidential race once his lewd comments became public. Hurd also has broken with Trump and many other Republicans regarding construction of a Mexican border fence to keep illegal immigrants from crossing over, saying it’s “the most expensive way to do border security, and it’s the least effective.”
Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.): New Hampshire’s first district, which covers much of the state’s southeastern portion, including the city of Manchester, has proved to be a yo-yo, going to Guinta, the Republican, in off-year elections and former Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in presidential election years – Shea-Porter served from 2007 to 2011 and lost to Guinta, who served for two years before losing a rematch with Shea-Porter, with Guinta taking the third rematch.
In other words, this marks the fourth time Guinta and Shea-Porter have squared off. New Hampshire has proved increasingly Democratic and Guinta is carrying baggage – a couple of campaign finance violations in what generally is considered a “good government” state.
Guinta was ordered to repay a $355,000 loan his parents provided for his campaign in 2010, along with a $15,000 fine. As a result, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) suggested he resign. Then last June former state Republican Party Chairman Fergus Cullen asked the Federal Election Commission to look into $81,500 in contributions that allegedly were converted to his personal use.
Guinta, as an incumbent, barely won his primary, taking the September contest by just a bit over 700 votes. It should be noted that, unlike several contenders on the list, Guinta has embraced Trump, even though a recent New Hampshire poll has Clinton ahead by about four points.
Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa): Blum is a Freedom Caucus conservative running in a district covering the northeastern part of the state that twice supported Obama by double digits.
Blum hasn’t received much help from the National Republican Congressional Committee in retaliation for his open hostility, and opposition to, former House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, and was outraised in the latest fundraising report by his Democratic foe, Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman Monica Vernon.
But Blum also had the foresight to embrace Trump, who is running well ahead of Clinton in Iowa – 43 percent to 39 percent, according to the latest Des Moines Register poll, and is thought to be ahead in the Blum’s district.