Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Trump’s Success Could Upend Battle for Control of Congress

Trump’s dominance in the Republican primary is upending the campaign for control of Congress, as Republican lawmakers seek to distance themselves from him while Democrats seize on the chance to run against a candidate who has offended huge sections of the American electorate.

Nominating Trump could create a political battlefield of extraordinary breadth and volatility. Polling shows that he would enter the General election trailing badly against Hillary Clinton, and he has become deeply unpopular outside of his white, heavily male political base.

While Trump would most likely draw throngs of white, working-class voters in Democratic-leaning states like Michigan and Ohio, he would also drive away women, nonwhites and voters with college degrees in conservative-leaning states like Georgia and North Carolina.

Both parties are now racing to gauge the impact further down the ballot of a candidacy that could shatter traditional lines of combat in national politics.

Former Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota, an influential Republican strategist and fund-raiser, said Trump’s nomination could imperil even the party’s seemingly iron grip on the House. Coleman said major donors were increasingly focused on building a “firewall” around Congress, because they believe Democrats would easily defeat Trump and keep control of the White House. “Everything is in play: the presidency, the Supreme Court, the Senate and potentially the House,” he said.

Coleman said Republicans would have to decide on a case-by-case basis how to handle Trump in their races. “If it were me and I were running, and Trump were going to be at the top of the ticket, I would disavow him,” he said.

Republicans, who hold the Senate 54 to 46 and maintain control of the House by 30 seats, believe it would be essential for candidates running in diverse or comparatively affluent areas to break with Trump on matters of policy, and perhaps to denounce his nomination in blunt terms.

With control of the Senate resting in large part on Democratic-leaning states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Republicans are preparing to run aggressively localized campaigns aimed at persuading voters to split their ballot for a Republican Senator even if they support a Democrat for President.

Some party leaders remain hopeful that they can block Trump by denying him a majority of the delegates to the July convention and coalescing support around another candidate.

But the National Republican Senatorial Committee has already conducted polling to test the message that Republicans must control the Senate as a check against a President Clinton, and that Democrats must not be allowed to fully control the appointment and confirmation of Supreme Court judges, according to two people briefed on the research, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was intended to be confidential.

Democrats see Trump as increasing their chances, especially in diverse and fast-growing states like Arizona and Virginia, where the party often struggles to turn out Hispanic voters who can help its candidates. And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is mounting a late push to stretch the political map by recruiting candidates in as many as 10 conservative-leaning House districts, in states like Florida and Kansas, where analysts believe Trump will harm Republicans.

The Democratic committee, eager to cut into the Republicans’ majority, has begun a large data project to model both support for and opposition to Trump. Meredith Kelly, a spokeswoman for the committee, confirmed that its data team was studying which of Trump’s ideas and comments would be most offensive to key voting blocs, and how best to project those themes in congressional races.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut, Chairman of the Democratic Governors’ Association, said Republicans had a no-win situation on their hands: They could either run from Trump and risk depressing Republican turnout, or embrace him and have to defend “views that are abhorrent” to many people. “Quite frankly, we’re going to hold people accountable: Are you with Trump and his policies, or are you against him?” Malloy said.

Both sides believe it is too early to measure the precise effect Trump will have on other elections this fall, in part because Trump has shown himself to be an unpredictable candidate with few compunctions about changing proposals and themes of his candidacy.

Trump has said he anticipates that Republicans will ultimately embrace him in the General election; Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, predicted he would buoy Republicans down the ballot. “It is clear he has brought millions of voters to the party, received tremendous support and garnered millions more votes than any of his opponents,” Hicks said.

Still, the hope among Republicans is that Trump will be seen by many voters as a self-contained phenomenon: a one-man celebrity road show who does not reflect the totality or the values of the Republican Party.

There is some optimism that Trump may prove useful to candidates in specific areas, helping draw out blue-collar voters in places like western Wisconsin and eastern Ohio. Yet early public polling and Primary results suggest he would struggle badly in suburban, educated areas, and especially with women, Hispanics, and black voters. Even in states where he won Republican primaries, like Georgia and Virginia, he lost many affluent suburban communities.

In Virginia, for example, home to rapidly growing Hispanic and Asian populations, and multiple competitive congressional races, Trump won the Primary by a few percentage points. But Senator Rubio crushed him in densely populated Fairfax County, a diverse and relatively affluent Washington suburb where elections in the state are often decided.

A small number of Republicans in difficult races, like Representatives Dold of Illinois and Curbelo of Florida, have said that they will not vote for Trump or that they are undecided about supporting him over Clinton. “Donald Trump’s highly offensive comments toward millions of Americans — toward women, to Latinos, to Muslims, to veterans — have, in my view, really disqualified him from serving as our commander in chief,” said Dold, who represents a moderate, highly educated district in suburban Chicago. Of his own vote, Dold said, “I will probably be writing someone in.”

Other Republicans have not yet gone that far, but have taken pains to emphasize their own, locally significant accomplishments.

And conservative groups tied to the billionaire Koch brothers are planning a major offensive this spring aimed at keeping the Senate in Republican hands, said James Davis, a spokesman for the Koch-backed group Freedom Partners.

Josh Holmes, a top political adviser to the Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said Republicans expected to be able to distinguish their candidates from Trump, who “has been introduced to the American electorate as a reality TV host and a lot of other things, besides a Republican, over 30 years.” “You could see a scenario where you’ve got suburban, center-right women supporting a Republican Senate candidate in droves, but not being there on the top of the ticket,” Holmes said.

But Democrats have already begun a concerted push to link Republicans running for other offices to Trump. The Democratic group American Bridge, which assembles research and video files on Republican candidates, has kept track of which candidates have pledged to vote for the Republican Presidential nominee, even if that person is Trump.

A handful of Democratic candidates have begun to exploit that opening. In North Carolina, the Democratic nominee for Governor, Roy Cooper, has criticized the incumbent Republican, Pat McCrory, by warning about the policies of a “Trump-McCrory administration.” And in Arizona, Senator John McCain’s Democratic challenger, Representative Ann Kirkpatrick, has rebuked McCain for repeatedly vowing to vote for the Republican nominee in November. “His rhetoric is offensive and sexist,” Ms. Kirkpatrick said, “and yet John McCain keeps saying he’ll support Trump in a general election.”

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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