US Elections 2016

Democrats dream of majority in House, thanks to Trump

Unpopularity of Republican presidential nominee hurts party

Embattled Republicans are weighing a renewed TV barrage against House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who is unpopular in many swing districts.
Embattled Republicans are weighing a renewed TV barrage against House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who is unpopular in many swing districts. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LEESBURG (Virginia) • Emboldened by Mr Donald Trump's struggles in the US presidential race, Democrats in Congress are laying the groundwork to expand the list of House of Representatives Republicans they will target for defeat as part of an effort to slash the party's 30-seat majority and even reclaim control if Mr Trump falls further.

Mr Trump's unpopularity, which has already undermined the party's grip on the Senate, now threatens to imperil Republican lawmakers even in traditionally conservative districts, according to strategists and officials in both parties.

Democrats are particularly enticed by Mr Trump's dwindling support in affluent suburban areas - including those near Kansas City, San Diego, Orlando in Florida, and Minneapolis - where Republicans ordinarily win with ease. Mr Trump is so disliked among college-educated voters, especially white women, that he is at risk of losing by double digits in several districts that the 2012 Republican nominee, Mr Mitt Romney, carried comfortably.

"It's a remarkable situation. We, the Republicans, ought to be in a much stronger position in many suburban areas," said Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, whose district includes suburbs and small cities.

Few Democrats, however, believe their party is now positioned to take control of the House, where Republicans hold their largest majority in 87 years. Because of the way congressional districts are drawn, Republicans have a powerful structural advantage.

But Republicans are also bracing themselves to take more forceful steps if Mr Trump continues to drag down their candidates. Multiple strategists involved in the campaign for control of Congress said Republican outside groups were prepared to run ads treating Mr Trump as a certain-to-lose candidate and urging voters to elect Republicans as a check on Mrs Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate.

Republican candidates and groups are also weighing a renewed television barrage against Representative Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California and House Minority leader, who is unpopular in many swing districts there.

The stakes are high: Should Mr Trump lose the presidential race and take the Republicans' Senate majority with him, handing Democrats the power to break the deadlock over appointees to the Supreme Court, the House could become the party's last line of defence in Washington.

While Democrats publicly temper expectations that they could win the House, in private they are laying out ways to expand their battle plan to fight for more seats.

And their donors appear increasingly motivated: Last month, the House Democratic campaign raised US$12 million (S$16.3 million) while House Republicans raised just US$4.6 million, a remarkable disparity as the party in control usually dominates fund-raising.

Democratic strategists say they believe as many as a dozen districts could become competitive late in the race, depending on Mr Trump's fortunes.

Republicans acknowledge Mr Trump has taken a toll.

"I don't think we're to the point of losing the majority, but we'd be foolish to be complacent," said Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2016, with the headline 'Democrats dream of majority in House, thanks to Trump'. Subscribe