Trump weighs on House Republicans as midterm campaign starts

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Washington, DC – Republican Congressman Mike Bost’s big political moment this election year came in July when he and President Donald Trumptoured the Granite City Steel Works near St Louis in the US heartland.

The president, appearing at a rally with Bost and other Illinois congressional Republicans, touted his steel tariffs and promised to bring industrial jobs back to the Midwest.

People in Illinois’ 12th district voted 55-40 percent for Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Yet Bost, who has embraced Trump, is in a tight race for re-election this year.

“This is a competitive race that leans maybe slightly Republican is the way I would rate it,” said John Jackson, a political science professor at the Paul Simon Institute of Public Policy at the University of Southern Illinois in Carbondale.

In a telling sign, the Granite City steelworkers union threw their support to Bost’s Democrat challenger, Brendan Kelly, a former state prosecutor and political moderate.

On November 6, some 80 million voters – perhaps more depending on turnout – will cast ballots for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives where Republicans currently hold a 23-seat majority.

Historically called “midterm” elections, the vote is essentially a referendum on the party of the president, whose performance in office is watched closely.

“Trump’s job approval is one of the critical factors and thus there is some reason to believe a Democratic wave is coming,” Jackson told Al Jazeera.

Recent polls show US voters increasingly hold negative views of the president. Sixty percent of registered voters in a joint August 29 poll by The Washington Post and ABC News disapproved of the job the president is doing, up from 54 percent in April.

Democrat revival?

Now, as Republicans begin their re-election campaigns in earnest, most analysts are predicting that the Democrats will gain control of the House, an outcome that would match historical norms.

“My forecast is that the Democrats will pick up a net of about 30 House seats. I don’t see a huge wave. But I think they will take the House,” said Greg Valliere, chief global strategist and Washington analyst at Horizon Investments LLC, a financial advisory firm.

Republican losses, however, easily could be higher depending on the depth of a potential backlash against Trump.

Republicans face credible challenges from Democrats in 62 congressional districts while Democrats face competition in only four, according to The Cook Political Report, a non-partisan publisher of US political analysis.

In the state of California, affluent suburban voters in Orange County have historically provided Republicans with a reliable base of support. Not so this year.

“We used to be the county that Ronald Reagan said all good Republicans go to die [in],” Dan Chmielewski, publisher of TheLiberalOC, an Orange County political blog, told Al Jazeera.

“Hillary won Orange Country in 2016, the first time a Democrat has taken this county since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. There are significant cities that have voter registrations that are majority Democrat now,” he said.

‘House battlefield’

Three Orange County Republicans face Democratic challengers in races analysts rate as toss-ups.

In the agricultural San Joaquin and San Fernando valleys, where Hispanics make up one-third or more of voters and Trump’s anti-immigrant policies hurt migrant workers, two more Republicans face competitive races.

In particular, Representative Dana Rohrbacher, now in his 15th term as a congressman, faces criticism at home for his connections to Russians amid the US Department of Justice’s special investigation into Trump’s campaign and potential collusion with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Rohrbacher blames a “deep state” conspiracy for the investigation of Trump and says he doubts the veracity of criminal charges brought against Russians by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Rohrbacher’s opponent Harley Rouda has aggressively tied him to Trump and argued the Republican congressman has failed to hold the president accountable, a campaign theme that plays well in California.

Nationwide, a combination of demographic change and disaffection with Trump’s brand of politics – particularly among suburban white, college-educated women – has created a challenge for incumbent House Republicans who four years ago might have counted on easy re-elections.

“The House battlefield is largely in districts that either Clinton won, or where Trump didn’t really run that far ahead. There are a lot of suburban districts where they like Republicans but maybe not a Republican like Trump,” Kyle Kondik, who analyzes House races for the University of Virginia Center on Politics, told Al Jazeera. “And so, I don’t think the president is an asset.”

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