Republican wave builds to take back the House

Retirements by Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) — and Rep. Vicente Gonzalez’s decision to run in a neighboring safe seat rather than a swing district that more closely resembles his current South Texas seat — have deprived Democrats of well-funded incumbents for tough races. Wisconsin Republican Derrick Van Orden has banked $1.2 million, and Republican Esther Joy King in Illinois has over $655,000. Meanwhile, no Democratic candidates posted significant fundraising by the end of the third quarter.

There are still a few seats likely to remain competitive after redistricting that are missing a top-tier candidate, but party recruiters said strong contenders are actively considering, even more so after they saw Republicans surge in the off-year elections.

Some anecdotal evidence: Youngkin’s pollster, Chris Wilson of WPA Intelligence, told POLITICO that his firm “has heard from more candidates looking at marginal seats” — those that hadn’t drawn a lot of interest because they lean Democratic — “since Tuesday than we had in the entire preceding ten months of 2021.”

In Michigan, where redistricting is still in flux, former state Attorney General Bill Schuette might run, perhaps against Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee in east-central Michigan, according to two sources familiar with the party’s recruitment efforts. And party leaders are hoping that Republican John James will compete for a Detroit-area seat, and state Sen. Tom Barrett will run for a Lansing-area district.

Another name to watch is Ricky Gill, a former Trump official and Indian American who raised nearly $3 million in a 2012 congressional bid. He is eyeing a bid against the well-financed Democratic Rep. Josh Harder in Northern California.

Party officials are optimistic they will be able to win Democratic-leaning seats — and are already eyeing some newly redrawn ones held by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), Rep. Frank Mrvan (D-Ind.) and a new seat in Oregon that Biden carried by between 7 and 9 points. Republican Jimmy Crumpacker, who self-funded a failed 2020 bid for a Republican-leaning district, might run for the new Oregon seat. And Mrvan already faces a challenger with a promising biography: Jennifer-Ruth Green, a Black Air Force veteran.

Republicans are particularly encouraged by Youngkin’s ability to keep the GOP base energized while making inroads in Virginia’s suburbs, particularly around Richmond and Hampton Roads, home to two competitive congressional districts. In his memo to Congressional Leadership Fund donors, Conston touted that Youngkin got 84 percent of Trump 2020 voters to turn out — while Democrat Terry McAuliffe motivated just 65 percent of Biden voters.

In the days after his defeat, Democrats openly questioned McAuliffe’s decision to rely so heavily on tying Youngkin to former President Donald Trump. And the loss helped spur House Democrats to pass a massive infrastructure bill three days later that will give them something new to tout in swing districts next year.

But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the group charged with protecting a thin majority, may complicate a strategy to steer the message away from Trump.

“Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans are not Glenn Youngkin. Youngkin won by running away from Donald Trump. The House Republicans voted by a two-thirds margin to overturn the election,” said DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney in an interview last week. “If we let them have it both ways,” he added, “it’s a problem.”

The results last week suggested to the GOP, however, that their tent was getting bigger.

Over 30 GOP members in the centrist Republican Main Street Partnership convened Wednesday morning to listen to Republican pollster Dave Sackett debrief on Youngkin’s coalition and other promising signs from the off-year elections. It was additional validation for the group’s strategists, who urged the party at the beginning of this year and reiterated again in a new memo Monday to figure out how to strike a “delicate balance” that could keep both in the fold.

“The best way to do this is to never criticize Donald Trump,” said Sarah Chamberlain, the president and CEO of the partnership, who organized the meeting. “There’s no reason to. Talk about his policies, talk about all the good things that happened, and let the Trump base come out. And then let the suburban people vote for you as well.”

“Suburban women, especially, never left the Republican Party,” she said, citing 2020 wins by Reps. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) in Biden-won districts, and Youngkin’s success near Virginia’s metro areas. “Trump wasn’t a factor to them.”