Campaigns

Mostly smoke, and little fire, from Republicans to Democrats on impeachment

GOP hasn’t yet launched a credible campaign against 8 of the 13 vulnerable Democrats it is targeting

Republicans are targeting Virginia Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, center, and other Democrats who are defending districts that President Donald Trump won in 2016 even though no credible candidate has yet to emerge to challenge her. (Screenshot from RNC ad)

ANALYSIS — Republicans are publicly celebrating impeachment as a political boon and trying to hold House Democrats’ feet to the fire with television ads and protests. But without credible challengers, it’s little more than expensive hot air.

Last week, President Donald Trump’s campaign manager bragged about turning up the heat on a freshman Democrat who supports the impeachment inquiry, and the Republican National Committee is on television targeting a dozen Democratic members for supporting it. But in most instances, there’s a lot of smoke and little fire, considering Republicans are still searching for credible candidates in many of the districts.

“Trump supporters out big league to tell Representative @RepHaleyStevens that she made a big mistake. Her re-election chances just went down the drain,” tweeted Trump manager Brad Parscale about the Democratic congresswoman from Michigan’s 11th District.

Between protesters and the RNC’s ad buy in a district Trump carried in 2016, that sounds like quite a threat. But it’s terrible political analysis from the person in charge of getting the president reelected. Through June 30, Republicans did not have a challenger who raised any money while Stevens had $1.1 million. So it’s hard to see how the congresswoman is in danger of losing next November.

Third quarter Federal Election Commission reports are due Oct. 15, so it’s possible that we will soon learn about a challenger who has raised big money in July, August and September. But that’s unlikely.

Obviously the lack of a candidate didn’t stop the RNC from rolling out slight variations of the same TV ad in 13 districts.

Elaine Luria promised she’d tackle problems facing our country,” the narrator says in an ad aired in the Norfolk, Virginia, media market, according to Kantar/CMAG. “Luria broke her promise. Instead of fixing health care and lowering drug prices, Luria votes with the radicals for endless investigations of President Trump — wasting tax dollars.”

“Instead of working to create more jobs, Luria wants more hearings. Tell Elaine Luria, put petty politics aside and start getting things done,” concludes the ad, which is similar across the districts, just with a different member and different grainy pictures.

But Republicans lack a credible candidate in eight of the 13 targeted districts, including those represented by Stevens and Luria, as well as Minnesota’s 2nd (represented by Angie Craig), Michigan’s 8th (Elissa Slotkin), New York’s 19th (Antonio Delgado), New Hampshire’s 1st (Chris Pappas), Pennsylvania’s 8th (Matt Cartwright), Nevada’s 3rd (Susie Lee) and Illinois’ 17th (Cheri Bustos, who also chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.)

The fundraising discrepancies are sharp. For example, Craig had $701,000 in the bank at the end of June while former Michigan state Rep. Rick Olson, who is challenging her in her suburban Twin Cities district, had nothing. Slotkin had more than $1 million at the end of June (and self-reported that she had $1.65 million at the end of September) while Republicans wait for former Rep. Mike Bishop to decide whether he’ll run. And Bustos had $2.3 million in cash on June 30 — none of her GOP challengers had any money at that point.

There was also another curious choice among the initial RNC targets: Iowa Democrat Dave Loebsack. He announced in April that he was not seeking reelection, so he would seem to be immune from attacks on his voting record.

Since the filing deadlines have not passed, there’s still time for candidates to enter these races, raise money and mount serious challenges. But the ads and district-level protests would have been a lot more effective if there were already well-financed challengers breathing down the necks of these incumbents.

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