- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2018

Voters go to the polls this week for the final congressional primaries of the year, with Democrats having done what they need to build a field of candidates capable of winning enough seats to flip control of the House.

Analysts said their class of candidates is broad enough and strong enough for Democrats to defend their own seats and win the 23 seats they need.

The congressional primaries close out with elections Tuesday in New Hampshire and Wednesday in Rhode Island.

“A House flip is not guaranteed, but the Democratic position has probably been getting a little stronger as opposed to a little weaker over the past several months,” said Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

He said Republicans have held their own, but the roster of seats Democrats have managed to make competitive is expanding, which is bad news for President Trump and his party.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report this week ranked 39 GOP-held seats as up for grabs or worse, nearly double the number earlier this year. The number of vulnerable Democrat-held seats, meanwhile, have been sliced in half to three.

The GOP’s tough electoral position reflects voters’ thoughts as they approach polling day.

More than half of voters in a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday said Mr. Trump is “not fit” to be president, and a Monmouth University Poll found that Democrats have a 47 percent to 43 percent lead among likely voters in battleground districts.

“The ground is certainly primed for Democrats to pick up the House as this summer’s polling has shown,” said Patrick Murray, head of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “They have recruited high-quality candidates who tend to be outraising their opponents. The polling suggests they are even competitive in districts that were off the table just a few months ago.”

John McLaughlin, a GOP strategist, said Republicans face pressure from both sides of the political spectrum. While Democrats are eager for a check on Mr. Trump, hard core Trump supporters aren’t sold on congressional Republicans as champions of the president’s agenda. Those voters may sit on their hands come Election Day.

“You’ve got the key swing voters that the president won to get his electoral majority, they don’t like the Republican majority in Congress and it is creating an opportunity for Democrats,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

Republicans are counting on the rise of left-wing candidates who have emerged in Democratic primaries, calling for universal government-sponsored health care, free college tuition and abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to make voters pause before handing them the reins of government.

“There is a lot of fear and loathing about what a Democrat-controlled Congress would do — starting with impeachment, and starting with abolishing ICE,” said Shawn Steel, a member of the Republican National Committee from California. “They have really been captured by the hard left and they will be paying quite a price for that.”

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee aligned with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, is running attack ads, including a $10 million August investment, in races across the country warning that Democrats are too radical.

“CLF will spend between now and Election Day defining Democratic candidates as too liberal and too out of touch and continuing to educate voters about where these candidates really stand,” said spokeswoman Courtney Alexander.

But new headwinds have emerged for the GOP. New York Rep. Chris Collins suspended his re-election bid after being indicted for insider trading, while Virginia Rep. Scott Taylor’s campaign has stumbled amid accusations that his staff committed election fraud.

And in California, Rep. Duncan Hunter was indicted last month on charges of funneling campaign funds to personal expenses, adding to the half-dozen other GOP-held seats Democrats were already targeting in the Golden State.

Republicans see a possible pickup opportunity in New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District following the retirement of Rep. Carol Shea Porter.

Eleven candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination, and much of the focus has been on Chris Pappas and Maura Sullivan. On the Republican side, state Sen. Andy Sanborn and Eddie Edwards, a Navy veteran, are considered the front-runners in the five-person race.

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