Democrats’ Midterm Election Challenge Making Party ‘Wary About Next Year’

Democrats' Midterm Election Challenge Making Party 'Wary About Next Year' cheri bustos stands outside capitol Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

By Theodore Bunker | Tuesday, 04 May 2021 11:37 AM

House Democrats have begun internally acknowledging the challenge they face in trying to retain control in next year’s midterm elections, with several members of Congress approaching retirement.

Democrat Reps. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, and Filemon Vela of Texas have all announced their intent to retire after their current terms end, while several others are looking to run for statewide office, such as Ohio Democrat Rep. Tim Ryan and potentially Florida Democrat Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Val Demings. Democrats also missed out on a chance to challenge for the seat formerly held by the late Rep. Ron Wright, R-Texas, after the Democrat candidate came a fraction of a percentage point away from qualifying for a special election.

"We were all expecting to gain seats last year, too, and that’s when we were playing offense," one Democrat strategist, whose name was not given, told The Hill. "We’re on the other side of things now, so yeah, there are some reasons to be wary about next year."

"I think it’s starting to set in a little bit," added a Democrat consultant and former House staffer, who was not named. They noted that earlier this year, there was "a lot of optimism" among Democrats following their White House win and taking control of the Senate, in addition to keeping control of the House.

"There are things to be optimistic about and it’s not like the Republicans have it all figured out either," the consultant said. "I just think we need to be realistic about things, that history isn’t really on our side."

Since the end of World War II, the presidential party has lost an average of 27 House seats in midterm elections, fivethirtyeight reports.

That history could prove promising for the GOP. Democrats lost more than 50 seats in 1994 following Bill Clinton’s 1992 election. And after Barack Obama’s win in 2008, Democrats lost more than 60 seats.

"In 2018, there is no doubt that Republican retirements and late redrawing of maps made a significant difference in our ability to win additional seats," Dan Sena, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s executive director at the time, told The Washington Post.

In the upcoming midterms, Democrats plan to focus on touting their legislative packages, including the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package and President Joe Biden’s wide-ranging infrastructure proposal. The DCCC’s national press secretary, Chris Taylor, told the Hill that House Democrats are ready to run on the legislation they’ve managed to pass.

"House Democrats head into the midterms with a disciplined electoral strategy, strong grassroots fundraising, and legislative wins for the American people that are putting shots in arms, cash in pockets, reopening schools, and getting people back to work," Taylor said. "Meanwhile, House Republicans are being led by QAnon conspiracy theorists, and are dead set on ripping apart our democracy with suppressive voting laws and unfair maps."

"I wouldn’t be surprised if slightly more Democrats in the House are doing it because Democrats have big wins to run on," added Karen Defilippi, deputy executive director for campaigns at the DCCC, to the Post. "We just passed critical COVID-19 relief that put shots in arms, cash in pockets, funding that safely reopens schools and gets workers back on the job."

"The tables have turned. Republicans are on offense," National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Michael McAdams told the newspaper. "A lot of these vulnerable Democrats are in swing districts and are going to have to contend with new district lines, and they want to get off House Democrats' sinking ship."

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