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Battle for House Intensifies After Impeachment

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 4 days ago Natalie Andrews
a woman holding a wine glass: "No one’s talking to me about impeachment," says Rep. Haley Stevens, a Democrat whose Michigan district voted for President Trump in 2016. © Melissa Lyttle/Bloomberg News

"No one’s talking to me about impeachment," says Rep. Haley Stevens, a Democrat whose Michigan district voted for President Trump in 2016.

WASHINGTON — House lawmakers are readying to campaign in the post-impeachment landscape, with Democrats eager to focus on policy issues and Republicans planning to attack swing-district Democrats for voting to remove a president whom many of their constituents support.

Democrats plan to defend the majority, and specifically their 30 seats in districts that Mr. Trump won in 2016, by discussing the issue that gave them the gavel in 2018: lowering health-care costs. Lawmakers expect to stay far away from talking about the two articles of impeachment the House passed against the president in December.

Republicans, meanwhile, will largely embrace running on the ballot alongside Mr. Trump. Their message will be national: attacking Democrats for impeachment and tying themselves to successes in the economy and the president.

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“The Democrats who voted for impeachment from districts that Trump won with a majority are in serious trouble,” said David Wasserman, the House race analyst from the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Twelve House Democrats won in districts where the president won more than 50% of the vote, while 18 Democrats took districts that Mr. Trump won with a plurality.

Republicans credit the impeachment investigation for boosting fundraising. In the first six weeks of this year, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has raised over $1.5 million online, according to an aide. By comparison, he raised $1.3 million in the final quarter of 2019.

“They are going to lose the House because they haven’t accomplished anything. ... They made a promise to the American people that they were going to be different,” Mr. McCarthy (R., Calif.) said of Democrats on Thursday. He plans to meet with donors in Key Biscayne, Fla., this weekend, along with 50 House GOP members.

Mr. Wasserman said it is more likely that Republicans pick up a few seats, but not enough to win the majority.

Democrats counter that they have passed hundreds of bills, and laid out a legislative agenda that largely hasn’t been taken up by the GOP-controlled Senate. Democrats expecting competitive races spent the off-year building war chests for a year where they will have to campaign in areas that Mr. Trump won in 2016. The House Democrats’ campaign arm raised $125 million in 2019 and outraised the National Republican Congressional Committee every month, according to information from the committees. That shifted in January when the NRCC bested the Democrats.

Republican incumbents have been admonished by leadership for low fundraising numbers. NRCC Chairman Rep. Tom Emmer (R., Minn.) said last month that “members need to get their act together and raise more money.”

“Our members and candidates need to get better with their individual fundraising so the NRCC can go on offense this fall,” said NRCC spokesman Chris Pack. “If we’re playing defense in seats, that significantly hinders our chance to make a run at the majority.”

While Republicans need to win a net of 18 seats to take the majority, Democrats will benefit from North Carolina redistricting that puts two seats in their favor and four Republican retirements in swing districts in Texas and Georgia. Republicans acknowledge that they will likely need to win 25 seats to compensate for those expected Democratic wins, an unlikely effort.

Last year, vulnerable Democrats raised a collective $93 million, with 13 of those lawmakers having over $2 million in cash to spend on their re-election. None plan to focus on impeachment on the campaign trail, and they say the effort to punish the president for pushing a foreign power to investigate his rivals doesn’t come up when they talk to constituents.

“No one’s talking to me about impeachment,” said Rep. Haley Stevens (D., Mich.).

Democrats who won GOP-held seats in 2018 are more frantic about Sen. Bernie Sanders’s strong showing in the first two presidential primary contests than impeachment attacks and they see the self-proclaimed democratic socialist’s rise as putting the majority at risk.

“I do worry, if Bernie Sanders is at the top of the ticket, the impact it will have all the way down,” said Rep. Dina Titus (D., Nev.), who is backing former Vice President Joe Biden.

The House Republican Conference was left with just 13 women lawmakers after losses in 2018, but a record-breaking number of Republican women are running for office this cycle, after a widespread effort by the party and groups such as Winning for Women, the first GOP super PAC dedicated solely to electing women. Nine of the 13 seats the Republicans see as top targets in November have a viable woman running in the primary.

Still, several Republican strategists concede that they have failed to recruit strong candidates in districts that could have been more winnable, such as those of Rep. Antonio Delgado in New York and Ms. Stevens in Michigan.

While the big landmark bills that Democrats have highlighted this year, such as a bill to lower the cost of prescription drugs or expanding background checks for gun purchases, have languished in the Senate and have little chance of becoming law, several House Democrats can tout minor legislative success uniquely focused on their districts.

Several pieces of legislation including the National Defense Authorization Act gave freshmen lawmakers something to point to. For example, Rep. Anthony Brindisi of New York pushed a bill that requires the Department of Defense to purchase American-made flatware and dinnerware for service members, legislation that will benefit Oneida Ltd. in his district.

Write to Natalie Andrews at Natalie.Andrews@wsj.com

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