Kansas Republicans are running scared because they can't run against Nancy Pelosi

The GOP has been running on an anti-Pelosi message. That hasn't worked

Published March 19, 2018 1:59PM (EDT)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

The key messages of this year's Republican congressional campaigns were supposed to be simple ones: Tax cuts are good, and Nancy Pelosi is bad.

It's a familiar take and one that's worked well for Republicans in past campaigns. The message is also handy for the GOP, in that it avoids mentioning Trump and thereby galvanizing Democratic voters.

But this year appears to be different for both parties. Democrats have led in the generic congressional ballot for almost an entire year now. The momentum Republicans gained briefly during February appears to have dissipated, according to aggregated public opinion survey data. Democrats now lead in the generic ballot by somewhere between 8 and 9 percentage points.

But while such national polls can indicate the country's larger mood, they do not mean anything in specific races, as Hillary Clinton's 2-point popular vote victory but Electoral College loss in 2016 certainly illustrated.

Unlike prior years, however, the evidence is mounting that Democrats in a number of House districts have figured out the perfect response to the GOP's 2018 tactics, refusing to tie themselves to Pelosi and also reminding voters that while they may have gotten some tax rebates, wealthy people overwhelmingly got more.

Pennsylvania Democrat Conor Lamb's victory in the state's 18th Congressional District has gotten more than a few Republicans scared that their old standbys are not going to work anymore.

During last month's Kansas state GOP convention, Mike Stieben, co-chair of Kansans For Life, told attendees that they were in danger of losing the state's 2nd Congressional District to Democratic candidate Paul Davis.

"We cannot elect Paul Davis," Stieben said at a prayer breakfast for convention delegates. "And he's ahead. Wake up. We need your help."

He then passed around an empty KFC bucket and encouraged attendees to donate money, which he said would be used to stop Davis. Not only has Davis led in polls taken by both parties, he's also raised more money than the total raised by all of the Republican candidates who are competing to run against him, according to the Kansas City Star.

Other Republicans are panicking as well. Kelly Arnold, the chairman of the Kansas GOP warned his party members that they are facing real risk.

"I think the lesson is we can’t sit back. We have to campaign hard. Just because Donald Trump won the Second District by double digits doesn’t mean we have a greater advantage," he told the Star.

"I'm doing a lot of the same things that Conor Lamb did in his campaign," Davis said this week. "Just making it very clear to voters that I am an American long before I am a Democrat."

Since Donald Trump's victory in 2016, Democrats have won 39 state legislature positions from Republicans, and have also prevailed in gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia, in addition to winning Alabama's special Senate election in December.

Davis is one of several Democratic candidates who have explicitly stated they would not elect Pelosi to be their party's leader should they be elected.

In California, just two of 34 Democrats running for office, surveyed by the San Jose Mercury News, committed to voting for Pelosi.

“He thinks she should step down to give a new generation of Democrats the chance to lead, in terms of people of color and younger people,” a representative for Omar Siddiqui, a candidate in the Golden State's 48th district, told the paper.

Democratic aspirants in other states have also declared their opposition, including Dean Phillips in Minnesota and Lisa Brown in Washington. At a debate for candidates running in Arizona's 2nd congressional district, none of the six Democrats on stage said they would support Pelosi.

While some are openly opposing Pelosi, many are simply non-committal.

"I would have to see who's running," Marie Newman, a progressive candidate running in Illinois' 3rd congressional district told The New York Times.

All the talk of replacing Pelosi has rankled her. "If I was to walk away now, this caucus would be in such a musical chairs scenario," she said at a news conference last week.

By Matthew Sheffield

Matthew Sheffield is a national correspondent for The Young Turks. He is also the host of the podcast "Theory of Change." You can follow him on Twitter.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Donald Trump Marie Newman Nancy Pelosi Paul Davis