ATLANTA — Facing fresh criticism from fellow Democrats after a disappointing loss in a Georgia special election, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Ben Ray Luján on Wednesday sought to rally his party by declaring the House of Representatives in play and distributing internal data suggesting a number of incumbent Republicans are in more electoral trouble than widely thought.
In a nearly 1,600-word Wednesday morning memo to committee staff that was obtained by POLITICO, the New Mexico congressman shared polling conducted between late March and mid-June showing Democrats in position to make gains in a handful of competitive seats held by Republicans.
Explaining that in some cases the pollsters tested specific Democratic challengers against Republican incumbents, Lujan said “many incumbents — who won with double digits last cycle — would be in the race of their careers, including Reps. Martha McSally (D+5), Brian Mast (D+3), Kevin Yoder (D+2), and Rodney Frelinghuysen (D+3).”
“We have a unique opportunity to flip control of the House of Representatives in 2018. This is about much more than one race: the national environment, unprecedented grassroots energy and impressive Democratic candidates stepping up to run deep into the battlefield leave no doubt that Democrats can take back the House next fall,” he writes elsewhere in the memo. “I don’t make this statement lightly — I’ve never said it before. I know the road back to a Democratic House majority will be long and hard.”
The message lands at a difficult time for Democratic leaders, coming after they pumped millions of dollars into Georgia’s 6th District to try and elect Jon Ossoff to replace now-HHS Secretary Tom Price, Tuesday’s loss to Republican Karen Handel hit them hard.
Activists, consultants, and lawmakers alike spent hours on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning questioning the DCCC’s leadership in Georgia and in a handful of other special elections where Democrats have come close but fallen short.
The party’s candidates have come far closer than previous Democrats in the heavily Republican districts, but the handful of high-profile losses — including in Kansas and Montana — still proved demoralizing to many party strategists.
Lujan’s message on Wednesday was that the Trump-driven swing that’s been seen in those races portends a broader shift ahead of 2018.
“As you know, we need 24 seats to retake the majority. Our DCCC polling team and outside pollsters went into dozens of districts in the last few months to learn: Is the momentum real? Is it building to the point that we can win 24 seats and take back the House? The answer is yes. In more than 24 districts and counting, generic Democrats are leading in the polls or have already made significant shifts from the last polls available in 2016.”
One of the polling graphics included in the memo shows an 18-point Democratic advantage in Florida’s 27th District — held by retiring Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — an 11-point lead in California’s 21st — held by David Valadao — and 9-point leads in both California’s 10th (Jeff Denham) and 49th (Darrell Issa) districts.
Lujan also told staff that starting this week, senior aides and allies will be deployed into target districts to ramp up candidate recruitment, and that Lujan himself is planning trips to states including Maine, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Missouri.