Repub­li­cans in swing dis­tricts look for right dis­tance from Trump

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY SALLY PER­SONS

Rep. Mike Coff­man of Colorado was the first Repub­li­can in Congress last year to cut an ad promis­ing to stand up to Don­ald Trump — and six months into the pres­i­dency, he has tried to live up to that prom­ise, buck­ing the pres­i­dent on im­mi­gra­tion, health care and other is­sues.

As Repub­li­cans try to de­fend their House ma­jor­ity next year, law­mak­ers like Mr. Coff­man are try­ing to find that elu­sive mid­dle between be­ing a Repub­li­can and be­ing a Trump Repub­li­can.

For Mr. Coff­man, who said last year that he “didn’t care for [Mr. Trump] much,” lit­tle has changed. He is vow­ing to keep buck­ing the pres­i­dent when he wants, in­clud­ing vot­ing against the Amer­i­can Health Care Act and try­ing to chart a more le­nient path for il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

“Mike Coff­man has a long track record of in­de­pen­dent lead­er­ship — chal­leng­ing big spenders in both par­ties and putting the in­ter­ests of his con­stituents first. As Mike has said be­fore, he will stand with Pres­i­dent Trump when he agrees with him and stand up to him when he thinks he’s wrong,” said Tyler Sand­berg, cam­paign ad­viser to Mr. Coff­man.

Mr. Coff­man won his dis­trict by 9 per­cent­age points last cy­cle — in the same re­gion where Demo­cratic

pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton topped Mr. Trump by 9 points.

Some Repub­li­cans say that’s a good sign: Vot­ers are will­ing to split their ticket and re­ward con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans even if they do not sup­port Mr. Trump. One party strate­gist said that if in­cum­bents such as Mr. Coff­man can win swing dis­tricts when Mrs. Clin­ton or Barack Obama is on the bal­lot, then they are strong enough to win midterm elec­tions.

Oth­ers said that might not be the case next year.

“The Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity could not be any worse than it is right now,” said David Fla­herty, CEO of Mag­el­lan Strate­gies in Colorado. He said Repub­li­cans like Mr. Coff­man will need to switch up their cam­paign strate­gies now that Mr. Trump is in the White House, and they can no longer sell them­selves to vot­ers as checks on gov­ern­ment.

In­stead, it’s Democrats who will be able to por­tray them­selves as checks on a ru­n­away Repub­li­can Party.

The “generic bal­lot test” — when vot­ers are asked if they would vote for a Demo­crat or a Repub­li­can in their dis­trict’s con­gres­sional elec­tion next year — is tilt­ing to­ward Democrats by 9 per­cent­age points, ac­cord­ing to Real Clear Pol­i­tics’ av­er­age of polls.

Mr. Coff­man is one of nearly two dozen Repub­li­cans rep­re­sent­ing dis­tricts Mrs. Clin­ton won last year.

An­other is Rep. Bar­bara Com­stock, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can, whose dis­trict stretches from the Shenan­doah Val­ley to the Wash­ing­ton sub­urbs. Ms. Com­stock won her dis­trict in Novem­ber by 6 points, and Mrs. Clin­ton won it by 10 points.

Mr. Coff­man and Ms. Com­stock voted against Repub­li­cans’ Amer­i­can Health Care Act and have voiced crit­i­cism of Mr. Trump’s other poli­cies.

“I did not sup­port the AHCA to­day be­cause of the many un­cer­tain­ties in achiev­ing those goals. As the process moves for­ward, I hope that we can con­tinue to work to­gether to fix our bro­ken health care sys­tem,” Ms. Com­stock said in a state­ment af­ter the May vote.

Democrats, though, said each law­maker has plenty of votes to gut Oba­macare that they will have to ex­plain.

“Coff­man is ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble in 2018, es­pe­cially in a dis­trict that was car­ried by Hil­lary Clin­ton and has seen an ex­plo­sion of civic ac­tivism,” Mor­gan Car­roll, chair­woman of the Colorado Demo­cratic Party, said in a state­ment.

Democrats also said op­pos­ing Mr. Trump on some high-pro­file is­sues isn’t enough for vot­ers who want to see a broader re­sis­tance.

“Con­gress­woman Com­stock is stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said Cole Leiter, a spokesman for the Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee. “She can pre­tend to be a mod­er­ate and iso­late her­self from her base vot­ers or march lock­step with her party and con­firm for fam­i­lies who have re­jected the Trump-Wash­ing­ton Repub­li­can agenda who she re­ally is. It’s an un­ten­able po­si­tion.”

Ms. Com­stock has voted for Mr. Trump’s po­si­tion 97 per­cent of the time, ac­cord­ing to FiveThir­tyEight’s count. Mr. Coff­man’s record is slightly less lock­step but still at 94 per­cent.

Nathaniel Gon­za­les, edi­tor of In­side Elec­tions, said Repub­li­cans are still look­ing for that elu­sive spot that shows in­de­pen­dence but doesn’t alien­ate Trump sup­port­ers.

“I think every Repub­li­can mem­ber is play­ing a game of ‘Survivor’ and try­ing to get the right equa­tion to get re-elected. Bar­bara Com­stock tried to dis­tance from the pres­i­dent, but she also needs vot­ers who like the pres­i­dent,” Mr. Gon­za­les said.

Early polling sug­gests com­pet­ing in­flu­ences at work. A Wash­ing­ton Post/ ABC News poll last month found a slight ma­jor­ity of vot­ers — 52 per­cent — want Democrats to take con­trol of Congress next year, but Repub­li­cans and Trump vot­ers are more en­thu­si­as­tic about their can­di­dates.

Democrats say they have much bet­ter odds than Repub­li­cans be­cause of Mr. Trump’s his­tor­i­cally low ap­proval rat­ings and be­cause the party in power usu­ally loses some seats in midterm elec­tions.

“Repub­li­cans are in a race to the right to see who can be the Trump­i­est can­di­date. Vot­ers in Colorado un­der­stand that a vote for the Repub­li­can Party in 2018 is a vote for the Trump agenda of giv­ing more tax breaks to mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires and then stick­ing mid­dle-class and work­ing fam­i­lies with the bill,” Ms. Car­roll said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

ROGUE: Rep. Mike Coff­man, Colorado Repub­li­can, has tried to live up to his prom­ise to stand up to Pres­i­dent Trump.

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