Repub­li­can PAC by­passes Rohrabacher and Wal­ters

De­ci­sion on TV ad buys may sig­nal the O.C. Repub­li­cans are vul­ner­a­ble in dif­fi­cult re­elec­tion cam­paigns.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Fin­negan and Mark Z. Barabak

In a wor­ri­some sign for two en­dan­gered Or­ange County law­mak­ers, a ma­jor Repub­li­can Party fund­ing group has passed over the pair in its open­ing round of broad­cast tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing across South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

The omis­sion of Reps. Dana Rohrabacher and Mimi Wal­ters by the Con­gres­sional Lead­er­ship Fund, a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee closely aligned with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), comes at a cru­cial in­flec­tion point in the midterm elec­tion when the two par­ties be­gin as­sess­ing their likely win­ners and losers.

The de­ci­sions are par­tic­u­larly acute for the GOP, which is fac­ing a tsunami of Demo­cratic cam­paign cash ahead of a feared blue wave on Nov. 6.

“Repub­li­cans are tak­ing a cold­blooded look at races to de­cide where to put re­sources and where to with­draw re­sources to put some­where else,” said Stu­art Rothen­berg, a non­par­ti­san elec­tion an­a­lyst who has spent decades siz­ing up cam­paigns.

The GOP has al­ready cut loose sev­eral in­cum­bents, in­clud­ing Reps. Mike Coff­man in the Den­ver sub­urbs and Mike Bishop in south­ern Michi­gan.

Democrats need a gain of 23 seats na­tion­wide to take con­trol of the House, which they sur­ren­dered af­ter a blowout loss in the 2010 midterm elec­tion.

Can­di­dates in Cal­i­for­nia, where more than half a dozen seats are be­ing se­ri­ously con­tested, are at par­tic­u­lar risk of be­ing cut off fi­nan­cially be­cause of the state’s ex­or­bi­tant ad­ver­tis­ing costs. Money saved in the costly Los An­ge­les me­dia

the na­tion is on the cusp of re­draw­ing vot­ing districts af­ter the 2020 cen­sus.

Ex­ist­ing po­lit­i­cal bound­aries heav­ily fa­vor the GOP, re­flect­ing its con­trol of most state­houses and gover­nor’s of­fices in the most ger­ry­man­dered states when lines were last drawn in 2010. The Bren­nan Cen­ter for Jus­tice at New York Univer­sity School of Law found the bound­ary lines drawn at that time have en­abled Repub­li­cans to win as many as 16 ex­tra seats in the House, a sub­stan­tial share of the party’s 23-seat ma­jor­ity.

Most of that edge comes from a hand­ful of states, in­clud­ing Michi­gan. Even as that state’s vot­ers are nearly evenly di­vided in sup­port for Democrats and Repub­li­cans, the lines have been drawn to en­able Repub­li­cans to con­trol nine of the state’s 13 House seats, by con­cen­trat­ing Democrats into the fewest pos­si­ble districts.

Gov­er­nors will play a cru­cial role in re­draw­ing those districts af­ter the 2020 cen­sus. Michi­gan vot­ers are also weigh­ing a Novem­ber bal­lot ini­tia­tive backed by the Na­tional Demo­cratic Re­dis­trict­ing Com­mit­tee that would put a cit­i­zens com­mis­sion in charge of draw­ing the bound­aries.

“It is an ex­ceed­ingly big year,” said Justin Le­vitt, a pro­fes­sor of elec­tion law at Loy­ola Law School who helped run the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s civil rights divi­sion un­der Pres­i­dent Obama. “Many of the peo­ple who will be handed the re­dis­trict­ing pen are up for elec­tion.” In many states, gov­er­nors have veto power over the po­lit­i­cal maps.

Repub­li­can can­di­dates are in trou­ble this elec­tion sea­son for a num­ber of rea­sons.

Trump fa­tigue is one. Vot­ers such as the health­care work­ers who showed up to shout down Schuette are part of a reen­er­gized left de­ter­mined not to see a re­peat of 2016, when Trump won what had been con­sid­ered a re­li­ably blue state in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions by 10,000 votes. Fifty-four per­cent of Michi­gan vot­ers dis­ap­prove of the pres­i­dent’s job per­for­mance, ac­cord­ing to one re­cent poll.

But vot­ers in Michi­gan and na­tion­wide are both­ered by more than just Trump. They are frus­trated with es­ca­lat­ing health­care costs, fray­ing trans­porta­tion sys­tems and sub­stan­dard schools in states Repub­li­cans have con­trolled for many years.

“There is some broad fa­tigue with Repub­li­cans in a lot of these states,” said Kyle Kondik, who tracks po­lit­i­cal races as man­ag­ing ed­i­tor of the non­par­ti­san Sa­bato’s Crys­tal Ball.

Even as the econ­omy hums in places like Ma­comb County, a man­u­fac­tur­ing hub out­side Detroit where dis­af­fected Obama vot­ers helped drive Trump’s vic­tory, am­biva­lence runs high.

“I may not even vote,” said Utica res­i­dent He­len Kent, an 82-year-old who sup­ported Trump. “I am not ex­cited about any elec­tion any­more. The whole world is such a mess.”

Kent was ap­proached last week by a rep­re­sen­ta­tive with Work­ing Amer­ica, an AFL-CIO group that has 44 staffers knock­ing on doors in Ma­comb to per­suade work­ing-class Trump vot­ers not to vote Repub­li­can this year.

Kent said she still con­sid­ers her­self a big Trump sup­porter. “I don’t know what he has done or not done,” she said of the pres­i­dent. “I just think he had a lot of pub­lic­ity against him. If ev­ery­body is against some­one, I am for them.”

But for Kent and oth­ers, the pres­i­dent’s coat­tails don’t ex­tend to en­thu­si­asm for Schuette.

Utica Mayor Thom Dionne, a po­lice of­fi­cer who also voted for Trump, said he’ll likely vote for Schuette, who has strong law en­force­ment back­ing. But in an in­ter­view he sounded im­pressed by Demo­cratic can­di­date Gretchen Whit­mer.

A top is­sue on his mind, like that of most vot­ers here, is the mis­er­able state of the roads. Whit­mer has been ag­gres­sively pro­mot­ing a plan to raise money for re­pairs as Schuette, who has po­si­tioned him­self as an anti-tax cru­sader, hedges. The roads are so bad in Ma­comb that pot­holes have in­hib­ited growth in a county work­ing fu­ri­ously to lure more de­fense con­tract­ing and nextgen­er­a­tion trans­porta­tion jobs.

“I like that she is try­ing to fix the roads,” Dionne said. “I would like to see us have even a frac­tion of the qual­ity of roads they have in Ohio or Ken­tucky.”

Even Whit­mer mar­veled at how the pot­hole is­sue has dom­i­nated the cam­paign. “I never in a mil­lion years when I jumped into the race thought I would be­come the ‘fix the damn roads’ lady,” she said at a lunch meet­ing of the Ma­comb County Cham­ber of Com­merce.

Dur­ing her talk and an in­ter­view just be­fore it, Whit­mer avoided at­tack­ing Trump, who re­mains pop­u­lar among some vot­ers in the coali­tion she is build­ing.

“I hardly ever weigh in on things go­ing on in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.,” she said. Like so many of the Democrats mak­ing strong show­ings in the GOP-dom­i­nated Mid­west, Whit­mer, a for­mer Demo­cratic leader in the state Leg­is­la­ture, is the op­po­site of a fire­brand.

Yet these tech­nocrats are catch­ing fire. In Ohio, a re­cent gu­ber­na­to­rial de­bate be­tween Demo­crat Richard Cor­dray and Repub­li­can Mike DeWine was de­fined by its lack of spark. The race there is a toss-up.

“These are not protest can­di­dates,” said for­mer Michi­gan Gov. James Blan­chard, a Demo­crat.

Four decades ago, in the af­ter­math of Water­gate, Blan­chard said, voter anger helped him win a seat in Congress, but he didn’t fo­cus his cam­paign on Richard Nixon’s mis­deeds, which he said would have risked alien­at­ing Mid­west­ern­ers. Many Democrats try­ing to re­gain con­trol of gover­nor’s houses in this po­lit­i­cally tricky ter­ri­tory are fol­low­ing the same path.

“They are solid, prac­ti­cal Democrats,” Blan­chard said. Re­fer­ring to sup­port­ers of Sen. Bernie San­ders of Vermont, he added, “The Bernie­crat wing of the party may not pre­fer them, but it will sup­port them.”

Schuette’s ef­forts to stir hot-but­ton na­tional and in­ter­na­tional is­sues into the Michi­gan race, mean­while, keep fall­ing short.

In an in­ter­view, he fo­cused on an 8-year-old tweet from Whit­mer’s run­ning mate for lieu­tenant gover­nor, which blamed Is­raeli ag­gres­sion for the rise of Ha­mas. Schuette called the tweet “dis­grace­ful.”

He sug­gested Whit­mer is a car­bon copy of Michi­gan’s pre­vi­ous fe­male gover­nor, Jen­nifer Gran­holm, who pur­sued a lib­eral agenda in of­fice and later be­came the co-chair of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s would-be tran­si­tion team. He touted Trump’s tax cuts and trade deals.

The na­tional is­sue that vot­ers seem to care most about is health­care, but that’s a prob­lem for Schuette and other Repub­li­cans run­ning for gover­nor in GOP-con­trolled states. As at­tor­ney gen­eral, Schuette sued at least nine times to block the Affordable Care Act, and he broke with Repub­li­can Gov. Rick Sny­der to op­pose the pop­u­lar Healthy Michi­gan pro­gram, which ex­panded Med­i­caid to cover 660,000 peo­ple.

De­spite the pop­u­lar­ity of Oba­macare in Michi­gan, Schuette con­tin­ues to at­tack it. “Congress hasn’t solved the prob­lem,” he said, “There is not a fed­eral health­care pol­icy .... The fed­eral fund­ing is not in­def­i­nite. We have to do some­thing to make sure we help the sys­tem.”

Oba­macare op­po­si­tion has be­come an al­ba­tross through­out Repub­li­can states.

In Wis­con­sin, it has driven down sup­port for Gov. Scott Walker, the one­time star of the GOP and much talked-about pres­i­den­tial con­tender who now is in jeop­ardy of get­ting voted out of of­fice as he vies for a third term as gover­nor. He is trail­ing in the polls.

Florida’s re­jec­tion of the Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion has helped pro­pel the cam­paign of Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial nom­i­nee An­drew Gil­lum, an un­abashed pro­gres­sive who sup­ports a Medi­care­for-all sys­tem and has ex­panded his base far beyond the left. The Florida race is in a vir­tual dead heat with polls sug­gest­ing a small lead for the Demo­crat.

Schuette’s plans to curb, rather than ex­pand, gov­ern­ment health in­sur­ance had long been a re­li­able talk­ing point for GOP can­di­dates. But it’s do­ing lit­tle to help him lock in vot­ers like Utica’s mayor.

“Peo­ple need to be taken care of,” Dionne said. “We should prob­a­bly look at so­cial­ized medicine.”

Pho­to­graphs by Laura McDer­mott For The Times

PROTESTERS rally at a cam­paign event for Michi­gan Atty. Gen. Bill Schuette, who has at­tacked Oba­macare in his gu­ber­na­to­rial run.

MAYOR Thom Dionne, left, of Utica, Mich., said Schuette’s Demo­cratic ri­val has won over vot­ers with her pledge to fix the roads.

SCHUETTE, cen­ter, is trail­ing badly in the polls as a Repub­li­can in a state that went for Don­ald Trump by 10,000 votes in 2016.

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