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Published: Tuesday, September 18, 2018 @ 12:00 AM
Facing a recent series of polls which raise questions about their majorities in the both the U.S. House and Senate, senior Republicans are counseling their colleagues to stick to the basics in their Congressional campaigns for November, especially urging them to emphasize economic growth under the Trump Administration as a reason to keep the GOP in charge on Capitol Hill.
"Our economic progress has America in the best economic condition it's been in for decades," said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), who heads up election efforts nationally for House Republicans.
"The economy is booming, our policies are working - what's not to like about that?" Stivers said.
In a meeting with House GOP lawmakers last week, Stivers said his message was simple - "finish strong."
"Do the basics, this is just blocking and tackling," Stivers added, using another football metaphor to say the GOP needs to worry about gains of "three yards and a cloud of dust," instead of Political Hail Mary passes to win in November.
While every race is different in the House and Senate, a number of GOP lawmakers told me their biggest campaign selling point right now is a simple formula - talk to voters about the tax cut signed into law by President Donald Trump, lower unemployment numbers nationwide, and stronger economic growth.
"The economy is growing, kids are moving out of the basement, getting their jobs - this is what folks sent me here to do," argues Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA), whose suburban Atlanta district has been targeted by Democrats.
"Certainly we have the increase in our economy showing strong growth," said Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), who is also emphasizing a bigger defense budget, with his district anchored by Wright Patterson Air Force Base outside of Dayton.
"They're making more money, they've got more money to spend," said Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL) of voters in his central Florida district. "The jobs rate is just phenomenal."
But while Woodall, Turner, and Webster speak confidently about their party's position for November, recent polls are not as clear that the economic argument will be the magic election potion for the GOP.
For example, a recent poll by Quinnipiac University showed that despite a record level of optimism about the economy, President Trump's disapproval ratings were very high, showing a major disconnect in the usual prediction that voters will vote their pocketbooks, and reward the party in power for good economic times.
That's been the story in a number of surveys, as political pollsters and polling experts see the GOP on the defensive right now - but to what extent - that is not as clear, as many election night possibilities are still in play all over the map, especially in the U.S. Senate.
In a bit of a surprise, a recent batch of Senate polls have shown Democrats running stronger than expected in Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, and Tennessee - with Florida, and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), being the biggest election headache for Democrats at this point.
But even the experts who sift through the numbers say that seven weeks out - anything is possible in November.
In the House, legal troubles for two lawmakers are causing further problems for the GOP; on Monday, Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), who was indicted in August for insider trading and lying to the feds, decided to stay on the ballot and seek re-election.
New York Republicans had been trying to shift Collins to another race, but because of the byzantine nature of election laws in the Empire State, any such move would likely have drawn a lawsuit - thus the GOP is stuck with Collins on the ballot for Congress.
Also still on the ballot for November is a second indicted GOP lawmaker, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who has been charged - along with his wife - with misusing $250,000 in campaign money.
It's possible that even with the label of "indicted Congressman" - both could still win re-election.
It happened in 2014, when ex-Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) won election while under indictment. Grimm resigned weeks later, and went to prison for tax fraud.