Despite polls showing Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by big margins in states such as California, the chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee dismissed claims by his Democratic counterpart that Trump leading the ticket puts 70-to-80 GOP House seats in play.
"When we read 70 to 80 seats in play, it's kind of a head-scratcher," NRCC chairman Greg Walden said on Friday morning, noting that the Democratic Congressional Committee "forgot to recruit anybody against [GOP Reps.] Adam Kinzinger [Ill.] and John Moolenaar [Mich.]." (Both lawmakers have usually been on Democratic lists of incumbents who might be endangered in 2016).
"We feel good where we are," he added.
Walden spoke to Newsmax at a press breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor on the day after Trump met with Republican senators and U.S. Representatives at a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill.
"It was a very cordial meeting, very positive, and for the first time, many of our members had the opportunity to hear directly from Mr. Trump and vice versa," he recalled. "There was kidding back in forth, there was a little jostling back and forth, in a nice way, but I would say people left the conference feeling much more positive about the nominee."
Regarding the Democratic strategy of linking Republican incumbents in marginal districts to the controversial Trump, Walden said: "I hope that is their game plan. We see no evidence at this time — and we’ve done a lot of surveying — to indicate that strategy works. Why? Because our candidates are going home, doing their work legislatively, running the kind of campaigns that let the American people know they are not somebody else. I have great faith in the American voters and their ability to differentiate between one person and another."
When Newsmax asked whether the NRCC has been forced to spend more on defending incumbents because of Trump, its chairman told us: "First of all, we have 247 incumbents today, so it would only make sense that we would spend more on incumbent retention because we have more incumbents. So that would be logical. If we go back to 2010, it’s really easy to make the case on offense because we were trying to pick up seats. Now we're retaining."
But, he quickly added, "now we also have offensive opportunities." As a good example, he cited the Republican effort in New York's Third District to win the seat of retiring Democratic Rep. Steve Israel. Republican nominee and State Sen. Jack Martins is, in Walden's words, "a great recruit [and] a great candidate. We have enough to pick up there."
Both Walden and NRCC Executive Director Rob Simms also made strong arguments to rebut some of the oft-cited "major targets" of their Democratic counterparts.
"If you look at the seat of [retiring GOP Rep.] Chris Gibson [New York's 19th District] last time, it was a very expensive race," said Walden, "When he retired, I wasn't very happy, although when you're in this job, you're never very happy when any of your members retire. But we’re really pleased with [former Assembly GOP Leader] John Faso. He won convincingly in the primary and is well-positioned to hold that seat. Chris Gibson was campaigning with him in three parades on the 4th of July. They're going to do this together and we'll hold this seat."
Newsmax noted that a just-completed Field Poll showed Trump leading Hillary Clinton by a margin of more than 30 percentage points statewide and that California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa led in the initial multi-party primary for his seat by an unimpressive margin of 51 to 45 percent. Issa’s Democratic opponent Doug Applegate is now a targeted candidate by the DCCC,.
"With the Issa seat, you had other dynamics at play," Simms replied, "A Democratic presidential primary in California that, going into the final days, was still competitive. There's a college population in Mr. Issa's district, in San Diego, that you could say was 'feeling the Bern.' Since Mr. Trump had locked up the Republican nomination, you didn't have that top-of-the-ticket engagement going into the primary.
"Going into the general election, Mr. Issa is, I believe, sitting on $4 million in his campaign account. … I would say good luck to them."
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