Making his first foray on to the campaign trail in 2018, President Donald Trump goes to southwestern Pennsylvania on Thursday to show his support for a GOP candidate running for Congress, as Republicans have encountered some troubling signs in this mid-term election year, struggling with an election playing field that seems tilted against their party.
With his visit to the Pittsburgh area, Mr. Trump will highlight the candidacy of Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Saccone, who is trying to win a March 13 special election for Congress, in a U.S. House district that voted for the President by 19 points in November 2016.
The President’s trip comes two days after the latest evidence of a voting surge for Democrats, as they flipped a state legislative seat in Wisconsin, in a district that voted for President Trump by 17 points in 2016.
“That sound you hear is a tsunami alert,” said election handicapper Stu Rothenberg, who like many in Washington, sees the possibility of a wave election in 2018 for the Democrats.
The Wisconsin outcome was not ignored by the state’s Governor, Scott Walker, who is up for re-election this year.
In a fundraising email sent to supporters on Wednesday night, Governor Walker’s subject line was, “SHOCKING LOSS.”
“Wisconsin conservatives just received a much-needed WAKE UP CALL,” the missive began.
“Typically we’ve held this seat,” said House Speaker and Wisconsin native Paul Ryan to reporters. “Yeah, I think we should pay attention to it.”
“We all have to work,” said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), who finds himself under great pressure as the head of the campaign arm of House Republicans.
But the shift hasn’t just been in Wisconsin, as Democrats have seen their vote share increase across the board, in red states like Oklahoma and South Dakota, red districts in Georgia and South Carolina, and then in a big upset win in December in Alabama, where Doug Jones won a U.S. Senate seat.
“These results continue the trend we saw in 2017,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez. “Voters are flat-out rejecting the Trump-GOP agenda.”
Whether that’s the case is not yet clear – but the numbers do show what Democrats have been able to do in race after race – get more of their own people out to vote, and attract more Independents as well.
In 2017, while Republicans were able to win a series of special elections for the U.S. House, the margins were much closer than normal – and that has campaign experts wondering if Democrats can maintain that momentum into November of 2018.
“I don’t think people have fully priced in how much *worse* things could get for House Republicans in the next 300 days,” tweeted Dave Wasserman, an expert on House elections for the Cook Political Report.
So far in 2018, all of the news about retiring lawmakers in Congress has come from the GOP side, as 31 House Republicans won’t be back next January, compared to 14 Democrats.
That turnover – before even one vote has been cast in a Congressional primary – is higher than normal, and even higher than the number of Democrats who left in 1994 – when the GOP had a huge mid-term victory, and took control of both houses of Congress.
All of that is getting noticed by those who have been in politics, like ex-Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), who now does talk radio.
The game plan for the GOP in 2018 is straightforward at this point – President Trump and Republican lawmakers are doing all they can to highlight the tax cuts enacted into law late last year, and how that’s going to help working Americans right away.
On Thursday, Mr. Trump will stop at H&K Equipment near Pittsburgh, a company that White House officials say is going to benefit from the new tax plan.
“2017 was the best year in company history, which they credit to the President’s pro-jobs, pro-worker, pro-growth economic agenda,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
“Thanks to the passage of the Trump tax cuts, H&K will now be able to expense 100 percent of the investments they make in new equipment in the same year they buy it,” Sanders added.
On Capitol Hill, it’s also a daily drumbeat for GOP lawmakers, as they tout the tax cuts at every opportunity – like this speech on the Seante floor from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA).
While the polls have shown weak numbers for Congressional Republicans in recent months, some of the new data indicates an uptick in public support for the tax cuts, and GOP lawmakers believe that can only help as more people see more money in their paychecks.
“Had the other side gotten in, the market would have gone down fifty percent,” the President told an audience at the White House on Tuesday, as he is ready to make the case repeatedly this year that his election over Hillary Clinton was key to more economic growth and jobs.
“You know what we’ve done in our tax bill, and you know how successful it’s been,” Mr. Trump added.
He’ll make that case again Thursday in Pennsylvania, as Republicans try to make sure 2018 isn’t remembered for an election tide that swept them out of the Congress.