- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Democrats are winning the coronavirus war — at least politically — by turning the public health crisis to their advantage in toss-up House races.

The sour mood in the country over COVID-19 and the economic crunch inflicted to fight the virus has given an edge to Democrats, with both incumbents and challengers benefiting from being the party out of the White House.

It’s a recipe for a bigger Democratic majority in the House in 2021.

Incumbents generally have the upper hand going into reelection races — with more name recognition, a record to run on, and typically party backing. But this year, Republican incumbents in close races can’t count on it, said Michael Miller, a political science professor at Barnard College in New York.

“In the case of Democratic challengers, what they’ve got going for them is that there does look to be a Democratic wind blowing,” he said. “And you know, people are really motivated to vote in the presidential election or some other higher-visibility election, it could very well carry Democrats in these House races.”

Republican challengers, on the other hand, are dragged down by President Trump’s low approval rating on handling the ongoing crisis.

Heading into 2020, Republicans’ strategy to retake the House — where they needed less than 20 seats to flip — relied, in part, on Mr. Trump’s coattails driving up voter participation and helping down-ballot GOP candidates.

“For Republican challengers, now you have a two-headed monster,” Mr. Miller said. “Because not only do you have a headwind nationally, but you also are less able to do face-to-face campaigning. You can’t do events.”

About 40% of voters approve of how the president has managed the government’s pandemic response, while 58% disapprove, found a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Generally, 61% of voters believe the country’s response to the pandemic has been unsuccessful, with 58% of independent voters — a key demographic in swing districts — in agreement.

In July, amid a resurgence of the virus, the Cook Political Report shifted 20 House races in 13 states in the Democrats’ favor.

“President Trump’s abysmal polling since the pandemic began is seriously jeopardizing down-ballot GOP fortunes,” said David Wasserman, the Cook Political Report’s House editor. “We may be approaching the point at which dozens of House Republicans will need to decide whether to cut the president loose and run on a ‘checks and balance’ message, offering voters insurance against congressional Democrats moving too far left under a potential Biden administration.”

The political oddsmakers last week estimated Democrats will expand their majority.

For endangered Republican House incumbents, it’s often not as easy as distancing yourself from Mr. Trump.

“They have to look at their constituencies,” said University of Illinois political scholar Christopher Mooney. “You’ve got a lot of QAnon people, you’ve got Antifa people and, you know, how do you deal with that?”

He pointed to Illinois’ 13th Congressional District, where Republican Rep. Rodney Davis faces a rematch with Democrat Betsy Londrigan whom he defeated by a razor-thin margin in 2018.

“He’s not against Trump but he’s never thrown his arms around him,” Mr. Mooney said. “I certainly think that won’t be the case this time because it is in the swing district.”

Mr. Davis, who tested positive for COVID-19 and is quarantining, is carefully approaching the coronavirus issue. He’s distanced himself from the president by routinely wearing a face mask on Capitol Hill. He also was one of about 20 Republicans to vote for the Democrats’ coronavirus aid for child care.

Ms. Londrigan has a slim 2-point lead in the race, according to a recent RMG Research survey.

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