Congressional Democrats at risk of losing their seats in November are distancing themselves from their party’s national brand, hoping to appeal to voters with a more conservative law-and-order agenda.
These swing-state incumbents are running on a pro-police, anti-socialist platform that bucks the Democratic Party’s playbook.
As moderate Democrats in districts susceptible to flipping, they say they know their constituents better than national party leaders.
“By and large, we are the ones who are closest to our districts,” said Rep. Chris Pappas, an at-risk New Hampshire Democrat. “It’s really important for our leadership to heed the calls of swing district members that are here each and every day.”
Mr. Pappas is one of more than 70 Democrats that the National Republican Congressional Committee has targeted. Redistricting has made several solidly blue districts more competitive. The political climate bodes well for the GOP in this midterm election because, traditionally, the party holding the White House usually loses seats in Congress.
Democrats in tight races are laboring to distance themselves from their party’s far-left activist wing by painting themselves as champions of public safety and pragmatism.
Rep. Jared Golden, Maine Democrat who has broken with his party on votes on gun control and expanding entitlement programs, said he throws out memos from the House Democrats’ campaign arm and regularly skips caucus meetings.
Mr. Golden, who represents a district that former President Donald Trump won twice, has criticized his party on guns and excess spending as he fends off a challenge from former Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican.
In 2020, Mr. Golden outperformed President Biden by more than any other Democratic incumbent.
“We have to ask ourselves about some of the policies that the national party is pursuing,” Mr. Golden told Politico. “Sometimes, I don’t agree with my party’s characterization of what are the most pressing needs at the moment.”
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, Virginia Democrat, is basically accusing her Republican opponent of being part of the left’s defund-the-police movement. She’s airing ads blasting her rival, Prince William County Supervisor Yesli Vega, for voting against budgets that would’ve increased police funding.
“She voted against our police and sheriffs. Yesli Vega won’t keep us safe,” one of the ads said.
Ms. Spanberger was one of the most vocal critics of the defund-the-police rhetoric of her fellow Democrats after the anti-police movement cost the party House seats in 2020.
Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said maintaining an independent streak is helpful for moderates in districts where support for Mr. Biden is low.
“My guess is Biden is not particularly popular in Golden or Spanberger’s district, so it’s smart,” Mr. Bannon said. “But, while positioning yourself as a maverick Democrat in districts like those is a good strategy, you’ve still got your Republican opponents probably tagging you for being a Biden supporter anyway, so you have to strike a delicate balance.”
Indeed, the NRCC is invoking Mr. Biden to attack these at-risk Democrats and highlighting their voting records that align with the president and party leadership.
“These Democrats all vote with Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi 100% of the time. They think their only chance at reelection is lying to voters, but voters are smart and see through stunts like this,” said NRCC spokesman Mike Berg.
House Republicans, who need a net gain of just five seats to flip the chamber in November, also are blaming incumbent Democrats for inflation, crime, and high gas prices.
More moderate elected Democrats also have weathered intensifying challenges from far-left candidates seeking to oust anyone in the party who stood in the way of expansive social programs and other big-ticket liberal programs.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat who narrowly defeated far-left challenger Jessica Cisneros this year, blasted New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for campaigning against him. He accused her of promoting “failed ideas.”
“The voters will decide this election, not far-left celebrities who stand for defunding the police, open borders, eliminating oil and gas jobs, and raising taxes on hard-working Texans,” Mr. Cuellar said.
Rep. Kurt Schrader, Oregon Democrat who lost to left-wing candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner in May, warned of the “socialist wing” taking over the Democratic Party after his loss.
“The Democratic Party has moved quite a bit to the left and is moving out from underneath me,” Mr. Schrader told KATU in Portland, Oregon.
Rep. Andy Kim, a New Jersey Democrat who is on the NRCC’s list of targets, said the moderate middle represents a group trying to govern beyond the fringes of both parties.
Mr. Kim was elected in 2018 with several other Democrats who have sought to pursue national security and pro-law enforcement policies, rather than fight culture wars.
“I really do believe that we represent a new generation of leadership that’s trying to do things differently and show that there’s a different way to maneuver politics,” Mr. Kim said. “In addition to being serious legislators, our members are the majority makers of Congress and the reason that Democrats can make good governance work today.”