California Democrats Use Trump in Key Races

     SACRAMENTO (CN) — Betting that antipathy toward Donald Trump will undermine other GOP office-seekers, California’s Democratic Party has launched a website attacking several Republican congressional candidates for their party’s presidential nominee.
     The Trump Tracker, a new feature on the state Democratic website, targets seven Republicans — four of them incumbents — running for seats in the House of Representatives.
     The seven “are running on the Trump ticket, and we’re not giving them a free ride,” the website says.
     They are not the most ardent Trump supporters among the state’s congressional candidates. Two incumbents on the list, Rep. Steve Knight of Palmdale and Rep. David Valadao of Bakersfield, are each labeled a “Trump Waffler,” rather than a “Trump Backer,” as are the other five.
     All seven are running in districts considered to be in play this election, according to Michael Soller, the California Democratic Party’s communications director. “These are the battleground races in California,” he said.
     Across the country, Democrats are hoping and Republicans are worrying that Trump’s controversial statements, lean campaign infrastructure and lagging fund raising will hurt Republicans running in “down ballot” races.
     That’s particularly true for the U.S. Senate, where 24 of the 34 seats on the November ballot are held by Republicans, about seven of whom are considered vulnerable.
     Trump trauma has already led one Republican incumbent, Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, to announce he does not support the party’s nominee; several others are giving Trump grudging support.
     Soller said he believes that “Trump’s candidacy has put the Republican majority at risk” in the House of Representatives.
     Democrats hope so. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this month said it is spending more than $1 million on television and online commercials lambasting House Republicans as “sidekicks” of the “bully,” Trump.
     One Republican incumbent on the Trump Tracker is Congressman Jeff Denham of Modesto.
     “It’s important that voters know that Jeff Denham supports Donald Trump and will be a rubber stamp for Trump’s recklessness and divisiveness,” Jeff Lord, campaign manager for Denham’s opponent, Michael Eggman, said in an email.
     Henry Vandermeir, chairman of the Democratic Party in Orange County, said the state organization puts out talking points for its troops every election.
     “It’s to make sure everybody has the same message,” he said.
     Soller and Vandermeir both said that Trump’s name at the top of the ticket already has spurred a big uptick in Democratic voter registration.
     “He’s really engaged Democrats in the state,” Soller said.
     Republican activists, not surprisingly, take a different view of their nominee’s coattails.
     After all, political experts and pundits have underestimated Trump all along, said John Eastman, a conservative constitutional scholar at Orange County’s Chapman University Fowler School of Law.
     “The Democratic effort might just backfire,” he said. “People are really angry at the political establishment.”
     The chairman of the Republican Party in Orange County, Fred Whitaker, agreed. “Trump is probably more popular than they think,” he said.
     Another Republican congressman on the Trump Tracker is Darrell Issa, whose district covers parts of Orange and San Diego counties. Sollar and Vandermeir think Issa is vulnerable, but Whitaker doubts it. He predicted that “Trump is probably going to get 70 percent of the vote in [Issa’s] district.”
     Some observers wonder whether voters think of Trump as a political eruption unto himself, walled off, as one wag put it, from other GOP candidates and unlikely to affect them.
     California has 53 members of the House, 39 Democrats and 14 Republicans. Thanks to California’s “top two” open primary system, seven races in November will be between two Democrats.
     Besides the four incumbents, Knight, Valadao, Issa and Denham, the other targets of the Trump Tracker are candidates Denise Gitsham running in part of San Diego County against Rep. Scott Peters, Justin Fareed running against Salud Carbajal in an open seat covering the Santa Barbara and Central Coast area, and Scott Jones challenging Rep. Ami Bera outside Sacramento.

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