The primaries shift the focus to control of the US House

DESMOINES, Iowa – A mid-primary season which opened with elections that put the former president to the test Donald Trump’s Influence among Republicans enters a new phase this week with US House of Representatives contests that will shape the future of Congress.

From the suburbs of New Jersey to the capital of Iowa to California’s Central Valley, Tuesday’s primary will decide which Republicans will take on some of the most prominent Democrats who helped win control of the US House of Representatives four years ago take over.

For these members of the Class of 2018, the matchups unfold in a dramatically different setting. Trump is replaced from the White House by a president of his own party admission assessments crash. Moderate suburban voters who switched to Democrats during the Trump era may reopen to Republicans, frustrated by a range of challenges ranging from inflation to soaring gas prices to a shortage of baby food.


With that in mind, some of the vulnerable Democrats, who will learn this week who their Republican opponents will be, said they’re bracing for an intense campaign season. They plan to spend the coming months relentlessly focusing on solving local problems.

“I will only work on issues that have a profound impact on our community,” US Rep. Josh Harder, D-Calif., said in an interview.

Representing a district with workers who commute up to 90 miles to jobs near San Francisco, Harder said he plans to emphasize his — so far unsuccessful — push to repeal the federal gas tax. He also co-sponsored a bill passed by the House of Representatives last month to crack down on alleged price gouging by oil companies and other energy producers, a bill that has faced strong opposition in the US Senate and is split equally between Democrats and Republicans.

“These are local issues with national implications,” he said, noting that his votes in the House of Representatives “only have an impact if they’re actually seen, understood, and felt by the people of a district like this.”


Meredith Kelly, a senior adviser to the Democrats’ 2018 campaign committee, said this week’s races were “previews of some real battles to topple in swing districts.”

“These are battle-hardened incumbents who not only won in 2018 but endured 2020, for many in a tougher year than some anticipated,” she said.

Republicans need just five seats to gain control of the House of Representatives this fall. Few Democratic seats are more at risk than that of Rep. Cindy Axne, whose Iowa district stretches from Democratic-leaning Des Moines to GOP-friendly suburbs and hard-line conservative farmlands in Iowa’s southwest corner.

Axne squeaked 1.4 percentage points through to re-election in 2020, while Trump edged out Biden by just a tenth of a percentage point in the district. Last year’s redistribution moved some conservative counties in western Iowa in their current counties to even more conservative, albeit sparsely populated, poor, rural counties along the Missouri border.


In such a daunting environment, she exemplifies the go-local approach of many at-risk Democrats.

At a recent stop in Davis County, new to the county where Axne is running and where Trump won nearly 74 percent of the vote, she ticked off expanded broadband internet and the availability of corn-based ethanol as part of the infrastructure bill Biden signed into $1 trillion in November. Even more locally, she noted the new telemedicine unit at the hospital in nearby Albia, a town of about 3,700 people in a rural, low-income county of south-central Iowa.

“That’s my bill,” she told the lunchtime crowd at a diner in Bloomfield. “I’m absolutely addressing issues surrounding rural America.”

But other Democrats say they will go beyond so-called local economic problems.

In New Jersey, Rep. Tom Malinowski is focusing on gas prices, which are hitting the wallets of commuters in his district. But he also points to the potential for the US Supreme Court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade could repeal, which provided for a nationwide right to abortion.


“For a lot of people, this is going to be very real very, very soon,” Malinowski said, especially in his county, which has a lot of younger, educated adults who, according to polls, tend to support the legality of abortion in all or most cases . “I think this is becoming much more of a voting issue.”

New Jersey State Senator Tom Kean Jr., the favorite in Tuesday’s six-way GOP primary against Malinowski, exemplifies the Republican message in those counties, confusing Democrats with Biden’s unpopularity, particularly because of decades of unpopularity high cost of living.

“Voters know that Tom Malinowski and Joe Biden are directly responsible for the record-high prices they pay for everything from gas to groceries,” Kean, who lost 1.2 percentage points to Malinowski in 2020, said in a written statement on Friday.

Though some Democrats say a threat of legal abortion could help Democrats not only hold competitive seats but win them, veteran Republican pollster David Winston says the strength of economic headwinds are even hotter issues for voters on the left prevails.


“There’s a difference between issues that people care about and issues that they think are very important, and then there are the issues that they will ultimately consider when they go to the polling booth,” said Winston, who is a senior adviser that was the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“If you have economic problems that are progressing to a degree where people are dealing with such significant problems, it’s going to be about the economic problems,” Winston said.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. The primaries shift the focus to control of the US House

Sarah Y. Kim

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