Of all the measures House Democrats have passed this year, party strategists generally believe vulnerable incumbents are most likely to emphasize a handful in their reelection campaigns: In suburban and small-town seats alike, it’ll be the omnibus political-reform bill, and in suburban areas primarily, the expanded gun-control measures.
But they expect their candidates, across almost all districts, to highlight the prescription-drug legislation more than any other. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that first-term swing-district Democrats—including Elaine Luria of Virginia, Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer of Iowa, and Haley Stevens and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan—were either given prominent speaking roles during the bill’s debate or sponsored amendments to it, or both. “The ability to tie health-care prescription-drug costs to your cost of living will be a cornerstone to winning in 2020, not only to the presidential, but to every race up and down the ticket,” said Dan Sena, the former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the caucus’s election arm.
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Each of the House’s top-priority measures will provide clear points of contrast with Republicans next year, particularly because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to allow a vote on any of them. Still, these stymied proposals may carry Democrats only so far in rebutting the GOP charge that they are more focused on fighting the president, especially in the most Republican-leaning seats.
“They all campaigned on getting stuff done for their districts,” noted a senior House Democratic aide who works with moderate members. “Nobody campaigns on just getting a bill passed in the House. Republican voters typically vote for a Democrat on the premise that you’ll work with the other side to get things done for me.”
That’s where the new trade deal, known formally as the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement, fits in, because it’s guaranteed to become law. So is the defense-authorization bill the House is slated to approve in the next few days, which funds the military. A third bill approved this week, providing legal status for undocumented farm workers, also has a chance, albeit a smaller one, of reaching Trump’s desk.
“It’s critically important that we, as a Congress, pass bills into law,” Murphy said. “That’s part of our jobs. I always say the only bills that matter to my constituents are the ones that can become law, because that’s the point at which it affects their lives.”
It’s still an open question how strong Trump will be next year in the 31 Democratic-held House districts that he carried in 2016. Even back then, Trump reached 50 percent of the vote in only 13 of those districts. In the suburban areas on that list especially, he may have lost some ground, despite the booming economies around America’s cities. A national Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday found that an unprecedented one-fifth of voters who approve of Trump’s handling of the economy nonetheless say they disapprove of his overall job performance, according to detailed results provided to me by the pollsters.