(Bloomberg) — Elections over the next month in three Republican-held congressional districts will test voters’ frustration with GOP efforts to repeal Obamacare and whether Democrats can capitalize on President Donald Trump’s sagging approval ratings.
Democrats are focusing on pocketbook issues in special election campaigns in South Carolina, Georgia and Montana — races that will preview the party’s effort to wrest control of the House from Republicans in 2018.
The Democratic candidates are remaining largely silent on the biggest issue in Washington: investigations into possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia, as well as the president’s dismissal of FBI Director James Comey. That’s because undecided voters are more interested in the economy than in the investigations, said Doug Usher, a managing partner at Purple Strategies, a bipartisan political consulting firm.
“People are not paying as much attention in the short term to some of these Washington scandals as you would think,” Usher said.
Democrats say their best tactic is focusing on Republican policies, including dismantling the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, Republicans in the special elections are standing by the May 4 House vote for health care legislation that would allow insurers to charge more for people over age 50 and for patients with pre-existing conditions and a gap in coverage. The bill also would limit Medicaid coverage for the poor.
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‘Wear That Vote’
“We’re going to make sure they wear that vote everywhere that they go,” said Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Health care issues are “bread and butter stuff,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said in an interview Monday. “That keeps people up at night.”
The three elections will fill seats vacated when Trump appointed Republican lawmakers to his administration. They won’t come close to shifting the balance of power in the House, which Republicans control 238-193. Montanans vote on Thursday, while the elections in Georgia and South Carolina will be on June 20.
In Georgia, the contest is for a district previously represented by Tom Price, now the Health and Human Services secretary, while the South Carolina race is for the seat formerly held by Mick Mulvaney, now Trump’s budget director. In Montana, candidates are competing for the seat that was held by Ryan Zinke, now Interior secretary.
Trump won the congressional district in Montana by more than 20 points, South Carolina by 18 percentage points and Georgia by 1.5 percentage points. Democrats have invested more in the Georgia and Montana races than in South Carolina, which they see as less competitive.
Danger for Democrats
Polls show the danger Democrats may face in criticizing Trump in districts dominated by Republican voters. A May 17 Politico/Morning Consult poll found that while Trump’s job approval rating was 43% among registered voters, it was 84% among Trump voters after he fired Comey earlier this month.
The same poll gives Democrats an edge on health care: 45% of all registered voters trust Democrats more on the issue versus 35% who trust Republicans. After the health care vote, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report moved 20 congressional districts in Democrats’ favor.