Congressional Republicans once bracing for the possibility of a Democratic “tsunami” in this year’s elections now appear on the offensive -- bolstered by new polls suggesting Americans like their recent tax cuts and the opportunity to pounce on Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi's remark about the resulting bonuses and paycheck increases amounting to “crumbs.”
“Nancy Pelosi has stayed in the spotlight. Her 'crumbs' comment is something I think we can use pretty effectively,” Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said at this week’s GOP policy retreat at the Greenbrier resort, in West Virginia.
To be sure, Republicans have in recent years made a familiar target of Pelosi, arguing that the Democratic Party, under the liberal California Democrat, has lost touch with working-class Americans.
Stivers made his comments a day after a Monmouth University poll showed that 47 percent of registered voters now favor or would pick a Democratic candidate in this year’s congressional races, compared to 45 percent who would support a Republican. That’s compared to Democrats’ 51-to-36-percentage-point advantage in the school’s so-called generic poll in December.
"The generic congressional ballot is prone to bouncing around for a bit until the campaign really gets underway,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “But Democrats who counted on riding public hostility toward the tax bill to retake the House may have to rethink that strategy."
The poll also found public support for President Trump and congressional Republicans’ landmark tax plan had increased by 21 percentage points since Monmouth’s December poll.
Stivers said Thursday that Republicans will continue to tout the benefits of their tax plan to Americans -- including three million workers who have already receiving a bonus -- and that it will be part of the their larger 2018 campaign slogan, “The Great American Comeback.”
He also pointed to the president’s improved approval rating and Republicans last year winning six special House elections.
However, Stivers acknowledged that history is not on Republicans’ side, considering the political party that controls the White House has over roughly the past eight decades lost about 26 House seats in midterm elections, as Democrats need to gain 24 to retake control of the lower chamber. (All 435 House seats are up for reelection this year.)
Another concern is that nearly 38 House Republicans have already announced that they will not seek re-election -- including nine committee chairmen.
“It’s not all rainbows and unicorns,” Stivers said about being in Congress, which continues to have low approval ratings.
However, he said the GOP’s 2018 recruited class has been “pretty good.” Stivers also said that the GOP's winning the special Georgia House election last year proves that Republicans, despite pollsters’ predictions, can win in the kind of suburban districts that helped Trump prevail in 2016.
“I think we are going to hold the House, and I think things are going to be OK,” he said.
While the numbers have buoyed Republicans -- including Trump, who in his speech at the retreat alluded to the new polling numbers -- Democrats remain enthusiastic.
"Democratic candidates across the country are out-hustling and out-organizing Republican incumbents, many of whom have not faced a competitive challenge in a very long time and are struggling to find those old campaign muscles,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said Friday, pointing to Republican incumbents trailing their Democratic challengers in fundraising in dozens of House races.
While the Monmouth polls created a huge buzz this week among Republican, particular those in the House, a Morning Consult poll a week earlier had already suggested Democrats’ hopes of retaking the Senate, despite trailing by just a 51-49 member margin, were dimming.
The poll, taken last year from October through December, shows a decline in net approval ratings for nine of the 10 Democratic incumbents running in states Trump won in 2016. Among them is Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, whose net rating fell by roughly 18 percentage points by the end of the year, the most of any of the Democratic incumbents.
There are 34 Senate seats up for reelection, but Democrats are defending incumbents in 26 of them.