Economic Optimism Central to Republicans’ Path to House Majority

A rosier-than-expected jobs report last week buoyed House Republican plans already in place to make the economy a key part of their pitch to voters, even as it remains fragile and the recovery outlook hazy.

“Our guys have a message to run on,” Rep. Tom Emmer (Minn.), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a recent interview with Bloomberg Government. “The message is rebuilding the U.S. economy with the president, who is more than capable of doing it.”

That message is critical to both President Donald Trump’s re-election prospects and those of House Republicans, whose hopes of winning back the majority two years after losing it are inextricably tied to the top of the ticket.

The House hasn’t flipped party control in a presidential election year since 1952, and the top election handicappers don’t expect that streak to end in 2020. Inside Elections, FiveThirtyEight, Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball all expect Democrats to retain the majority and perhaps even gain seats.

Photo by Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg
President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden on June 5 about the May jobs report.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Wednesday laid out the challenges still in place to an economic recovery, which could take far longer than what Trump conveyed during Rose Garden remarks touting the May jobs report. Trump tweeted Thursday that the Fed is often wrong and that he predicts “a very good Third Quarter, a great Fourth Quarter, and one of our best ever years in 2021.”

Unemployment still stands above 13%, applications for unemployment benefits this week were still double the worst point in the Great Recession, and more than 40 million people have lost their jobs since state lockdowns began in March. The Congressional Budget Office expects an $8 trillion hit to the gross domestic product over the next 10 years.

Embrace the Economy

Yet several Republican strategists said lawmakers and candidates should embrace the economy in their campaigns, delivering a message that Trump presided over one of the strongest economies in recent decades, and that Republican policies of reduced regulations and lower taxes will get the country back on track.

“This is going to come back to a question about the economy,” said Calvin Moore, a spokesman for the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership. “That’s a really good message for our candidates because, at the end of the day, folks are still worried about where their rent check is going to come from or how they’ll make the next mortgage payment.”

Even if there is a second wave of the virus and further shutdowns are necessary, Republicans could still do well said Republican strategist Matt Terrill.

“If the American people in October say ‘We’ve gone through a tough time as a country, but we feel like we’re on the right track under Republican leadership, or under this President,’ it will go to in President Trump’s direction,” Terrill said. “If they don’t, it won’t.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee cites its recruitment success, financial advantages, and kitchen-table-issue messaging as critical components to what it expects to be another positive election cycle. And Democrats are already highlighting how Republicans’ reticence to swiftly stimulate the economy through further legislation could be hindering the country’s ability to recover and do it safely.

“Voters will hold them accountable for their crusade against Main Street and working families’ ability to get through this crisis,” DCCC spokeswoman Fabiola Rodriguez said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday continued to criticize Republicans for not taking up the House-passed HEROES Act (H.R. 6800), which would pump $3 trillion into the economy through federal agencies, state and local governments, small businesses, and individuals.

“To do nothing is the most expensive course of action,” Pelosi said at a news conference.

Trump Effect

Emmer said a key part of the message is how the economy had fared under Trump before the pandemic forced states to shut down business. In February, unemployment was at 3.5% and the U.S. was in the longest period of economic expansion on record, according to the CBO.

Trump, Emmer said, “had this economy humming better than perhaps any in history before this pandemic hit.”

“With a Republican House and Republican Senate, he’ll make sure it’s an economy that works for everyone again,” he said.

The president’s numbers in key states recently raised concerns within his own campaign. Recent surveys show presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden leading Trump both nationally and in Midwest states pivotal to Trump’s 2016 victory.

However, while polling shows voters are pessimistic about the economy, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted May 28-June 2 found that 48% think Trump would be better at both dealing with the economy and putting people back to work. Biden received 37% and 35%, respectively, on the two questions.

“If the economy comes roaring back, don’t bet against Trump no matter how many things are happening,” said George Seay, a major GOP donor. “He’s going to carry a lot of House candidates along with him.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at ewilkins@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bgov.com; Heather Rothman at hrothman@bgov.com

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