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To win in 2018, candidates should focus on swing voters, study says

WASHINGTON — When President Donald Trump stumps for Republicans running for Congress in the midterms or special elections, he focuses on ginning up enthusiasm among the GOP base — in keeping with standard campaign procedure.

A new paper by the bipartisan Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, however, suggests that playing to the party base may be the wrong strategy for the 2018 midterm elections for both parties, but especially for the GOP, and particularly in Nevada.

If Democrats flip more than 24 House seats, they can win control of the House. “Tipping the Scales” author Henry Olsen combed through the data and found that Democratic candidates should try to appeal to “Romney-Clinton” voters — those who supported Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, but Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

If Republicans want to prevail, they need to reach out to swing voters who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 before voting for Trump in 2016. However, 44 percent of those “Obama-Trump” voters don’t know whom they’ll support in 2018, Olsen wrote, or do not plan to vote for either party’s candidates, which is more than say they will vote for GOP candidates.

An unenthusiastic base? Wouldn’t that suggest that Trump should play to his base voters to generate enthusiasm and thus increase the turnout of “Obama-Trump” voters?

Yes, but Trump needs to appeal to “Obama-Trump” voters without sounding like a GOP candidate, Olsen told the Review-Journal. Republicans also need to give “Romney-Clinton” voters reason to return to the GOP fold, he said.

Olsen sees Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., as particularly vulnerable because Nevada “is a state that’s got both types of swing voters” — with “Obama-Trump” voters residing outside metropolitan areas and “Romney-Clinton” voters in affluent locales.

“If Dean Heller wants to win re-election, he has to talk to both groups at the same time,” Olsen said, which he warned also presents the opportunity of alienating both groups.

Brookings Institution senior fellow William A. Galston, who served as Deputy Assistant to President Bill Clinton for domestic policy, told the Review-Journal that Olsen’s approach resonated.

“What strikes me as significant is how many Democrats are running campaigns tailored for their states or districts,” he said.

Galston cited Democrat Doug Jones’ U.S. Senate win in Alabama last year – the first Democratic Senate win in that state in half a century. Jones ran as a Democrat who would buck his party’s establishment. “That was not like campaigning in the Bronx,” Galston added, in a reference to the surprise June primary win of Alexandria Ocasio-Castro, who is also a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Political observers are gazing at Tuesday’s race in Ohio’s 12th congressional district as a gauge for which party will win in November. Trump won the district by nine points in 2016, but the race between Republican Troy Balderson and Democrat Danny O’Connor was too close to call Tuesday night. With Balderson leading by 1,754 votes, more than 3,400 provisional votes are still to be counted in coming weeks.

In an attempt to clinch the race for the GOP, Trump held a rally for Balderson Saturday night. But Trump may not have helped the GOP candidate when he mocked the intelligence of former Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James on Twitter as payback for James’ assertion on CNN that Trump is trying to divide the country.

Bill Whalen, of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, said that Trump’s presence can be a mixed bag. When Trump stumps for candidates, the rally is all about Trump. It’s not an easy balancing act trying to woo the Trump base and supporters of Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich, a strident Trump critic, Whalen said.

To exhibit his independence, Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., just released a campaign spot that highlighted his opposition to Trump’s attempt to peel back environmental regulation in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Wags call the Paulsen spot, which shows the congressman and his children in a canoe, “paddling away from Trump.” Clinton won Paulsen’s district in 2016, and Obama won the district in 2012 and 2008.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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