House GOP’s campaign boss sees Trump boost in pivotal swing districts

House Republican leaders are now bullishly predicting they will grow their majority in the 2024 elections, contending former President Donald Trump will be an asset in swing suburban districts that voted for President Joe Biden four years ago.

For much of the past year, GOP prospects of keeping the House appeared to be dim, especially given the constant internal feuding that led to the unprecedented ouster of a sitting speaker and their inability to advance a legislative agenda.

But the outcome of key primaries and redistricting fights in several states – along with a handful of Democratic retirements in swing districts and Biden’s persistently low approval ratings – have given Republicans new hope they can hang on despite what once seemed to be extremely grim odds.

And above all else, some top Republicans argue Trump will be a boost in the battle for the 17 GOP seats in districts that Biden carried in 2020 – even as he faces 91 criminal charges and consistently struggles with key suburban voters who will determine the outcome of the country’s most critical races.

“Well, right now he’s popular everywhere,” Rep. Richard Hudson, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the House GOP’s campaign arm, told CNN when asked about Trump’s impact in districts Biden carried four years ago. “He’s won in every battleground state. And I think the turnout models are much different in a presidential election year for us. Brings out a lot of voters that don’t vote in the midterms. And so I think it’s a net positive.”

Even if Trump is convicted of a felony, Hudson predicted it wouldn’t “have an impact” on his candidates in swing districts. And he said he would encourage them to stump with Trump.

“Each candidate can make up their own mind, what they want to do,” he said. “I’ll be campaigning with President Trump. I think he’s going to help us across the ticket.”

Hudson’s assessment underscores how congressional Republican leaders are closing ranks behind Trump and his ever-tightening grip on his party, brushing aside his political liabilities and bombast that are off-putting to many voters – and banking on an energized base lifting their candidates across the board.

Democrats say they are thrilled to see it.

“Many of them have endorsed Trump already, and we’re going to continue to hold them accountable for their extremism,” Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington state, the chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said when asked about swing-district Republicans. “And there are no moderates left in the House Republican Party.”

DelBene added: “That’s who they are – they are the party of Trump.”

While a number of Republicans in swing districts have lined up to back Trump, others have not.

Asked if he would back Trump in November, freshman Rep. Mike Lawler – who represents a suburban New York district – said: “Look, at the end of the day, this is about the American people. They will determine who the next president of the United States is. Not me, not anybody in this House or chamber. And so, at some point we’ll deal with the presidential election. I’m focused on my race.”

Others have been coy, like freshman Rep. Tom Kean Jr. of New Jersey, who walked in silence last week when asked by CNN whether he’d back Trump.

There are a limited number of House districts truly at play in the 2024 elections – given many district lines are gerrymandered in a way to protect one party over the other. Democrats have their eyes set on the 17 Biden districts, which will take the race for the House from New York to California. Yet Republicans, who now hold a 219-213 majority, have circled as their top targets five Democrats in districts Trump carried – from Maine to Alaska – along with four other seats held by Democrats who are retiring in swing districts, including in the presidential battleground of Michigan.

Moreover, while Democrats appear poised to pick up a couple of seats in Louisiana and Alabama from redistricting, other states – like North Carolina – have been a boon for the GOP as district lines are being redrawn. And despite favorable lines in New York that helped give Republicans the House in 2022, newly redrawn maps for 2024 appear to give Democrats only a slight advantage there – much less than the massive windfall many Democrats had been eager to see.

“If you look at the battleground, the 250-seat majority days are gone because of redistricting,” Hudson said. “We’re going to have a knife fight over every single district.”

DelBene said no matter the district, Democrats’ argument would be consistent.

“We know that the Republicans are vulnerable because they’re not governing,” DelBene said. “They’re in charge of a do-nothing Congress. So it’s hard to understand how you can think you’re going to do well when this is called the do-nothing Congress. And they’re in charge.”

GOP’s November plan: Immigration

In a sign Republicans see both immigration and crime as potent campaign issues, Hudson’s group, known as the National Republican Congressional Committee, is launching a five-figure campaign ad targeting a quartet of vulnerable House Democrats who voted against the Laken Riley Act this week: Reps. Gabe Vasquez of New Mexico, Pat Ryan of New York, Andrea Salinas of Oregon and Val Hoyle of Oregon.

The digital ads, which were shared with CNN and will begin airing Monday, highlight Riley’s murder allegedly at the hands of a man who illegally crossed the border. The ad attacks House Democrats who voted against the bill for refusing “to protect victims.”

“This is just a preview of how vulnerable Democrats will be held accountable for their open-border policies this election year,” Hudson said.

The Laken Riley Act would require the detention of any migrant who committed burglary or theft. The House passed the bill hours ahead of Biden’s State of the Union address, where numerous Republicans wore Laken Riley pins as they sought to call attention to the issue.

A total of 170 Democrats voted against the legislation, accusing Republicans of exploiting the tragic death of a nursing student in order to score political points. Several Democrats in tough races voted for the bill.

Still, top Democrats believe they will be able to turn the immigration issue on its head after Trump and the GOP killed the Senate’s bipartisan border security deal – all before many Republicans even took time to review it.

“They’re incapable of making a decision on their own,” DelBene said. “We’ve pretty much seen the Republicans, especially House Republicans, wait to hear from Trump in terms of deciding whether they even want to move legislation forward. So, they’ve shown their fealty.”

Yet just as the border crisis is the GOP’s main political argument, Democrats say the political terrain continues to shift after Roe v. Wade was struck down, noting the wins they’ve notched in key races since the Dobbs decision. DelBene said she expected a similar situation in November.

“Every election since November of 2022 … we’ve seen increased Democratic turnout,” DelBene said. “Because people are energized, want to stand up for rights and freedoms and our democracy.”

Super Tuesday fallout

The leaders from both parties see a boon from last week’s Super Tuesday primaries.

Both the main House GOP super PAC, Congressional Leadership Fund, and the NRCC got their preferred candidates in several races – including Laurie Buckhout in the first congressional district in North Carolina, a seat currently held by a Democrat, Don Davis.

And they were buoyed when incumbent Republican David Valadao – one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the 2021 Capitol attack – made it to the general election to hold a seat Democrats will try to flip.

Yet some complications still loom. Mark Harris, a candidate accused in the past of election fraud, won a primary in North Carolina, though it’s a safe GOP seat. Plus, Republicans nominated a controversial candidate in the gubernatorial race, Mark Robinson, with a history of incendiary rhetoric.

Hudson said he was not concerned about Harris, calling it a “very safe” seat for Republicans while he dismissed concerns Robinson could energize Democrats.

“I think he’s an articulate spokesman,” Hudson said of their gubernatorial candidate. “I think he can be an exciting candidate.”

CNN’s Melanie Zanona and Christine Park contributed to this story.

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