CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — In a rustic Virginia district that bounced its Republican congressman after he officiated a same-sex wedding, the battle to replace him pits a self-described “biblical conservative” backed by President Donald Trump against a Black doctor who worked in Barack Obama’s White House.
The district, which stretches from Washington’s far suburbs to the North Carolina line, has elected just one Democrat for a single two-year term this century. Trump carried it by 11 percentage points in 2016. Yet Democrats are spending money to go after it.
The contest between Republican Bob Good and Democrat Cameron Webb will answer whether a Black candidate with an expertise in health care can prevail in a traditionally conservative area during a pandemic and a time of racial reckoning. It’s also an example of how both parties are pursuing a handful of districts that might seem a reach.
Democrats are contesting over a dozen seats from New York’s Long Island to Alaska where Trump won by at least 10 percentage points, usually a daunting margin. Republicans have fewer viable targets but are spending serious money in places like South Florida and central California where Trump lost badly four years ago.
Marking the efforts’ seriousness, at least one side’s outside groups are spending $1 million or more in most of these races. The expenditures come during an election when the question isn’t whether Democrats will keep their House majority but how large it will be.
Democrats have more opportunities because of the suburbs’ continuing flight from Trump, GOP retirements and primaries that produced some weaker candidates, and a fundraising edge that lets them spend amply.
“The political environment is tough, so it’s forcing us to shore up key defensive seats,” said Dan Conston, president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a big-spending political committee aligned with House GOP leaders. But he said strong candidate recruitment “has created great pick-up opportunities for us to win back seats in surprising places.”
The paramount factor is Trump, whose unpopularity is wounding numerous GOP congressional contenders. Trump compounded his problems with his fuming debate performance against Democratic rival Joe Biden, his COVID-19 diagnosis and his scoffing at the perils of a virus that’s killed over 215,000 Americans.
“Strategists on both sides see a very real potential for a total blood bath on Election Day for Republicans, for the president,” said Brendan Buck, who advised former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., explaining Democrats’ spending in difficult races. “If there’s a wave, you don’t want to leave any opportunity behind.”
“We’re on offense this cycle, and we didn’t get here by accident,” said Lucinda Guinn, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s House political arm.
In Virginia, Good snatched the GOP nomination from