Rep. Elaine G. Luria had quietly supported her party’s priorities on gun control, advocated for veterans’ rights and kept focused on her conservative Norfolk, Virginia, district rather than seeking the national spotlight — and then she jumped onto the impeachment train.
All eyes turned to the former Navy commander last week when she and six other freshman Democrats with national security backgrounds came out in support of an official impeachment inquiry targeting President Trump.
Ms. Luria and other moderates helped “tip the scales” on impeachment, said Jennifer N. Victor, a politics professor at George Mason University.
“These were not like the liberal stalwarts. They were freshmen. They weren’t just following party leadership or party lines,” she said. “Some of them come from moderate districts. And so the fact that that group was coming out very publicly and saying ‘Nope. We’ve changed our minds. This is really serious now’ really began to turn the tide.”
It also put them in Republican crosshairs.
Ms. Luria and other moderate Democrats backing impeachment are feeling the heat from conservative groups back home, complicating their reelection bids and giving Republicans hope for winning back seats lost in 2018 and retaking the House majority in 2020.
“Luria is now pushing a radical scheme to impeach President Trump, dividing the country, tearing us apart — because she doesn’t like the president,” said an ad from the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC dedicated to winning a Republican House majority.
The group released similar ads targeting Democratic Reps. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania. The ads tied the three moderate lawmakers to well-known liberal Democrats such as Sen. Bernard Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
The super PAC accused Rep. Abigail Davis Spanberger, Virginia Democrat, of backtracking. It cited an article in which she explained that her party needed to walk a fine line between investigating and rushing toward impeachment.
“Democrats in Congress have made it clear that the left’s crazed drive to remove Trump from office is far more important to them than improving the lives of their constituents,” Congressional Leadership Fund President Dan Conston said in a statement.
The impeachment inquiry stems from a whistleblower complaint that Mr. Trump pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate corruption involving 2020 Democratic presidential front-runner Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter.
Democrats accuse Mr. Trump of using Oval Office power for his personal benefit. The White House says the request was for a legitimate investigation.
House Democrats, particularly those in vulnerable districts, should expect Republicans to keep hammering them on the issue.
“Impeachment shouldn’t be something that’s thrown around as a political chip like the Democrats are doing,” Chris Pack, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, told The Washington Times. “It’s definitely going to cost them their majority in 2020.”
The Republican campaign attacks not only zero in on Democrats’ “obsession” with impeachment but also on how it holds up their legislative agenda, he said.
Mr. Pack expects the impeachment message to be effective in the 55 districts where the NRCC has put its focus, 31 of which Mr. Trump won in 2016.
Republicans have started digital campaigns in 16 competitive districts targeting lawmakers such as Ms. Slotkin, Mr. Cartwright, Ms. Spanberger and Ms. Luria.
“A lot of these freshman Democrats, especially in the Trump districts that Trump won, they ran almost as moderate Republicans,” Mr. Pack said. “Now we’re seeing that was a bunch of empty rhetoric.
“Now you’re seeing this hatred of President Trump … applies to a large majority of their conference,” he added.
Republican political consultant Karl Rove said the impeachment rush came with big risks for Democrats.
“In the short run, they are going to be on a sugar high and they are going to feel good about themselves,” he said on Fox News’ “Hannity” program. “But I don’t think it’s an accident that of the 19 Democrats who won seats in 2018 in districts that Donald Trump carried by 4 points or more, 10 of them have not yet endorsed the inquiry.
“If they lose 17 or 18 seats, they could lose control of the House by the time of the 2020 election,” he said.
Despite the competitive race ahead of her, Ms. Luria said she has no regrets about her decision.
“The voters in my district sent me here to do what is right. … I think I’m paid to be a member of Congress and make hard decisions,” she told reporters last week. “If it has consequences in the future, so be it.”
Ms. Luria announced she would hold a town hall Thursday evening and extended an invitation on Twitter to Scott Taylor, the Republican whose seat she now holds, after he said she owes her constituents an explanation.
Ms. Slotkin said the party needs to have a clear, cohesive communication plan in order to sway public opinion.
“I think if we have a good strategic plan, then the folks who are focused on impeachment will move out and the folks who are supposed to be focused on everything else — a transportation bill, prescription drug legislation — they will work just as hard at that legislation and pushing that forward as the folks who are focused on impeachment,” she told reporters last week.
“It is our job to do the best we possibly can on both oversight and affirmative legislation,” she added.
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