Rep. Robert J. Dold is denouncing Donald Trump for personal reasons, but he may have no other choice than to run as far away as he can from the GOP front-runner given a tough re-election in an increasingly blue district.
While many in the Republican Party emphatically criticized Trump for saying Sen. John McCain was “a war hero because he was captured,” for the Illinois Republican, Trump’s words hit close to home.
“My uncle was the second one shot down in the Vietnam War, spent eight years and a day in prison,” Dold said outside a Capitol Hill restaurant last week. “One of the things we do know is that inevitably somebody is going to get shot down again. To me, it was just unacceptable.”
Dold is one of the few congressional Republicans who has said outright he would not support Trump as the party nominee, if that occurs this July in Cleveland. He’s also one of the more vulnerable Republicans in the November election in a district that is historically moderate, but getting bluer.
Dold says he’s focused alone on defending his seat in the 10th District outside Chicago against the man who unseated him by 1 percentage point four years ago before he returned the favor — former Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider.
Round 3 of this matchup is a top target for Democrats. They want to squeeze incumbent Republicans in competitive House and Senate races between the unpopular GOP-led Congress and Trump, whose bombastic personality and nationalistic rhetoric has galvanized support with hard-core primary voters and in polls — leaving Republican leaders squirming. They’re chiefly worried about Trump’s electability and his impact on down-ballot races like Dold’s and whether that might upend the GOP congressional majority.
“All this talk about the wall and immigration,” said Bob Kish, an Ohio-based GOP consultant. “Trump’s going to upset a number of people in this district.”
Historically, the Illinois 10th represented middle-class suburbia north of Chicago. It’s home to well-educated, white-collar workers and to several Fortune 500 companies, including Allstate Insurance and Walgreens. Most of the majority-white district’s minority residents live near Waukegan, Ill., which has experienced marked growth in its Hispanic population since 2000 and is nearly one-fifth black.
The district was reliably Republican, sending moderates to Washington but was redrawn after the 2010 Census to be more friendly to Democratic candidates. The district has a 23.3 percent Latino population, up from 15.59 percent in 2007.
Despite the demographic shift, the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call Race Ratings says the current contest is a pure tossup .
President Barack Obama easily won the 10th with 58 percent of the vote in 2012, Schneider riding his coattails to Washington as the first Democrat elected from the district in 30 years. Dold came back two years later to reclaim his seat when Obama fatigue fueled a GOP midterm rout nationally. He won with 51.3 percent of the vote.
Dold argues against a quick label of the 10th.
“It’s really not a flip-flop district,” he said, noting that in 2012 the lines were redrawn and 40 percent of it was new. “They redrew the lines to gerrymander us out of the seat.”
So what does Dold do now with the district in play and the national GOP picture seemingly working to his disadvantage?
He said the most important part of his plan will be to contrast his record in Congress to Schneider’s in the same seat.
“You can compare apples to apples and have an opportunity in this process to determine what did he do and what did we do,” Dold said.
Dold said he considers himself “a fiscal conservative, social moderate, and strong on national security.” The latter tends to favor Republicans, and may do so now with terror a concern again for voters .
Part of what Dold consistently talks about is his ability to work across party lines. He has a 74 percent Party Unity rating for 2015, according to CQ’s Vote Watch. That makes him the third-lowest Republican on a list where many vote with the GOP 99 percent of the time.
Dold also said he was a businessman, enabling him to focus on his connection to the community during a time when the economy remains a critical issue with voters. He was previously president and chief operating officer of Rose Pest Solutions, an exterminating business based in Northfield, Ill.
Moreover, Dold has a cash advantage. Ahead of the state’s primary on March 15, Dold’s Federal Election Commission disclosure form showed the campaign had more than $1.6 million in cash on hand. Schneider, who faced a competitive primary challenger, had slightly less than $300,000.
Dold supports same-sex marriage and this January became the first Republican to co-sponsor the Equality Act, which would add gender identity and sexual orientation as prohibited categories of discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Recently, he was endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign.
“We did it early because we wanted to endorse an incumbent because we know he had a good record,” said David Stacy, the organization’s government affairs director.
Schneider, on the other hand, said he doesn’t buy Dold’s efforts to distance himself from Trump.
“Bob Dold tries to create this separation, said he would not support Trump but he has yet to distance himself from the policies,” Schneider said in a phone interview.
And Sacha Haworth, a DCCC spokeswoman, said Dold is inaccurately painting himself as a moderate.
During House efforts to defund Planned Parenthood last year, Haworth said, Dold introduced an amendment in the House Rules Committee to withhold funding to Planned Parenthood clinics during a 90-day investigation period. It was not adopted.
“He joined in the witch hunt,” Haworth said. “He votes with the Republicans when it counts.”
Democrats took Dold to task for a similar issue during the 2012 campaign that Schneider won. The House Majority PAC ran an ad aligning Dold with the tea party on women’s issues.
Schneider added issues to that list this year, criticizing Dold for voting for budgets proposed by Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, which Schneider said would repeal Obamacare and cut programs for college affordability.
“That to me doesn’t look like he’s distancing himself from the party,” Schneider said.
Another dividing line comes on national security. Initially, both Dold and Schneider opposed the nuclear deal with Iran but Dold said Schneider “flip-flopped.”
Schneider acknowledged that while he opposed to the deal last summer, it’s important for the U.S. to enforce it.
For Dold, the hope is that despite the changes in the district, it will stick to its long tradition of electing moderate Republicans for the House seat despite going for Democrats at the top of the ticket.
That could have played in to Dold’s decision to vocally oppose Trump, as other vulnerable GOP members have done .
“They’ll send a Democrat to the White House and elect a moderate Republican to the seat. Whether it’s a John Porter, Mark Kirk and then myself,” Dold said.