DCCC Chairman: ‘We Will Pick Up Seats in 2018’

Luján is optimistic about Jon Ossoff’s chances in Georgia

DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján is confident his party will make gains in the House next year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján is confident his party will make gains in the House next year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted March 30, 2017 at 11:53am

The chairman of the House Democrats’ campaign arm is confident his party will gain seats in the chamber next year and that the Republicans’ health care debacle will help Democrats get there. 

“It’s too early to know what’s going to happen in November of 2018, but I can tell you Democrats in the House are on offensive, and there’s no question that we will pick up seats in 2018,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in an interview for C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” that will air this weekend.

The New Mexico Democrat declined to specify how many seats the party could win, acknowledging that Democrats face a “tough map” complicated by gerrymandering. Since the party not in control of the White House typically picks up seats during midterm elections, Democrats think they have history on their side. Still, it’s a steep climb; the party needs to gain 24 seats to win the majority.  

Luján cited the unpopularity of GOP leadership’s health care plan across the country and the way it divided the Republican conference. “They didn’t know which way to flip and which way to flop,” he said of his colleagues across the aisle. 

“But taking that argument and that debate to the American people is my responsibility. It’s something we’ve been leaning into,” Luján said. The DCCC began airing digital ads this week hitting Republicans, even those who came out against the bill, for voting for it in committee. 

[DCCC Targets Trump Districts in 2018]

This is Luján’s second stint as DCCC chairman. After last fall’s election, in which Democrats gained a net of only six seats, members vocalized frustrations with party leadership in the House and the campaign committee’s operations, even with its staff. 

Luján said this year’s postelection “deep dive” has gone further than postelection analyses conducted in years past. In particular, he said the committee is working to correct its polling methodology for rural voters and to diversify its communications strategy. 

One of the complaints heard from members after the election was that they didn’t feel they had enough input at the DCCC. Luján said he’s pleased at how involved his colleagues are this year, with members from every state delegation helping with recruitment. 

Asked to identify the leaders of his party, he first mentioned Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, followed by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. Aside from his party’s top brass in Congress and at the DNC, he singled out House Democratic colleagues, including Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, California Rep. Adam B. Schiff, Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, New York Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Grace Meng and Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline

[The Not-So-Special Elections]

Democrats have an opportunity to make a dent in their House-seat deficit this spring with special elections, especially one in Georgia’s 6th District, where Democrat Jon Ossoff has been leading in recent polling. 

“Jon came into this race because he was recruited by local people in the district he’s going to represent,” Luján said. Ossoff does not currently live in the 6th District. 

Ossoff told The Associated Press his goal is to win the 18-candidate race outright in the April 18 jungle primary. If no one receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the election will proceed to a June runoff featuring the top two vote-getters, regardless of party.

“Let’s see what happens,” Luján said. “Just know that we’re on the ground working day in and day out.”