DCCC chairwoman Cheri Bustos ‘furious’ at polling misses

Democrats hoped to grow their majority but at least seven incumbents lost seats

Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., said she was furious with polling in the wake of House Democrats' losses on Election Day.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., said she was furious with polling in the wake of House Democrats' losses on Election Day. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted November 5, 2020 at 4:29pm

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairwoman Cheri Bustos told House Democrats on a Thursday caucus call that she was “furious” about polls that misread the political environment, as the party suffered unexpected losses in the House.

“I also want to say the thing we’re all feeling: I’m furious. Something went wrong here across the entire political world,” the Illinois Democrat said, according to a person on the call.

“Our polls, Senate polls, [governors] polls, presidential polls, Republican polls, public polls, turnout modeling, and prognosticators all pointed to one political environment — that environment never materialized,” Bustos said, noting the campaign committee is planning to get some answers on what went wrong. Bustos herself survived an unexpectedly difficult race, a rarity for someone running a campaign arm.

President Donald Trump wasn’t expected to match his 2016 margins in a slew of House battlegrounds and Democrats believed they would grow their House majority. Ballots are still being counted and The Associated Press has yet to call the outcomes in roughly two dozen competitive House races, but so far seven incumbent Democrats have lost their House seats. Democrats only picked up two open GOP seats in North Carolina, and those became more Democratic following court-ordered redistricting last year.

The favorable expectations, however, allowed Democrats to run well-funded challengers in places they otherwise might not have, such as Alaska, Arkansas and Montana. Though they lost, Bustos said those races forced Republicans to commit resources that otherwise could have been used against vulnerable incumbents.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi opted to highlight Democratic victories in Trump territory, noting there were 30 Democrats who were running in districts Trump won in 2016. So far, 13 of those Democrats have won reelection while five have lost, according to the AP. Pelosi noted it appeared Democrats would hold onto the House and former Vice President Joe Biden could win the White House.

“We did not win every battle but we did win the war,” Pelosi told her colleagues, according to another source on the call.

Virginia Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who is leading in her own closer-than-expected race in a district Trump carried in 2016, said on the caucus call that Democrats should reexamine GOP attacks and how their own party talks about issues.

“We lost members who shouldn’t have lost,” Spanberger said.

Speaking again after Spanberger’s comments, Pelosi remained upbeat, saying Democrats have a “mandate” because they won the House and Biden is expected to win the White House. 

Pelosi left the call early as member feedback was ongoing. Another top Democrat, Majority Whip James Clyburn, appeared on MSNBC while the call was still in progress. Pelosi and Clyburn later rejoined the call.

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