How Donald Trump could cost the GOP the US House

The Congressional district where I live, Virginia’s 5th, doesn’t make any sense.

Already stretching from the North Carolina state line up through Greene County before the 2010 Census — making it larger than the state of New Jersey — Republicans added Madison and Fauquier counties to the north end of the district when the maps were redrawn.

This latest round of redistricting ballooned the district to over 10,000 square miles, further diluting the influence of relatively liberal Charlottesville by pairing it with a greater share of rural, conservative territory to its north and south.

When the map was redrawn, it was largely seen as an effort to protect incumbent Congressman Robert Hurt, who won the seat in the Republican wave of 2010. However, Hurt has announced that he will retire at the end of this term, leaving the seat open.

Normally, this wouldn’t be newsworthy. Given an evenly-matched presidential contest, we would expect VA-5 to elect a generic Republican to Congress by about seven or eight percentage points. However, this year does not present an evenly-matched presidential contest. With Donald Trump at the top of the ticket — trailing Hillary Clinton by roughly seven points nationally — and the incumbent Hurt gone, Democratic candidate Jane Dittmar has an outside shot at winning the open seat, which has moved from “safe” Republican to “likely” Republican in the Cook Political Report’s House ratings.

Her case may not be unique.

The formula for winning a seat like Virginia 5 in a year like 2016 is twofold: nationalize the opposition and localize yourself. Whichever of the four Republicans competing for their party’s nomination will likely be more Tea Party than Republican “establishment” — whatever that word means now — which means that their politics will track closely with Donald Trump’s. And while a fair share of citizens in Virginia’s 5th District are worried about immigration, crime, Muslims and the rest of the “scare white people” planks of Donald Trump’s platform, those issues seem distant relative to a much more pressing issue: rural Virginia has woefully inadequate broadband penetration.

Dittmar has made this the central focus of her campaign. A quick visit to her website’s issues section shows that she doesn’t have sections on immigration, abortion or guns — the subject of many a Facebook thread nationwide — but she does have three different jobs-related sections along with one devoted to Internet access. In an interview last week, she told me that this was by design. As she explained, in a district as diverse as ours, both geographically and ideologically, there aren’t too many common denominators; citizens’ priorities in Martinsville are much different than their priorities in Warrenton, which is nearly four hours away by car. However, one of the few things that ties the entire district together is that, with few exceptions, “Internet is not available, or it’s unreliable, or it’s too expensive.” She’s running to change that.

Jane Dittmar

Jane Dittmar

There’s a reason why the United Nations has declared Internet access a basic human right for the 21st Century: Without the Internet, practically everything is made more difficult. Members of Congress talk quite a bit about education, job training, business growth and other mechanisms for growing human capital and, by extension, improving living standards, but without Internet access, all of those buzzwords are just white noise. If a student in a rural area has to take an hour-long bus ride in order to get the Internet access necessary to do homework that other students can do from their bedrooms, that kid is at a massive disadvantage. If a worker gets laid off and wants to retrain for a new career, that retraining process is made exponentially easier if they can search for new opportunities — to say nothing of completing the training process itself — online.

And while Tea Party Republicans will generally insist that any and every project isn’t within the proper scope of government, broadband penetration is exactly the kind of utility that the government has a natural monopoly over. Internet companies clearly aren’t going to build the infrastructure necessary to provide Internet access to rural communities — if it was profitable in the short-to-mid term, they would have done it already. This being the case, if anyone’s going to expand broadband in central and southern Virginia, it’s going to be the government. As she said, “the private sector needs a partner” if it’s going to expand into areas with low population density. We have no problem accepting the government’s role in building roads and maintaining the power grid; there’s no reason to think of Internet cables any differently.

Dittmar plans on spending the next six months making this case. While Donald Trump spends the next six months talking about making life more difficult for brown people elsewhere in the country while her opponent nods and yells, she’s going to talk about making tangible improvements in the lives of everyone in the 5th District.

If Democrats are to win the House in 2016, they’re going to need to win a lot of races that look like the one playing out in VA-5. With congressional maps around the country as gerrymandered as they are, a Democratic House will require winning in districts where conservatives outnumber liberals. The best way to do that is to contrast the Republican Party’s fundamental lack of seriousness about governing with tangible, ideologically-neutral goals that practically everyone agrees are worth achieving.

If we catch lightning in a bottle — and by lightning I mean Trump — we just might pull it off.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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33 Responses to “How Donald Trump could cost the GOP the US House”

  1. flug32 says:

    Gerrymandering is a double-edged sword. When you Gerrymander, you basically set up a relatively few completely safe districts for your opposing party and simultaneously create many “win by just barely enough” districts for yourself.

    When the political wave starts to go against the gerrymandering party, the opponents safe districts are still safe, but the many “just barely enough to win” districts can suddenly swing en masse the to the other party, if you’re not careful.

    The questions are–how big is the wave and how close did you dice the “just barely enough” districts? We’ll see . . .

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  3. Duke Woolworth says:

    I disagree. Gerrymandering six years ago has made this impossible.

  4. crazymonkeylady says:


  5. Phil in FLL says:

    I read the article too. They’re getting some groups of Bernie supporters together on social media to carpool to the convention in Philadelphia. It doesn’t mention changing party registration. As you say, these are groups organizing on social media to drive to Philadelphia, which doesn’t really indicate any massive change of party registration among the American public.

  6. Bill_Perdue says:

    Democrats and Republicans agree on several key items:

    Both engage in unending wars of aggression to steal reasources and land.

    Both oppose health care reform and although both deny it, they have similar pro-insurance company plans. Obamacare = Romneycare.

    Both oppose passage of ENDA. If a robust and incusive ENDA had been passed it would make passage of garbage like HB2 less likely. Pretending that the Democrat/Dixiecrats are not equally at fault is just errant partisanship.

    Both engage in union busting and work to maintain poverty and high levels of poverty.

    Both engage in attacks on the Bill of Rights – FISA, NDAA and the Paytriot act.

    Both are right wing parties.

    The Clintons and much of the DLC are Dixiecrats. The Clintons have a long history of racism from gutting welfare and hiring more killer cops to race baiting Obama. You should probably do more reading.

  7. johnmartin says:

    There are no more Dixiecrats in North Carolina, they left for the Republican Party. The Republican Party has a majority in the Legislature. Your ridiculous willy nilly Scarlett O’Hara ranting is what is pigheaded. The Democratic Party is certainly the better choice and blaming them for Republican maleficence is ignorant.

  8. johnmartin says:

    “Some are vowing to drive from one side of the continent to the other in support of the Vermont Senator”.
    I read that article and your comprehension is appalling. Apparently you think “drive” and ‘droves” are the same thing. I agree with Phil, Democrats aren’t going to switch party affiliation “in droves” to make sure Donald Turd becomes President but Bernie Sanders supporters will certainly drive to the convention.

  9. Bill_Perdue says:

    That was easy.

  10. rmthunter says:

    I don’t see the Democrats taking the House, at least not this time around. They won’t come out swinging (although, thanks to the likes of Elizabeth Warren and a few others, that’s starting to change), which is what they need to do to counter the rhetorical terrorism of the right.

    Maybe the kind of campaigning you’re suggesting will work, but we have a history here of people voting against their own interests. Repeatedly.

  11. DoverBill says:

    Beats me.

  12. DoverBill says:


  13. Andreascrosby3 says:

    “my room mate Lori Is getting paid on the internet 98$/hr”…..!ce913etwo days ago grey MacLaren P1 I bought after earning 18,512 was my previous month’s payout..just a little over.17k DoIIars Last month..3-5 hours job a day…with weekly’s realy the simplest. job I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months. ago. and now making over. hourly 87 DoIIars…Learn. More right Here !ce913e:➽:➽:➽➽➽➽ http://GlobalSuperJobsReportsEmploymentsForwardGetPayHourly$98…. .❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦::::::!ce913e….,…

  14. Phil in FLL says:

    Your statement about “every four years…the same old argument” clearly includes the last two elections. Any reader knows what the word “every” means. So if you didn’t mean that voters shouldn’t have listened to the “same old argument” in 2008 and 2012, then exactly what did you mean? If you’re going to mention past elections with the phrase “every four years,” then you should explain what result you would have preferred in 2008.

  15. heimaey says:

    You speak for every other reader?

  16. Phil in FLL says:

    In your reply to Alpha50327, you certainly implied that the “same old argument” from Democrats is an argument that should have been ignored in 2008 and 2012. I won’t offer an argument about Romney in 2012, but I sure will say that things worked out better because voters listened to the “same old argument” in 2008. You disagree about 2008? Really? I’m sure you remember John McCain leading a Senate filibuster against the Hate Crimes bill in 2009, and especially John McCain leading a hysterical Senate filibuster against the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010. McCain did everything but set his hair on fire in an effort to derail the repeal of DADT.

    And of course, there are two Supreme Court justices that Obama appointed during his first term, Kagan and Sotomayor, who were decisive votes in the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality. I’m rereading your reply to Alpha50327, and any reader would conclude that you’re disappointed that voters didn’t ignore the “same old argument” when Obama was running against McCain. I guess you and I disagree about that.

  17. heimaey says:

    I’m not quite sure what you’re getting on about – tell what class what? First of all you don’t know if my Cuban family is conservative or not. Second Cubans have changed a lot of the last 10 years, especially and the younger genreation does not share the same attitude about things

  18. Phil in FLL says:

    I’m glad we won that argument in 2008 against McCain. If we hadn’t, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a lynchpin of Christianist homophobia, would still be in place, and Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, two Supreme Court votes in favor of marriage equality, wouldn’t be there, and the Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality would never have happened.

    Now, heimaey, tell me. Whose relatives would have wanted McCain to have won in 2008? Come on, heimaey, share with the rest of the class. I live in Fort Lauderdale, and I’m very familiar with the attitudes of a certain older generation of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County who would love to have seen McCain win in 2008 and all of that civil rights nonsense about marriage equality and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to be dead in the water. Heimaey… h-e-i-m-a-e-y… are you hiding something? Share with the rest of the class…

  19. Phil in FLL says:

    I think that the Hate Crimes bill of 2009 and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010 could be regarded as anti-discrimination, no? After all, those two laws addressed discrimination against anyone enlisted in the armed forces and anyone who is the victim of a hate crime.

  20. His first thought was “let’s file for bankruptcy!”

    Can’t the rubes even understand that bankruptcy is exactly “free?” Sure, it was free to Romney and Bain Capital, but all their suppliers and employees got fucked.

  21. Jon Green says:

    “They only pass anti-discrimination bills when they have no chance of being enacted.” May want to rephrase that.

  22. Normajspencer4 says:

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  23. Phil in FLL says:

    I too hope this year results in that unprecedented swing of 30 House seats. We offer up a silent prayer:

    Hail Marinara,
    Full of Spice,
    The Flying Spaghetti Monster is filled with thee.
    Tasty art thou amongst sauces,
    and blessed is the fruit
    of thy jar, tomatoes.

  24. Bill_Perdue says:

    They are not the lesser evil, they are just as evil as their Republican brothers and sisters.

    As this is being discussed the LGBTQ communities, and especially transpeople, are under the boot of bigoted discrimination in NC because Democrats pigheadedly refused to pass ENDA in 2009-10. They only pass anti-discrimination bills when they have no chance of being enacted. That scam is fooling fewer and fewer people.

  25. Frank Lee says:

    Oh dear Heavenly Pasta, PLEASE make this happen. I don’t ask for much often but this small blessing please dear FSM

  26. Phil in FLL says:

    Becca and I had a brief discussion about this on a different thread. I will happily eat my words in November, but the Democrats would have to win 30 seats to take over the House. Winning that number of seats in the House is unprecedented in a presidential election. The only time it has been done is in a midterm election during the term of a very unpopular president. I’m sure I checked those statistics before. Historically, 30 seats is a huge hurdle in a presidential election like this year’s. Then again, there’s a first time for everything.

    You understand, of course, that if the House flips, Pelosi would be counting enough votes to pass nationwide LGBT civil rights legislation, and if that were to happen… [cue the scary horror-movie music]… some of our more trollish “leftist” regular commenters would be on suicide watch. We’d have to check in on them periodically to see that they’re OK, remove knives and other sharp objects from their homes, etc. Just sayin’…

  27. Phil in FLL says:

    They’re already leaving the Democratic party in droves in some states after being forced to register Democrat to vote.

    Do you mean switching their party registration to independent after having voted for Bernie in the Democratic primaries and caucuses? Switching your registration back to independent after voting in the Democratic primaries just seems like an extra hassle that most people wouldn’t bother with since there’s no real benefit. But you say that people are doing this “in droves.” Where did you see that information?

  28. heimaey says:

    Every four years it’s the same argument.

  29. heimaey says:

    It’s getting foggier and foggier to predict what’s going to happen this fall, at least I think. Favorability ratings for Trump and Clinton are at all-time lows, Republicans are jumping ship as Libertarian Party membership has grown 90% in the last week, and when Bernie is out of the race similar things will happen on the left. They’re already leaving the Democratic party in droves in some states after being forced to register Democrat to vote.

  30. Demosthenes says:

    It’s a long shot, but possible the House may “flip”. The issue is whether people will get off their duffs and vote. It’s far more likely that the GOP will lose a dozen seats or so.

  31. Alpha 50327 says:

    The Democrats may be the lesser of two evils, but the greater of the evils is so much greater and so much evil that you really don’t have a choice but to vote Democratic. Yes, scream and holler now. Support Bernie and Alan Grayson and Elizabeth Warrren now. But curse the system and vote Hillary on election day. Don’t cut off your dick to spite your balls.

  32. Bill_Perdue says:

    What do you suppose the Democrats, the other right wing party, will say about wars of aggression?

    What about fracking and offshore drilling?

    What about deportations and other forms of border racism?

    What will they say about giving WMDs to zionist thugs?

    What about FISA, the Paytriot act and the anti-constitutional provisions of Obama’s NDAA?

    What about Obama’s refusal to federally prosecute merciless killer cops?

    What about the very real need for socialized medicine to replace the Obamacare scam?

    Will they oppose them or encourage them?

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