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House Dems Seek to Hold Suburbs        08/02 10:34


   WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a suburban Houston congressional district that backed 
President Donald Trump in 2016, a twice-elected Republican sheriff is battling 
a Democrat who's the son of an immigrant from India. To Democrats, that smells 
like an opportunity.

   Things are flipped in central New York, where freshman Democratic Rep. 
Anthony Brindisi faces the Republican he ousted two years ago from a district 
near Syracuse that includes smaller cities like Binghamton and Utica. Trump won 
there easily, and Republicans say his place atop the ticket will help propel 
Claudia Tenney back to Congress.

   The tale of two districts 1,600 miles apart spotlights that many pivotal 
House races hinge on suburban voters. While some like Brindisi's have a more 
rural, blue collar feel than the diverse, better educated one outside Houston, 
an overriding factor will be how Trump is viewed in the district.

   And that's a problem for the GOP.

   Two years after a 40-seat surge fueled by wins in the suburbs hoisted 
Democrats to House control, Republican hopes of recapturing the majority have 
buckled along with Trump's approval ratings. Some worry that the party will 
lose seats, an agonizing letdown from their one-time dream of retaking control 
by gaining 17 seats.

   "My fear for Republicans is there are simply not enough rural voters to 
offset the losses they've suffered in the suburbs these last few years," said 
former Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., a Trump critic. "It's certainly possible the 
Democrats could pick up more than a few seats."

   Democrats boast an ever-expanding target list that includes a half-dozen 
Republican seats in Texas plus others outside Atlanta, Cincinnati, Los Angeles 
and Phoenix. They hope to win in traditionally red strongholds like Alaska, 
Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska and rural Virginia, while toppling New Jersey Rep. 
Jeff Van Drew, who defected to the GOP last year.

   "We're still on offense," said Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., who leads House 
Democrats' campaign organization. She didn't predict how many seats her party 
would win.

   Republicans have opportunities too, including in small town areas in central 
California, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico and Virginia. They're spending money on 
suburban seats they've previously lost in Georgia, Minnesota and Texas, plus 
others in Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, New York City's Staten Island and 
Charleston, South Carolina.

   Spokesman Bob Salera of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the 
House GOP's political arm, said Republicans will gain seats because 
progressives' proposals on policing and health care will be "totally toxic 
among suburban voters."

   But Democrats are fortifying their chances with a money-raising bonanza. 
Since January 2019, all 29 Democrats in House districts Trump carried in 2016 
have banked more money than their GOP challengers, usually by multiples. The 
same is true for all but two of the 24 other Democrats in seats Republicans 
said they'd pursue aggressively this year.

   "That's testament to the environment," said GOP pollster Jon McHenry, citing 
the presidential race's impact on down-ballot contests. "And it's a wake-up 

   Further bolstering Democrats is repulsion among educated voters over Trump's 
racially inflammatory tirades, his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemi c and 
crippled economy, and the fact that many suburbs are growing more diverse.

   All that could prove telling in the Houston-area district where Democrat Sri 
Preston Kulkarni is battling GOP Sheriff Troy Nehls.

   The suburban district has been trending away from Republicans as it becomes 
wealthier and more diverse, with Trump's 8-point victory there well below 2012 
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's 25-point win. The district has so many 
minorities that Kulkarni's campaign literature is in 21 languages.

   Houston has also seen a major virus resurgence. "It's the greatest failure 
of leadership in American history," Kulkarni said of Trump's pandemic response.

   The American-born Kulkarni left college temporarily when his father was 
dying of cancer to help provide care and to aid the family's struggle with 
medical bills. He wields the story as a cautionary tale as Democrats make 
health care their top issue during a pandemic in which Republicans want the 
Supreme Court to overturn former President Barack Obama's health care law.

   A former foreign service officer, Kulkarni lost a 2018 bid for the seat to 
GOP Rep. Pete Olson, who chose to retire after that close call. Outspent last 
time, Kulkarni has raised five times what Nehls has collected.

   Nehls served two decades in the Army Reserve and is sheriff of Fort Bend 
County, which dominates the congressional district. He's emphasized his "proven 
independent brand" as a sheriff used to "building bridges" with "diverse 
communities," said campaign spokesman Nick Maddux.

   Yet Nehls hasn't hid his support for Trump, attending when the president 
visited Texas recently. He's shared Trump's disdain for protective masks, 
writing that a local mandatory mask order "looks more like a communist 
dictatorship than a free Republic." In a digital ad early this year, the 
announcer boasted that as sheriff, Nehls "locked up over 2,500 criminal illegal 

   Brindisi's upstate New York district was struggling economically before the 
virus hit, and many expect Trump's populist and nationalist appeals to help the 
president carry it again. Brindisi defeated Tenney in 2018 by 2 percentage 
points, and Trump carried the district by 16 points two years earlier.

   Tenney said she's focusing on her accomplishments during her two years in 
Congress, including backing the GOP's huge 2017 tax cuts. And she's attacking 
Brindisi for falsely posing as a moderate, citing his support for Trump's 

   "If you just drive around and look what's going on, it's Trump country," 
said Tenney, adding that Trump's popularity should prove "a big help" to her.

   Brindisi said the district doesn't need a "controversial" representative. 
Among other things, Tenney once asserted that many shooters in mass slayings 
are Democrats.

   Brindisi's first TV ad highlights language he inserted into a larger bill 
requiring the military to buy stainless steel flatware domestically. The last 
U.S. producer of those items happens to be in his district.

   "Regardless of who's at the top of the ballot, I think that I can stand on 
my own two feet," said Brindisi. What matters, he said, is having a 
representative who "shows up and gets the job done."

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