Will Trump provoke backlash with Washington state voters this year?
Enumclaw resident Jeannie Bystrom’s face screwed up when asked about President Trump.
“I have no words, I have no words," Bystrom said, before adding, "Contempt. It's exhausted my vocabulary. It's so tragic and so outrageous.”
Bystrom's feelings will affect her congressional vote this year in a key U.S. House race that pits Kim Schrier, a Democrat, against Dino Rossi, a Republican.
“I want to have a Dino Rossi sign in my yard so I can circle the 'no,'” she said.
The president's party often gets slammed in the midterm elections, and it could happen to Trump this year in Washington’s 8th Congressional District. It's one of the races that could flip control of the house from Republicans to Democrats.
Bystrom is not alone. Over 60 percent of voters nationally have said Trump will affect their vote for Congress — positively or negatively.
But the 8th is a very purple district. No Democrat has ever taken the seat, but Hillary Clinton beat Trump here in 2016. It could go either way.
Duane Adkins lives in Enumclaw, too, and he believes Trump is making America great again. The last time he felt this positive about the country, Dwight Eisenhower was president.
“I think the job he's doing is fantastic," Adkins said. "Like everybody else I kind of cringe sometimes because of his rhetoric, but that's who he is."
Adkins also said he would vote for Republican candidate Dino Rossi this year.
But other voters here in Enumclaw say there will be no connection between their feelings about Trump and their congressional vote.
Raymond Gach likes Trump, even though he filled in the bubble for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in 2016.
He made the conversion to Trump because he believes the president has delivered on economic growth and jobs.
But Gach said his positive feelings about Trump will not affect his congressional vote, partly because he’s seen no political ads linking either candidate to the president.
Dino Rossi was a Trump delegate at the Republican Convention, but these days he doesn't say much about the president or his policies, even when he’s asked about them directly.
That was the case at the one and only debate between Rossi and Schrier.
In the following exchange, the candidates were asked whether the U.S. needs to phase out coal to avoid dire consequences from climate change, or burn more coal as President Trump has suggested. Rossi didn't answer the question — twice.
Also at the debate, the candidates were asked if the Republican-led Congress is doing enough to investigate Trump’s administration, and whether they would “stand up to the President, when needed.”
Rossi said he would “treat the president the way I would any president. If I agree with him, I agree with him, if I don't, I don’t. I'm not running to be The Apprentice.”
The Apprentice line – referring to Trump’s old reality TV show – is one he’s been using for months. But at this debate it wasn't clear what it meant, or when exactly Rossi might stand up to the president or his policies.
Republicans in swing districts like the 8th worry about being linked too closely to this president, but they also worry about angering the pro-Trump Republican base, which could hurt voter turnout.
On the same question, Democrat Kim Schrier was more direct, but then, she is from the opposing party. She said she's open to investigations of Trump.
"I am the only one up here who will absolutely commit to protecting the Mueller investigation. My opponent won't,” Schrier said.
But like many Democrats running this year, Schrier has not said President Trump should be impeached. There's fear among Democrats than any direct talk of impeachment might provoke the Republican base to turn out to vote.
Margaret O'Mara, history professor at the University of Washington, said it's hard to know how Trump will factor in races here in Washington and elsewhere this year.
On the one hand, there are many examples of the president’s party getting hit hard during the mid-term elections. In 2006, Republicans lost 30 House seats when George W. Bush was in his first term as president. A few years later in 2010 with President Obama in office, Republicans regained 63 House seats.
But O’Mara said she is even more reluctant to make predictions this year than usual because so many historical norms have gone “out the window.”
She also cautioned that focusing too much on the midterms could cause people on both sides to lose sight of the bigger picture. Presidents often suffer major setbacks in the midterms and go on to win reelection, she said.
“There's a long game here,” O’Mara said.
This story was inspired by questions from several listeners about whether either candidate in the 8th Congressional District would stand up to President Trump.
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