Donald Trump

Trump Bump? Candidates in Pennsylvania, New Jersey Wonder if President Hurts or Helps

President Trump, like commanders-in-chief before him, holds large sway over the midterm election in November. But this time around, candidates still don't know whether he will help or hinder.

Seth Grossman, a candidate for Congress from South Jersey, remembers a story about a campaign meeting in which attendees were decidedly split over an important decision.

The issue: whether to put President Donald Trump's name on Grossman's yard signs. There were concerns about vandalism, and that people wouldn't want to put the signs in their yard, he recalled.

But proponents of the pro-Trump signs won out, and Grossman now says only a few voters in New Jersey's 2nd congressional district didn't want them.

The Republican, who also stamped "Support Trump" and "Make America Great Again" on campaign literature, credits his support for the president in his surprise victory in the primary. He now faces a longshot challenge in the November general election against the Democratic candidate, longtime state Sen. Jeff Van Drew.

"It got me elected," Grossman said of his Trump rhetoric during the primary campaign.

He has since come under fire for social media posts tied to white nationalist groups and lost the support of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. He has hit back using Trump in a counter punch, arguing the NRCC chair should "resign immediately for failure to support the President and his Agenda."

Grossman's race — for an open seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Frank LoBiondo — may have its own dynamics, but he’s not the only Republican weighing the effects of tying their hopes on what some are calling a potential Trump bump in congressional campaigns. Control of the House and Senate is up for grabs in the fall midterm election.

"It's going to be on a district-by-district basis," Republican strategist Charlie Gerow said.

In some districts where Trump is popular, he could be very helpful to Republican candidates, but in any general election race Republicans need to be mindful of keeping the base happy, he said.

"Any Republican incumbent, or challenger for that matter, is going to need to take 90 percent of their base to be successful," Gerow said.

This week, as Trump drew criticism from Republicans in Washington for his handling of the Helsinki meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Republicans across the country by-and-large stuck with him. In an Axios/SurveyMonkey poll conducted this week, 58 percent of all respondents disapproved of the President’s handling of the summit, while 40 percent approved. But among Republicans in the survey, 79 percent approved and 18 percent disapproved.

In Pennsylvania's new 7th district, which covers Lehigh and Northampton counties, Dean Browning made his support for President Trump part of his pitch to voters in the Lehigh Valley during the primary. Browning said he often was greeted with an expression of relief.

"They would say: 'Thank God,'" Browning said, adding that those voters felt they could speak freely and were glad to find a candidate sharing their views.

Browning lost his primary bid for the Republican nomination in that district by a slim margin, but he said he believes his support for President Trump ultimately helped him.

Republican candidates are now speaking to a wider audience in general election contests across Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Browning, who now supports Republican nominee Marty Nothstein in the 7th district race, said his advice to other Republicans is to "embrace, identify and be able to articulate why you support the President and why he has been successful."

Across the river in southern New Jersey, Grossman said he doesn't plan to change his approach in utilizing the president's name, betting that the strategy won't turn off independent voters.

"I think the independent voters are energized by people standing up and pushing back," he said.

For Democrats, they're hoping talk of Trump will spur liberals to action as well.

"I think it definitely does motivate Democrats," said Pennsylvania State Sen. Shariff Street, vice chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

But Street says the party will spend its time talking about issues like health care.

"Where the president motivates people on his own, we're going to take that energy and channel it," Street said.

In races where Republicans aren't making Trump an issue, though, he could still show up in the campaign cycle.

In one campaign commercial airing in the Philadelphia region, Democrat Scott Wallace looks into the camera and declares: "I'm running for Congress from Bucks County to stand up to President Trump."

Wallace, who is running against Republican incumbent Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick in the newly redrawn 1st district representing Bucks County, also has another longer ad posted on his campaign website in which the first four images viewers see are of President Trump.

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