SALISBURY, N.C. — Republican Rep. Ted Budd opened the calendar on his iPhone during a campaign day last week to reveal a jam-packed schedule — wake up at 4:55 a.m., breakfast with veterans, an opioid discussion in another county — and yet he was worried that it wasn’t enough.
“I’m getting nervous because of the white space I see,” said Budd, pointing to the few blank lines on the schedule.
Across the country, dozens of House Republicans who previously coasted to victory are for the first time facing credible and well-financed Democratic opponents — and working furiously to find a strategy for survival.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) delivered a stern message last month to the rank and file after a surprisingly narrow special election win in a reliably Republican Arizona district: Wake up, because Democrats are motivated.
Many newly vulnerable Republicans represent suburban communities such as Budd’s, where Donald Trump won in 2016 but has since lost popularity.
Budd is one of two GOP incumbents in this region of North Carolina being targeted by Democrats, with pollsters and independent handicappers saying the races could be competitive.
The two GOP incumbents have adopted slightly different strategies for self-preservation, largely out of necessity.
While Budd has been able to focus on the general election by talking at times about how he has bucked his party, Rep. Robert Pittenger has been grappling with a bitter Republican challenge ahead of Tuesday’s primary election here that has led him to move to the right in ways likely to complicate his message to voters in the fall
Democrats had largely ignored the districts in this decade after Republicans redrew the state’s congressional boundaries to their advantage. Budd’s district, which stretches from Democratic-leaning Greensboro to the northern suburbs of Charlotte, backed Trump by 9 percentage points. Voters in Pittenger’s district, which rolls from Charlotte nearly to the state’s coastline, supported the president by almost 12 points.
In 2016, Budd and Pittenger survived primaries, then sailed to victory over Democrats who raised less than $100,000. This election, Democrats recruited Kathy Manning, a philanthropist and longtime party donor who has raised $1.3 million to Budd’s $832,690. Dan McCready, a business executive and veteran, has raised $1.9 million to Pittenger’s $1.1 million.
Recent moves show that Republicans see these two districts as emblematic of their larger problems.