EXCLUSIVE: Mast vulnerable in DCCC poll, could face Aronberg challenge

June 21, 2017
Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg in West Palm Beach on May 11, 2017. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee won’t say if Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg is the candidate its polling shows leading U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, but an internal memo indicates the DCCC believes recapturing a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 is still a possibility despite losing a high-profile race in Georgia on Tuesday.

Aronberg was mentioned as a possible candidate last year, when incumbent Patrick Murphy challenged U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, leaving Mast to battle wealthy businessman Randy Perkins for Florida’s 18th Congressional District, which covers northern portions of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.

Aronberg ultimately decided to run for re-election as state attorney, and Mast, a Palm City Republican, soundly defeated Perkins.

The DCCC memo says the House is still in play and that Mast is among several Republicans who are trailing in head-to-head matchups against specific — but not publicly named — candidates in a hypothetical race.

Mast, whose support for repealing the Affordable Care Act has generated opposition among some of his constituents, is trailing that unnamed candidate by three percentage points, the memo states.

He has already drawn one opponent for 2018, Pam Keith, an attorney who lost in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate last year. Aronberg, a former state senator who served as Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi’s pill mill czar before he ran for state attorney, would be a bigger name for Democrats and could be a formidable candidate.

Aronberg would not offer a definitive answer on whether he will enter the race, but he echoed the DCCC’s position that Democrats could recapture the House.

“I agree that the House is very much in play because Washington is so dysfunctional,” he said. “Right now, my focus is on our sober homes and human trafficking task forces.”

State Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach, said he did not know if Aronberg is the candidate the DCCC used in its matchup against Mast, but he sang the state attorney’s praises.

“He’s somebody who has proven he can run in competitive races,” Abruzzo said. “He connects with people. He can raise the resources. My strong personal opinion is he’s done a hall of fame job as our state attorney, first on pill mills, then on sober homes and now on the opioid crisis. I’m hoping he does run.”

Democrats had hoped a win in a Republican-leaning Georgia district on Tuesday would signal dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump and start a wave of wins that would carry them back to a House majority. But despite raising at least $23 million, 30-year old filmmaker Jon Ossoff was defeated by Republican Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state backed by Trump and Mast.

The president took to Twitter to tweak Democrats about the results of the Georgia race, one of several special elections since Trump’s own election that have been viewed as a referendum on him.

“Well, the Special Elections are over and those that want to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN are 5 and O! All the Fake News, all the money spent = 0,” Trump tweeted.

Trump’s presidency, already buffeted by lawsuits as well as congressional and FBI investigations, would be imperiled by a Democratic takeover of the House, putting the fate of even more investigations and possibly impeachment in the hands of Democrats.

The party of the president typically loses seats in midterm elections, which draw their name from the fact that they are held in the middle of a president’s four-year term when he is not on the ballot.

Democrats lost 54 seats and their majority in the House in 1994 when Bill Clinton was president. The party lost five more under Clinton in 1998.

Republicans lost eight seats in 2002 under George W. Bush and 30 more in 2006, when they also surrendered their majority back to the Democrats.

Democrats promptly got swamped in 2010, losing 63 seats under Barack Obama and their House majority. The party lost 13 more in 2014 under Obama.

That trend, plus Trump’s unpopularity — a RealClear Politics average of eight different polls conducted in June show that 54.3 percent of respondents disapprove of the job he’s doing as president — have fueled Democratic hopes of winning 24 seats in 2018 and recapturing the House.

“The national environment and historical trends are key indicators as well, and there’s no doubt that the momentum is on our side,” the DCCC memo states. “Our DCCC polling team and outside pollsters went into dozens of districts in the last few months to learn: Is the momentum real? Is it building to the point that we can win 24 seats and take back the House? The answer is yes.”

A spokeswoman for the National Republican Campaign Committee said Republicans aren’t losing sleep over the DCCC assessment.

“Given the spectacular failures of the DCCC in the last four Special Elections – especially in Georgia – I’d imagine that the mystery candidate they used in this memo will want to do this one on their own,” Maddie Anderson, NRCC press secretary for the south and midwest regions, wrote in an email to The Palm Beach Post. “Aside from the DCCC – Congressman Mast won by 11 points against a self-funder who spent over $10 million attacking him. That speaks for itself.”