House freshmen who won tight districts: Focus on the issues

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Ben Leonard
·2 min read
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A pair of freshmen lawmakers from swing congressional districts said Tuesday that putting policy ahead of partisanship is their key to winning competitive races in a sharply partisan political era.

Reps. Michelle Steel (R-Calif.) and Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.), both of whom won seats last November previously controlled by the other party, pushed back against hyper-partisanship in separate interviews with POLITICO Huddle newsletter author Olivia Beavers.

“People are very tired of listening [to partisanship]. You really have to go out, stick to the issues,” Steel said. “People really don’t care much about Republican or Democrats.”

Steel, who represents an Orange County, Calif., district including areas like Huntington Beach, stressed bipartisanship and issues like financial services and sand replenishment for beaches in her interview. But Steel also veered into issues like the campaign to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom amid the state’s school closures and business restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, saying she’s fighting against “lockdown[s].”

Coming into Congress for the first time, Steel said that the partisanship was worse than she expected.

“I see more [partisanship] than the media portrays,” Steel said, lamenting that none of the "good ideas" Republicans offered during a 13.5 hour Education and Labor Committee markup session were adopted.

Bourdeaux, who was the only Democrat to win a House seat previously controlled by Republicans — she claimed a seat last held by retired GOP Rep. Rob Woodall — stressed moderation and bipartisanship in her own interview. Bourdeaux has previously said she has seen people in her district be afraid to be openly support Democrats, with one hiding a Hillary Clinton biography in brown paper at the pool.

“You can run with a very moderate message. And that’s very much where I stand on things. We need to address a lot of critical social issues, but we need to pay for them and be fiscally responsible,” she said. “But at the same time, you really need to be very thoughtful and intentional about your outreach to diverse communities.”

In a previous interview with POLITICO, Bourdeaux, a member of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, said Democrats looking to win over more voters should have “very intensive engagement with diverse communities of voters.” She said talking about the issues is part of her reelection strategy, saying Covid vaccinations are the No. 1 priority in her district.

She said she has been reaching out to Black churches to help get vaccines in arms.

“The idea is to connect the people in the district with the policies that are being made in Washington,” she said.