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The Republicans' challenge: localizing a national election cycle

Republicans have a plan to "inoculate" their congressional majorities from Donald Trump and prevailing national winds. That plan, however, is a long shot.
A voter steps into a voting booth to mark his ballot at a polling site for the New Hampshire primary, Feb. 9, 2016, in Nashua, N.H. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)
A voter steps into a voting booth to mark his ballot at a polling site for the New Hampshire primary, Feb. 9, 2016, in Nashua, N.H.
Republican officials, insiders, and donors are well aware of the difficult circumstances they face in this year's elections, especially if Donald Trump is the party's presidential nominee. But the GOP has a plan: while Republicans generally excel at nationalizing congressional races, in 2016, they hope to do the exact opposite.
The Wall Street Journal reports today on a group called One Nation, formed by to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's former chief of staff, which raised $10.3 million last year to help Republicans keep control of the Senate.

The Senate Republican strategy of focusing on local issues to insulate vulnerable GOP senators from turmoil at the top of the party's presidential ticket and from partisan politics in Washington has received an injection of support from a nonprofit group that is spending heavily to defend incumbents in several states, particularly New Hampshire. [...] One Nation is calculating that focusing on local issues can lift GOP candidates above the fray of national politics. The group has spent $2.4 million on TV ads in the New Hampshire race, more than in any other contest. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, it has spent about $1 million apiece.

Steven Law, who created One Nation, told the Journal that the group found in 2014, most notably in Kentucky, "that a lot of voters were much more focused on issues closer to home than the national battle over larger and more abstract issues."
And while that may work in 2016, the odds are against it. MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin joked this morning that various partisans, right before every wave election ever, invariably argue, "It's okay, we'll just make these races about local issues."
Even in 2014, One Nation may have had some success localizing the Kentucky race, but let's not brush past the fact that Republicans excelled largely because they nationalized the midterm elections. GOP candidates and officials avoided local issues and urged voters nationwide to focus their attention on ISIS, Ebola, immigrants, and occasionally the threat posed by ISIS immigrants infected with Ebola.
And for the most part, it was extremely effective. Riding a wave of fear, Republicans took back the Senate for the first time in eight years, while expanding its House majority to levels unseen in generations.
In a presidential election year, nationalizing the cycle is even easier because so many Americans are already going to focus on the race for the White House, especially if there's a chance a celebrity demagogue will become the leader of the free world.
The WSJ article added, "In 2014, Republicans in midterm contests didn't have a top-of-the-ticket candidate who could drag them down." Right. In 2016, that's a very real possibility.
Expect to hear quite a bit more about this in the coming months. The Washington Post reported last week, for example, that establishment Republicans and the party's donor class are "rushing to build a multistate defense system to protect Senate and House candidates." The "key" element of the plan is an advertising campaigning touting Republican incumbents "as attuned to hometown concerns," in order to "inoculate" GOP lawmakers from Trump.
This is vastly easier said than done.