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Where’s Trump? President motivates Democrats, but he’s not in their TV ads.

In a country whose politics is singularly dominated by Trump, one place you might not see or hear about him: TV ads paid for by Democratic campaigns in competitive House races.

President Trump, pictured at a rally in Montana this month, looms over the midterm elections. Even as he energizes the left, the president has been conspicuously absent from Democratic campaign ads in the general election.
President Trump, pictured at a rally in Montana this month, looms over the midterm elections. Even as he energizes the left, the president has been conspicuously absent from Democratic campaign ads in the general election.Read moreAP Photo/Susan Walsh

President Trump is everywhere in American life: the news, social media, NFL games, even the dinner table.

But in a country whose politics is singularly dominated by Trump, one place you might not see or hear about him: TV ads paid for by Democratic campaigns in competitive House races.

From the Philadelphia suburbs to Minnesota, Florida, and California, Democrats are talking about affordable health care, working together to get things done, and rejecting campaign donations from corporate political action committees.

But the ads are light on Trump, who polls show is driving voter interest in the midterm elections like no other president in modern times.

"I think the environment is nationalized and primarily nationalized by Trump. That is the underlying context for the campaign," said Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster. "That context is already set. You almost don't need to say it in paid advertising."

Talking about fighting Trump would make Democratic candidates "just like everybody else," Greenberg said.

So there's Democrat Scott Wallace, standing at the gas pump while he accuses Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.) of being beholden to Big Oil, taking campaign donations from the industry, and voting for a tax law he says gave a windfall to Exxon Mobil. "How's that working out for you here at the pump?" he asks.

Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to take control of the U.S. House, which would empower them to investigate and frustrate the administration.

For their part, vulnerable Republican incumbents are highlighting their work on local issues, a deep contrast with Trump's message that the campaign is all about him.

An ad paid for by Fitzpatrick, of Bucks County, shows a woman discussing the death of her son by drug overdose — and the congressman's efforts to fight opioid addiction. "For parents like us, Brian Fitzpatrick gives us a voice in Washington," she says.

Even though Trump may not star in these ads, he looms over the whole election.

Sixty percent of registered voters say they consider their midterm ballot as either a vote for or against Trump, according to a June Pew Research Center survey. That makes Trump a bigger factor in this year's midterm election than any other president in more than 30 years, Pew found.

For the average voter, "if you're not thinking about Trump, you're probably living in a cave somewhere in the Philippines," said Stuart Rothenberg, senior editor of Inside Elections, which analyzes House races. Democrats, he said, don't need to remind swing voters of the latest Trump news.

Added Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, on Thursday: "We will not talk about President Trump much, if not at all. He's going to do it for us."

To be sure, Democratic candidates are still likely to mention the president in direct mail and targeted digital advertising to liberal voters, as well as on left-leaning cable news channels like MSNBC. Likewise, Republicans in certain districts may play up their Trump bona fides in targeted ads, lest they demoralize the president's core supporters.

But it's a different story on broadcast television.

In South Jersey, Democrat Andy Kim's television ad, titled "Service," shows a teacher, police officer, and nurse going about their jobs, and highlights Kim's record as a national security officer who worked in Afghanistan. "Service is a representative who puts you first and won't take corporate money," he says.

Greenberg, the pollster, said voters have grown disillusioned by the civic discourse, creating an opportunity "to distinguish yourself as someone who'd be a different kind of leader in Washington."

That's especially true for first-time candidates who don't have political backgrounds, such as Mikie Sherrill, a Navy veteran running in North Jersey. With a helicopter whirring in the background, Sherrill says in an ad that she learned to "work together and get the job done."

In addition to these introductory spots, Democrats in key races across the country are taking to the airwaves to blast Republican incumbents who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But they aren't explicitly defending the law, also known as Obamacare, which fueled a GOP  takeover of Congress in 2010.

Instead, Democrats are accusing Republicans of trying to take away protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions. Polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that subject in particular is emerging as a key issue for voters.

An ad by a Democrat running in California's Central Valley features a woman concerned that her daughter's congenital heart disease wouldn't be covered because of the local Republican congressman's vote in favor of the GOP bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The bill failed in the Senate.

"When I get to Congress, being a woman won't be a pre-existing condition," Democrat Lauren Baer, running in South Florida, tells a breast cancer survivor. The woman says she felt "sucker-punched" when the local Republican congressman voted for the party's health-care bill.

In his own ad, the congressman, Brian Mast, talks about protecting clean water from toxic algae and repairing the Herbert Hoover Dike. The ad shows his two sons swimming.

Similarly, in Minnesota's Third District in the Minneapolis suburbs, Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen declares his support for protecting the lakes and forests in a popular wildlife area. "I'll stand up to my party or President Trump to protect Minnesota," he says in the ad, while paddling a canoe. Hillary Clinton carried the district by more than 9 percentage points.

Running for a third-term in New Jersey's Third District, Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur is airing an ad featuring a couple who credit the congressman for preventing the wife from being deported. Her immigration paperwork had been "tied up in a sea of bureaucratic red tape," the ad says. "Congressman MacArthur stepped in and stopped my wife's deportation," the husband says.

"Those Republicans in suburban districts are trying to localize the election," said Rothenberg, the political analyst. "You talk about your achievements, accomplishments, how you've helped real people."

Less common, at least right now, are ads highlighting the Republican tax cut. Even some GOP strategists have admitted that it hasn't delivered a winning campaign message in tight races.

MacArthur adviser Chris Russell said the campaign ad reflected the congressman's bipartisan record. He also pointed to a Washington Post fact-check that found Kim's ad embellished his record under President George W. Bush.

He said Kim was "afraid to be seen for what he is: which is a really extreme partisan."

The Kim campaign has rejected that characterization, noting that he worked in Africa for the U.S. Agency for International Development to implement Bush's agenda.

Rothenberg said Trump would make an appearance in Democratic ads at some point before November, perhaps in a closing argument for a representative "who will check Donald Trump, or who will make sure Donald Trump doesn't go too far."

Staff writer Jonathan Tamari contributed to this article.