WASHINGTON — Every evening from his kitchen table in southwestern Michigan, Representative Fred Upton, a moderate Republican running for his 18th term in office, posts a coronavirus dispatch for his constituents, highlighting his own efforts to respond to the crisis and the news from Washington, often with cameos from Democrats.
Absent from his Facebook updates are any mentions of President Trump, whose response to the pandemic has raised questions that threaten to drag down Republicans’ electoral prospects this fall, or of the president’s provocative news briefings, which have become a forum for partisan attacks on Democrats and dubious claims about the virus.
“You have to sort of thread the needle,” Mr. Upton said in an interview, explaining how he has tried to navigate Mr. Trump’s performance during the crisis. “I’ve been careful. I said, ‘Let’s look to the future,’ versus ‘Why didn’t we do this a few months ago?’ I’m not interested in pointing the finger of blame. I want to correct the issues.”
It is a tricky task for lawmakers like Mr. Upton in centrist districts throughout the country, who understand that their re-election prospects — and any hope their party might have of taking back the House of Representatives — could rise or fall based on how they address the pandemic. Already considered a politically endangered species before the novel coronavirus began ravaging the United States, these moderates are now working to counter the risk that their electoral fates could become tied to Mr. Trump’s response at a time when the independent voters whose support they need are increasingly unhappy with his performance.
The president’s combative news conferences, which his own political advisers have counseled him to curtail, have made the challenge all the steeper.
“It does make it difficult at times,” Representative John Katko, Republican of New York, said in an interview. He said he hoped his constituents would evaluate him not based on Mr. Trump’s record, but on his own.
“I’m hanging on — not hanging on, flourishing — in a district I should probably not have as a Republican,” said Mr. Katko, one of only two House Republicans running for re-election in a district Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Voters “are going to judge me on what I did or did not do, and that’s all I can ask.”
In an attempt to ensure their contests become referendums on their own responses to the virus, rather than the president’s, vulnerable House Republicans are instead brandishing their own independent streaks, playing up their work with Democrats, doubling down on constituent service and hosting town-hall-style events — avoiding mention of Mr. Trump whenever possible.
It is an approach that looks familiar to former Representative Carlos Curbelo, Republican of Florida, who tried to distance himself from Mr. Trump on…