Americans appear ready to sweep a lot of Democrats into office on November 4. Not only does Barack Obama maintain a solid lead in the popular vote and electoral vote estimates, several Senate races that appeared safe Republican holds a few months ago are now considered tossups.
Polling is harder to come by in House races, but here too there is scattered evidence of a coming Democratic tsunami. Having already lost three special Congressional elections in red districts this year, House Republicans are now scrambling to defend many entrenched incumbents.
In this diary, I hope to convince you of three things:
1. Some Republicans who never saw it coming are going to be out of a job in two weeks.
On a related note,
2. Even the smartest experts cannot always predict which seats offer the best pickup opportunities.
For that reason,
3. Activists should put resources behind many under-funded challengers now, instead of going all in for a handful of Democratic candidates.
Allow me to elaborate.
1. A lot of seemingly safe incumbents have lost in wave elections, even in districts tilted toward their own party.
The Republican landslide of 1994 claimed my own Congressman Neal Smith, a 36-year incumbent who had a senior position on the House Appropriations Committee. Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley spent “what aides say may total $1.5 million to $2 million, a staggering amount for a House race” in 1994, but he still lost to George Nethercutt in Washington’s fifth district.
Many of you probably remember long-serving House and Senate Democrats in your own states who were swept away in the Reagan landslide of 1980.
By the same token, a lot of entrenched Republicans lost their seats during the 1974 post-Watergate wave. That was the year Iowans elected Tom Harkin and Berkley Bedell in the fifth and sixth Congressional districts, where both candidates had lost elections in 1972.
2. Even the political pros and the best analysts cannot always handicap Congressional races accurately, especially House races where public polls are scarce.
In 2006, could anyone have predicted that Lois Murphy (who almost beat Republican Congressman Jim Gerlach two years earlier) would fall short again in PA-06, while the massively under-funded Carol Shea-Porter would defeat Jeb Bradley in NH-01?
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee poured millions into IL-06 in 2006, only to see Tammy Duckworth lose to Peter Roskam. Meanwhile, Larry Kissell didn’t get the time of day from the DCCC and came just a few hundred votes short of beating Republican incumbent Robin Hayes in NC-08.
My point is that we can’t always know where our best chances lie. Sometimes a stealth candidate can catch an incumbent napping in a race that hasn’t been targeted by either party.
Look at the seats Republicans are now worried about, according to Politico:
GOP Reps. John B. Shadegg of Arizona, Lee Terry of Nebraska, Henry Brown Jr. of South Carolina and Dan Lungren of California are all fighting for their political lives, a reversal of fortunes that has caught even the most astute campaign observers by surprise.
Markos commented on the Politico piece,
Shadegg’s AZ-03 is R+5.9.
Terry’s NE-02 is R+9.0.
Brown’s SC-01 is R+9.6
Lungren’s CA-03 is R+6.7.
We haven’t had any public polls in Iowa’s fourth or fifth district races, but last week Republican incumbent Tom Latham (IA-04, D+0) released his first negative television ad, suggesting that his internal polls may show Becky Greenwald gaining on him.
I can’t tell you today who will win on November 4, but I guarantee you that some Democrats in “tossup” seats will lose, even as other Democrats take over “likely Republican” or “safe Republican” districts. Which brings me to my third point.
3. We need to expand the field of Republican-held districts we’re playing for.
Thankfully, the bad old days when the DCCC would target 22 races, hoping to win 15, are just a memory. The DCCC has put more than 60 Republican-held seats in the “Red to Blue” category. Not all of those seats have seen media buys or other significant financial investment from the DCCC, however.
Plus, as I mentioned above, Dan Lungren is sweating bullets in CA-03, which isn’t even on the Red to Blue list.
In 2006 we won at least two seats that were not in the Red to Blue program (IA-02 and NH-01) and came oh, so close in NC-08.
The bottom line is that a lot of Democratic challengers with the potential to win are not getting the support of the DCCC. This post at Swing State Project lists lots of seats once thought safe for Republicans, which are becoming competitive.
Where can netroots fundraising have the most impact? In my view, it’s in the winnable districts where there will be no influx of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the DCCC or other outside groups. Many of these are districts where an additional $50,000 or even $25,000 can make the difference.
The mother of all moneybombs dumped three-quarters of a million dollars into Elwyn Tinklenberg’s campaign in 24 hours over the weekend. It was a strong statement against the intolerance and bigotry Michelle Bachmann (MN-06) displayed on Hardball.
While I respect the enthusiasm, I can’t agree with those who are still asking the netroots to give to Tinklenberg, even after he’s collected more than $750,000 and the DCCC has promised to put $1 million into this race. Tinklenberg now has the resources to run an aggressive paid media and GOTV effort for the next two weeks. He probably has more money than he can spend effectively with so little time left.
Raising $50,000 for each of ten good challengers would be a better use of our energy than continuing to push activists to give to Tinklenberg.
Remember, few challengers are able to match incumbents dollar-for-dollar, but that doesn’t mean they can’t win. They don’t need to match incumbent spending, but they do need the resources to improve their name recognition and capitalize on the Democratic wave.
Which House races should we target for a moneybomb? I would suggest looking at the list of candidates on the Blue America ’08 page at Act Blue, as well as the candidates endorsed by Russ Feingold’s Progressive Patriots Fund. We have good reason to believe that those candidates will stand up for progressive values.
I would then pick a few Democrats on those lists who are not benefiting from large independent expenditures by the DCCC or others.
Our money will go further in districts with relatively inexpensive paid media.
I would also favor candidates taking on particularly odious incumbents, such as Dennis Shulman (running against Scott Garrett in NJ-05) and Debbie Cook (facing Dana Rohrbacher in CA-46). RDemocrat has written a book’s worth of material on why we should support Heather Ryan against “Exxon Ed” Whitfield in KY-01.
And what kind of Iowan would I be if I didn’t mention Rob Hubler, who is taking on Steve King in IA-05? My fellow Iowa blogger 2laneIA published this comprehensive diary showing that if we’re talking about the most ignorant and bigoted wingnuts in Congress, King gives Michelle Bachmann a run for her money. Click the link to read all about King’s “greatest hits,” including his suggestion that we electrify the border fence with Mexico like we do “with livestock,” his prediction that terrorists will be “dancing in the streets” if Obama becomes president, and his pride in working to scale back funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (which he calls Socialist Clinton-style Hillarycare for Illegals and their Parents). King considers his work to reduce SCHIP funding a “key moment” in his Congressional career.
Amazingly, there’s even more to dislike about King than 2laneIA had room to mention in that piece. For instance, while still a state senator, King was a leading advocate for Iowa’s “official English” law, which was adopted in 2002. Then he filed a lawsuit in 2007 to stop the Iowa Secretary of State’s office from providing voter information in languages besides English. It’s not for nothing that Ann Coulter calls King “one of my favorites.”
Hubler is a good progressive who spoke out against the FISA bill and supports the Responsible Plan for Iraq. I just found out yesterday that during the 1980s he was INFACT’s national director of the boycott against Nestle. Hubler also happens to be running a great campaign, but he is not getting much outside help except from Feingold’s Progressive Patriots Fund, which has sent an organizer to work on the campaign.
Two dozen House Democrats already represent districts with a partisan voting index of R+5 or worse. We should be able to increase that number in two weeks and send home Republicans who didn’t even realize they were in trouble.
Few people have enough money to donate to every worthy Democratic candidate. But if the netroots could raise more than three-quarters of a million dollars for Elwyn Tinklenberg in just over 48 hours, we ought to be able to raise $50,000 each for ten good challengers, whose races are relatively low-profile.
Who’s with me on this, and which districts should we target?