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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Both Parties Handicapped in 2010

Man votingHey look, it's 2010. Election year. The good news for Republicans is that Democrats have spent the last half of 2009 blowing it. The good news for Democrats is that voters don't seem to have forgotten that Republicans suck. Still, the GOP is poised to be the big winner in November, provided nothing much changes between now and then -- which is an impossible expectation. How big might the Republicans win be? Despite the hullabaloo about a "big Republican year," most give them a very slim chance of retaking the House of Representatives and no chance of retaking the Senate, meaning that -- in all likelihood -- dems will retain control of both Houses. My own personal take is that Blue Dogs will be the biggest losers in the Democratic caucus, which actually means that very little will change. The Democrats are almost certain to lose that "filibuster-proof" majority, but since that's proved to be entirely theoretical anyway, it's hard to get too worked up about it. In both chambers, it's easy to envision the same sort of legislation breaking down to the same number of votes for and against. Unlike the party, I have no interest in electing Democrats merely to elect Democrats. If you aren't going to actually do anything positive with those seats, don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. I won't miss Democrats who've voted with Republicans most of the time anyway.

Still, gloom and doom sells papers, so gloom and doom for Democrats in 2010 is what we get. The consequences of the wins or losses are superseded by horserace coverage in the best circumstances, let alone in cases like this, where the likely consequences are pretty minimal. It's "gloom and doom for Democrats" because any other take on the story is a yawn. If you're looking for good news here, Republican triumphalism is probably misplaced and will be followed quickly by disappointment. When the smoke clears, the Republican base will expect a lot their elected officials won't be able to deliver -- and the teabaggers, known neither for their patience nor their level-headedness, will tear them apart.

Still, it's not like Democrats don't have a strategy. It's a simple plan; remind voters that Republicans suck.

Thomas Edsall, Huffington Post:

So what should Democratic candidates do to survive 2010? A strong consensus has emerged among Democratic operatives, based on a strategy developed under the guidance of pollster Geoff Garin. Garin declined to be interviewed for this story, but other party strategists say the most crucial order of business in each contest is to prevent Republican challengers from turning the race into a referendum on the Democratic candidate, the Democratic Party, President Obama, or all three. Rather, they say, Democrats need to turn the public's attention to the failings of the Republican candidate and the national GOP.

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake says that as soon as her clients know who their opponents will be, her advice is "to get them [the Republican candidates] defined." Democratic candidates, Lake and others say, should pre-empt Republicans seeking to present a positive image to the public. Among the techniques to achieve this goal are floating negative stories in the press, taking full advantage of sympathetic bloggers to create a hostile portrait of the GOP opponent, and actively using "less visible" means of communication such as phone banks, direct mail, and canvassers.

Edsall says Democratic consultants have one bit of advice for Democrats this year; "Don't get on the defensive, don't allow [the Republican] to define you." Anyone who's paid attention the last couple of cycles will tell you that'd be a nice change of pace for Democrats, who always seem surprised to learn that their Republican opponents are shameless liars and conscienceless smear merchants. One consultant tells him the plan is not to pull punches. "[B]asically it comes down to one thing," his source tells him. "You've got to kick the shit out of somebody."

What Democrats seem to have trouble grasping is that Republicans go negative early because they know what their opponents don't -- it's a lot easier to get someone to vote against something than for something. And, with Republicans still seen as the greater of two evils, no Democrat should ever refer to his or her opponent without using the word "Republican." That's probably their greatest weakness.

Or maybe their second-greatest. Despite the "big Republican year" meme making its way around newsrooms, Republicans themselves seem less than sold on the idea.


The National Republican Congressional Committee, the key cog in helping to finance GOP campaigns, has banked less than a third as much money as its Democratic counterpart and is ending the year with barely enough money to fully finance a single House race — no less the dozens that will be in play come 2010.

A big part of the problem, according to Republican strategists, is that GOP members themselves — the ones who stand the most to gain from large-scale House gains — haven’t chipped in accordingly, despite evidence of solid opportunities in at least 40 districts next year and with as many as 80 seats in play, according to the Cook Political Report’s estimates.

Democrats have $4 million from House members to spend on House races, while Republicans are saving their ammo for their own races and have only kicked in $2.1 million. "Republicans are already expressing concerns that they may not have enough resources to fully take advantage of the political climate," Politico reports, "which is shaping to be the most favorable for the GOP since the last time they took control of the House in 1994." And the GOP isn't doing any better in other fundraising efforts. In the last year, Democrats have outraised them by $18 million, with $15 million on hand. The Republican Congressional Committee has just $4.3 million, with $2 million in debt, "leaving it with just a pittance to fund the dozens of races it hopes to aggressively contest."

"Republicans have been through two cycles of psychological shell-shock. Their members’ first instinct is self-preservation, first and foremost," Republican consultant Phil Musser told Politico. "The fundraising environment for members in the minority isn’t what it is for members in the majority. It’s damn hard to raise the dough."

Of course, Politico overstates the GOP's problem somewhat by ignoring the fact that Republicans are soft money kings. They'll get a lot of help from outside groups in the form of attack ads. Pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-gay, and pro-corporate groups will pump money into races, but this isn't the same as the Republican Party spending the money themselves. The result will be a strategy-by-committee where the special interest's left hand doesn't know -- and, in many cases, doesn't care -- what the Republican's right hand is doing.

Democrats are going to take a haircut this year -- and mostly because they deserve it -- but the stories about them facing a scalping are grossly overstating the case.


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