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June 17, 2006

Comments

One clarification: In CT-02, Joe Courtney did not run against Rob Simmons in 2004; it was Jim Sullivan.

Sorry again. It is Diane Farrell in CT-04 against Chris Shays and Joe Courtney in CT-)2 against Simmons. Tired fingers.

Here I'll resurrect a comment I made at another site concerning the June 6 CA-50 congressional election.

Busby's results this time around should be seen as a wake up call for Democrats: we're not getting anywhere. In 2004 a popular, former Top Gun, incumbent Duke Cunningham shellacked the relatively unknown Francine Busby in CA-50 by twenty-two percentage points. In that same election and district Bush beat Kerry, 55%-44%. The Bush/Kerry spread is more in line with what you would expect to see in an open seat election in CA-50.

Fast forward to 2006 and the vacated Duke Cunningham seat is at the epicenter of the Republican Culture of Corruption. No where in the country are voters more aware of the scandal that is the Republican Party than in CA-50. Busby, now running with as much name recognition as her opponent and in an open seat election, polls about one and a half percentage point higher than Kerry did in 2004 (Busby now at 45.4%, Kerry then at 43.9%).

To be sure, the Republican congressional candidate polled 5.5 percentage points less this time than did Bush in 2004 however he seems to have lost 3.5 of those 5.5 percentage points to an anti-immigrant rottweiller who was on the ballot.

Busby's results were dismal.

On the contrary, I think that the Busby results show that the "culture of corruption" theme isn't enough to get habitual Republicans to vote for a Dem, unless the Republican on the ballot is himself guilty of self-enrichment. Bob Ney (OH-18) may be defeated by it; Tom DeLay might have been if he had been on the ballot. But GOP voters in CA-50 didn't extend the taint to Bilbray. That district was +12 Republican.

But my point was that there are plenty of other districts where either the Dems have a registration advantage or the R's have an advantage of only a few points, and we should concentrate our efforts on those races, not give up.

Only where there is real reason (such as prior, recent election of a Dem or documented unpopularity of the incumbent) to believe that a Dem can win the district, such as in IN-09 or KY-04 or OH-18 or PA-10, should a lot of resources be put into a race where the Republicans have a registration advantage over +4. But just because a Democrat couldn't win in an overwhelmingly Republican district doesn't mean a Dem can't win in a much closer, or Dem-advantage district. That Busby took probably all of the Dems and 85% of the independents shows that. That was my point.

The other thing about the Busby race that people are largely ignoring is that Bilbray lost his seat in 2000, but he was a fairly well-liked Congressman. He wasn't an incumbent, but having been in office he had some of the advantages of incumbency. He wasn't viewed as an extremist, and he has an affable, surfer-dude image. He wasn't really linked to the corruption. And despite making a pretty huge gaffe concerning the biggest issue in that Republican district near the Mexican border, Busby still almost won.

I'm moving to San Diego (from Massachusetts) in about 6 weeks, so I've been following the race with some interest. I was pleasantly surprised by Busby's showing -- it always seemed like it would be something close to an act of God for Busby to win in that district, and given that she came within 5% strikes me as quite promising. The Republicans dumped such an incredible amount of money into a race that should have been a cakewalk for them, Busby made a major gaffe, and Bilbray appears to have been seen generally as a moderate. The idea that the fact that she didn't win spells doom for the party just doesn't seem reasonable to me.

I am under the impression that the Democrats in CA-50 really did not have a good GOTV effort. That's somewhat understandable as one does not prioritize building it in districts unlikely to be fruitful. But winning special elections like this requires knowing exactly who your voters are, and making certain they vote -- absentee or at the polls.

I'd rate MN-6 a bit higher as a pick-up. The Republicans nominated the most far right candidate they could find -- she runs on only one issue, opposition to Gay Marriage. Out DFL candidate, Patty Wetterling, ran in 04, lost to Kennedy by 6 points, but is far better known across the District. Part of the district is quite "Libertarian" -- Jesse Ventura country, and I suspect in an open seat situation, Wetterling has a good possibility. Initially she was running state wide for the US Senate, so during the past two years she has been campaigning quite broadly across the state. Thus far I like what I see of the organization which brings much more than just DFL assets to the project.

The single most important lesson from the Busby race is the crucial need for organization that will turn out the democratic vote. 7000 votes is not that many -- and a better turnout effort could have made the difference. Its not just resources (ie, cash) that is important in competitive races, its how that cash is spent.

That's why I'm so happy with Howard Dean as DNC chair, and his efforts to strengthen state party organizations. Dems may, or may not, take the House in the fall, but if they don't, it won't be for lack of funding, or unappealling candidates -- it will be a reflection of the "immaturity" of grassroots turnout organizations on election day.

RE: CT 02, Joe Courtney did run, unsuccessfully, against Simmons in 2000. So at least Courtney does have some experience in running a campaign. We're working hard to unseat Simmons who is a typical doofus moderate NE Republican enabler. He's done nothing for the district except bring Laura Bush here to GOTV at election time every two years. . .

You may be right about MN-06, Sara. The Republican registration seemed high for my criteria, but many people have rated this race higher than I did. I'd be happy if she wins!

Rather thyan writing off those districts which have a higher percentage of registered Repubs, I eccho p.lukasiak's comment that it is about Dem voter turnout. Busby could have got more than 7,000 votes in that district if enough registered Dems cared enough to either mail in their vote or go to the polls. I believe that even a 5% increase in registered Dem turnout in CA-50 would have swung the special election in Busby's favor.

So the question is why is Dem turnout so low?

I'm impressed that Bushby did so well. I haven't lived in the area for a while but when I lived there it was clearly conservative country. I'm hearing from friends, though that over the last ten years or so, the ground has been shifting in San Diego.

Look, the Democrats aren't used to being in the political wilderness but that's where we are. Every election has to be contested. Whether Democrats are moderate or liberal, the stronger they are, the more they get their message out, the more help they get, the better the odds.

Another thing. More and more Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are concerned about where Bush and the Republican Congress are taking this nation. A small number of Republicans have finally reached their tipping point. The numbers will grow.

One more thing. Negative campaigning really works for Republicans, particularly if Democrats don't know how to respond. I don't mind people being realistic but I think a lot of bloggers and commenters need to think long and hard about the negativity they sometimes bring to a discussion. Republicans are happy to receive all the negative help they can get. The thing to remember, and so help me this is the truth, is that even if you support a Democrat you know is going to lose, give that Democrat all the support you can because you're laying the groundwork for the future. Yes, I know, focus on those districts that can win but that attitude can be taken too far because you can look up and concede before you have even tried.

Minikatz, we do not have party registeration in Minnesota, and any qualified voter who can verify they have lived here for 20 days can register and vote on Election Day. About 40% of Minnesotians have used this feature either to change registeration by precinct, or first time register since we instituted it way back in 1972. What you probably have is a party Index -- which is something like an average by precinct and then aggraigated to a district over several elections. Indexes are useful when you are managing a campaign -- they tell you where you might best put resources, but they are not party ID.

Statistics are very useful, but they really don't tell us much about political culture -- and that is what we really need to know as we debate how Democrats, (in this realm, the DFL) should address itself to folk.) Do you remember the films, "The Immigrants" "Unto a New Land" and "The Last Letter Home" made in the 70's by a joint Swedish/American team based on the novels by Vilhelm Moberg? The eastern end of this district is dominated by "those folk." They are very Swedish Lutheran, and are religious about tending the graves of the pioneers. It is exurban territory now -- but some of the exurbans are social progressives. They are, in many cases, artisians and writers, and I doubt if they will vote wrong on a single issue matter such as Gay Marriage.

At the other end of the district are the heirs of the Irish Potato Famine and a German Catholic notion of "planting" in the America -- a complex of schools and institutions run by the Benedictines. That's around St. Cloud and Collegeville. The Abby at Collegeville has the complete collection of all the Monastic libraries of Europe in microfilm and more recently in Digital form. It is also the heartland of Gene McCarthy and his wife Abby. The Abby at Collegeville got hit with one of the worst law suits on child molestation in recent years -- but did a decent settlement, and it is probably one of the most aware communities in the country.

Now (and I suggest no connection here) Patty Wetterling gained fame not as a pol, but when her son was abducted and never heard from again. She started a foundation called Jacob's Hope which delivers services to the families of abducted children, but also works close with law enforcement. Two years ago, she had the guy, Welch -- from America's most wanted, raising money and campaigning for her -- and it will come again this year. (That's what I mean by more than DFL assets on the table.) In between the Swedish and the Benedictine areas is a huge swath of sprall out of Mpls -- N. Mpls, dominated by White Ethnics, Poles, Italians, Greeks, Slavs from Yugoslavia--with their gated communities and golf club developments and all -- and that was the core to Ventura (Independence Party) support in 1998. Apparently the leadership of that is going Wetterling this year. They had their own candidate, but on the 7th ballot at the 6th District Convention, the promise was made and the deal done. The Ventura forces will be DFL in 06 in the MN 06 race.

I point out all this because each little Congressional District is a different story -- each is a particular political culture. We all need to deal with particulars.

Another example, my district, the 5th in Minneapolis. Convention delivered the endorsement to an African American Muslim who has served three terms in the State House. If he survives the primary he will be the first Muslim elected to Federal office. My District is 75% DFL. Primary is in September, and he has a slew of opponents. But his opponents are the former chief of staff to Martin Olav Sabo who was speaker of the MN House, but has been in the US House since 1978, and chaired the Budget Committee during the first two Clinton Years. In addition to being chief of staff to Sabo, Erlichson also chaired the party for six years. (He was not super successful). But then Ember Reichgott Junge is also running -- a former State Senator who failed as a state wide candidate. And Paul Ostraa is running -- city council, I like him, but not for this race. With a 75% DFL index for this district we can afford some marginal losses, but we can deliver a mostly white elected African American Muslim to replace our Norwegian to Congress. Ellison has been getting standing ovations in the synagogues where he has been speaking in the last couple of weeks. He is breaking down the opposition, and that is necessary. This primary race is as interesting as many other races for what it says about Democrats being able to really deliver diversity. If you really mean it, you do it in safe seats.

I also think MN 01 is worth consideration -- and I am putting effort and research into Colleen Rowley's effort in MN 02.

Sara,

I am sympathetic to a view that effective political organization demands more than tant sessions against various media reports and media figures. Organized ranting is fun, builds morale in a way, and maybe develops good ideas. Anyway, it is popular and a step up from cowed apathy.

Still, we need more.

The current political paradigm offers little. The political parties as they exist are basically a disorganized clique of pollsters, corporate bagmen, and assorted hangers-on. They have no real job as a party -- that is, they have no authority or responsiblity for governance.

Ideally, I think, the national party should be a forum for detailed position-making on specific leglislation. The process of research, canvassing Congressional views, drafting legislation and position papers should be serious and significant, and should include a public comment process that would let some fresh air (and, occasionally, common sense) into the process. Making positions and proposed legislative language public would open the party to criticism (sniping) at election time, and so should require a formal vote from the Caucus before becoming the Dem position.

This sort of organization would be a training ground for serious Congresssional staffers and administration mid-level officials when the party wins the Presidency.

It could happen, but won't anytime soon because it does not serve any institutional interest except good government. Furthermore, to my knowledge, no one else thinks it is a good idea except me.

Anyway, I think we need to imagine an organization that would routinely care about organizing at the local level. I'm not sure what that is. But it has to have a social side, or it won't work.

I think maybe local political parties should make public service events a big part of the yearly calendar. Youth sports, events for the elderly, street fairs, etc. Public debate should be a side feature at those events, when appropriate. But I would focus upon a network of friends. Maybe the debate would go on a local website.

I also think there would be value in friendly conversation with the opposition party. Shared events.

We don't have to be enemies, just rivals.

I wonder what role America's changing racial and ethnic demographics are going to play out for the Democrats in the future. In my congressional district here in New Jersey, it's the African-American voters who regularly give the Democratic candidate the winning edge. They tried running a conservative black minister on the Republican ticket a few years ago, but the voters smelled a rat and didn't buy it. In last November's gubernatorial race, around 60% of the white voters voted for the Republican candidate, Doug Forrester, but the inner-city black and Hispanic voters in Newark, Camden and Trenton gave Democrat Jon Corzine the edge. There seems to be a certain racial and ethnic "tipping point" that, once it's reached, makes it impossible for Republicans to win elections. The Republicans are going go full tilt to disenfranchise as many nonwhite voters as they can on the local level (like we already see in Ohio) because they know that numbers are against them.

ab initio, it's important to look at things comparatively. Sure, 7,000 votes isn't a lot, but it's a higher percentage of the Democratic vote than the percentage of the Republican vote that came out for Bilbray. One could just as easily ask what's wrong with the Republicans, that they got out an even smaller percentage of the vote than did the Democrats. Asking why the Dems got out a small number of the vote without comparing it to the Repub performance in comparison with their base numbers misses an important part of the story.

The other thing you need to remember is that it's hard to get people out for a special election or a primary. Most people just aren't that engaged in politics this far out from the November election, and in a sprawling metro area like SD, it's even harder to boost turnout because it's harder to get into the consciousness through the electronic media, which is ridiculously expensive and in big metro areas tends to ignore politics in favor of crime stories, helicopter chases, health reporting and human interests stories.

Marysz,

The "tipping point" you describe is coming fast in places like CA, NM and even TX, which is why the Repubs are frantically courting Latinos. They made a small gain in 2004--measurable, but nothing as significant as they made it out to be--but they seem to have lost it all and probably more with the anti-immigrant crap of the last 6 months. And even if they cut in to the percentages, they're still in deep trouble. Latinos don't vote as heavily Dem as Blacks, who tend to vote Dem 9-1, but they still generally vote Dem about 2-1. Even if the Repubs lower that margin a bit, the growth of the Latino voting bloc will still put many seats that are now competetive for Repubs out of reach.

the demographics are interesting

but balkanization of the electorate is a poor long-term strategy

in the last few decades, through Atwater and Gingrich and others, we have seen systematic use of hot button rhetoric to inflame and divide the public

winning at that game is no win at all

we should appeal to the common good

and love even thouse who disagree with us

but we need to organize to the purpose

currently, the incentives backed into our media and political routines reward rancor

we need to identify those institutional incentives, and find a way to upend them

in my opinion

Good discussion. In the past, I have advocated a "three-tiered" strategy of having the DCCC/interest groups put major resources into races with a high percentage of winning--such as CT-04 (Farrell v. Shays)and PA-06 (Murphy v. Gerlach), plus some of the others and the open races I mentioned. Once the races raise $1-2 million, then the marginal benefit of more money is probably diminishing.

Ideally the DCCC would also have money to help a second tier out as well, but the second tier would really need to count on their own fundraising and the blogosphere. This is where I feel we can have an impact.

I do believe in running a challenger in every race and having the DNC give them at least minimal help in setting up an office, staff, website and media oepration. Then see where they can take it. But to put lots of blogosphere attention into races where the percentage of winning is low, as opposed to the middle tier, doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Go after Deborah Pryce in OH-15, where the parties are near parity, rather than a quixotic race against Roy Blunt in MO. Maffei in NY-25 probably has a better chance than Eric Massa in NY-29, attractive though he is.

Obviously all races are unique in some respects and I missed or misjudged some. More info is always welcome. But until we have unlimited resources, we need to prioritize, and we need not to get discouraged when we don't win a race where the odds were long.

Mimi -- One thing that could be done to force the Democratic Party to field a candidate with minimal support in all congressional races, would be an organized effort to put that in the platform in 2008. A DNC Requirement, with the penality being that a state that failed would suffer a loss of delegate representation at the next national convention. The Convention would not have the power to do this in state races -- but it could do it for any federal race. The proper form I believe would be a platform plank to that effect that demanded the rules committee inforce it.

Now each state has its own way of developing platform planks -- but the sure fire way of getting it to happen is to demand an answer yes or no on support from anyone collecting delegates for a presidential nomination. I actually think Dean is on board on this -- and so is the current DNC. The opposition comes from elected officials who will claim they don't want to "waste" money on no-win candidates. So it is not enough to have the current DNC and Dean onboard -- it has to be a firm party rule. In a 35-65 district it may not make sense to heavily invest in a campaign, but those 35%ers need someone to vote for, and getting them out can help the top of the ticket as well as local and state races down ballot. And even a lost race exercises and builds the machinery.

it always seemed like it would be something close to an act of God for Busby to win in that district, and given that she came within 5% strikes me as quite promising.

MonkeyDog is right here. I was sorry that this result wasn't the upset we all hoped it would be, but it has to be remembered that it would've been an upset - a big one. The Dukestir didn't win re-election. Busby gaffed at the end, and Bilray was a decent candidate, and Busby still came pretty close. I actually was cheered by the result (though not as cheered as I would've been by Busby winning, of course). San Diego (an area I visit regularly) is still GOP country, despite whatever shifts which may have begun there.

Sorry CMike, but you're building dungeons in the air. If you know anything about that district, you can't say that Busby's showing was 'dismal'.

As the news of Hastert's real estate deal gets more and more attention, his seat is probably coming into play.

Jonnybutter,

Enlighten me, someone who doesn't "know anything about that district": How did Barbra Boxer poll 48.1% of the vote in that hopelessly Republican CA-50 congressional district during the 2004 senate race?

When Bush's favorables were at 50% plus nation-wide in 2004 nation wide John Kerry polled 43.9% and Barbra Boxer polled 48.1% in CA-50. A year and a half later the sitting Republican congressman left the seat in handcuffs, Bush's favorability nationwide was at 35% and the Democratic congressional candidate polled 45.4%. Why exactly is that 45.4% a encouraging sign?

Gawd (and everybody who has read my posts) knows I'm not much of an electoral strategist. I've made plenty of gaffes of my own in this department. So, add as many grains of salt as you wish.

It's not CA-50 results that have me concerned. I never expected Busby would win. What concerns me is the widespread view that Dems don't need to say much more than "culture of corruption" and point out how badly Republicans have screwed up, in Iraq and elsewise. In some precincts, in some districts, maybe in some states, this is a good approach. But as a national prescription, it seems like a disastrous approach to me.

Sara is right, obviously, that each district has its own parameters. I think at least some of the competitive districts are the ones in which the Dem candidates MOST need to have at least some outline of what they would do in what we have been calling the Republicans' weakest point: Iraq.

MB,

I might as well beat a dead horse here.

I agree with you entirely.

In addition, I think one thing to remember is that there is no routine of developing party positions. And there is no organization to do it.

The DNC is not a policy organization. As far as I know, it has no policy expertise. And, in any event, even if it does, I know for sure any such people (if any) are routinely and thoroughly ignored.

Furthermore, the public is well used to the drill. The "American" way is for each elected Congressman to be a free agent.

The "Democrats" (who - exactly? who would make the announcement? how would the positions be enforced? how would we even know that the position meant anything?) should have positions.

Iraq. Taxes. Health Care. Domestic Spying. Katrina Relief. Secrecy in Govt. Etc.

we do not have a political party for governing. at most (a stretch) we have a collective group to fund political campaigns by loosely allied free agents

and no one, except me, is bitching about it

we need an effective policy and message organization

MB- I agree with you completely. That is why I said that the "culture of corruption" issue would work only if the opponent had actually enriched himself. It just doesn't spill over in a way that would cause long-term R's to vote for a Dem, and even the earmark issue is a loser to me because often the project benefits the district. Only things like Cunningham's action and, perhaps, Hastert's (he seems to have set himself up in a loand deal for a profit in seven or eight figures from an interstate and an off-ramp he championed) will have much effect.

In surveying candidates' websites for this piece I was encouraged how many challengers do advocate withdrawal from Iraq in 2007 or some variant of the Murtha plan.

this means something if we have an election
this means something if the results of the election are accurately counted
this means we need millions of people asking for paper ballots
this means a or b.

if we don't have the ballots to count, they will do it again

How did Barbra Boxer poll 48.1% of the vote in that hopelessly Republican CA-50 congressional district during the 2004 senate race?

I don't know. This stuff isn't 'linear'. Boxer is an incumbent - maybe that has something to do with it. Busby gaffed right at the end. Turnout is much lower than in '04, of course. 'Dismal' would be if Busby had been blown out.

I could play the reverse game with you. What does it say about a district which repeatedly elected a he-haw like Cunningham that Busby wasn't blown out in a low turn-out special election? The Dukestir was disgraced, but he wasn't on the ballot. I think you could make the case that Bilray's winning by only 7k votes - after all the big dollars the GOP spent in such a safe district, and after Busby's gaffe, and in a special election - is 'dismal' for them.

Of course you won't find many (or any) Republicans moaning about it in public. No shortage of people on 'our side', however, mixing apples and oranges, finding grey clouds in every sliver lining and wailing 'We're doomed! DOOMED!'. Why is that?

I've lived in both Boehlert's (NY 24) and Walsh's (NY 25) district for many years. Both of them have traded on personal connections, family history, and "good-guy" qualities to get reelected.

That said, even though Boehlert's seat is open, I give Dems *less* of a chance of taking that seat than unseating Jim Walsh. Neither will be easy, but Boehlert is more--um--progressive than his district and Walsh is more conservative than his. They both have gotten reelected based on personal--not political---qualities.

We have a chance in both. But the idea that Boelert's seat will be easy to take is just flat wrong.

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