For the first time since 1994, Republicans may lose their majority in Congress this November. The Bush Administration wants to legalize torture, proceed with unwarranted domestic wire-tapping and kill habeas corpus, the Iraq War is almost as unpopular as syphilis, and the government’s criminally incompetent response to Hurricane Katrina certainly didn’t earn them any love. Not to mention that the various House corruption scandals has forced four Republican members of Congress to resign and two to serve time in jail. And while the Mark Foley scandal has legs
, Republicans were already in trouble – and this latest fiasco has only pulled the trigger on a literal powder-keg of public backlash against the G.O.P.’s “culture of corruption.” But Democrats wouldn’t be in a position to take advantage of this and retake Congress – if they didn’t have serious candidates running in each district to seize such an opportunity. And thanks to the liberal blogosphere, this year things are going to be different.
Every election cycle, due to a strategic decision to conserve resources, the battle for Congress boils down to a very small handful of seats. As one of my college professors once explained, the vast majority of House races are not seriously contested because one party (either through incumbency or party-registration) is deemed to have the overwhelming advantage. When a candidate from the other party runs in such a district, the national party doesn’t pay much attention and the candidates tend to be local cranks with no real base in the community. “Losers,” quipped my professor, “is not strong enough a word to describe those types of people.”
But this year, Democrats are fielding candidates in all but 10 Congressional districts – 35 more than the Republicans. And liberal blogs like Daily Kos
, and Swing State Project
deserve enormous credit for highlighting this issue early on, keeping track of the filing deadlines in each state and making sure that the party had a candidate running. Afterwards, as part of Howard Dean’s “Fifty State Strategy,” they have used the Internet to promote bright and articulate Democrats who are running in allegedly “hopeless” districts.
In November 2004, progressives were angry, demoralized, dejected and defeated. If you didn’t live in a “swing state” like Ohio, you felt that your vote for Kerry had been in vain. But three days after the election, Chris Bowers wrote a blog entry
at MyDD.com, where he criticized Democrats for neglecting large swaths of the country. “Abandoning a district has repercussions for future elections,” he wrote. “Failing to challenge your opponent's message in an area is damaging to your message in that area in the future. Failing to provide a choice to those willing to support you--and there are always tens of thousands willing to support you in any congressional district--sends a message that you do not represent or care about those people. Even worse, failing to challenge an incumbent sends a message that you are afraid of your own beliefs and that you are not working to make this country a better Democracy.”
The blogosphere swung into action, and began monitoring filing deadlines in each state. State Democratic Parties were publicly humiliated if they still did not have a Congressional candidate running for each seat. Blog readers who lived in an uncontested district were even urged to consider putting their name down – in case lightning struck and the seat were to become competitive. Today, Democrats are running candidates in 425 Congressional districts. In contrast, Democrats ran only 400 candidates in 2004, 391 in 2002 and 403 in 2000.
While political momentum for each party inevitably swings back and forth, Democrats have not always been in a position where they can seize such opportunities. 1998 was arguably the last time that the political winds strongly favored the Democrats, as the Republican effort to impeach Bill Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky dangerously back-fired and mobilized progressive voters. But that year, Democrats only had candidates running in 380 districts – leaving 55 seats uncontested. At the end of the day, Republicans kept their majority in both houses of Congress.
This year, however, Democrats are ready to win back the seats that Republicans have lost because of scandal. Of the four House Republicans who resigned this year, Democrats can expect to win some – if not all – of their seats. In Texas’ 22nd Congressional District (Tom DeLay’s seat), Democrat Nick Lampson
currently has an 8-point lead. In Orange County’s 50th Congressional District (Duke Cunningham’s seat), Democrat Francine Busby
barely lost a special election – and is now only four points behind. In Ohio’s 8th Congressional District (Bob Ney’s seat), Democrat Zack Space
is favored to win. And in Florida’s 16th Congressional District, Republicans are in the awkward position of still having Mark Foley’s name on the ballot – while the Democratic candidate, Tim Mahoney
, has been campaigning for months.
But even without the scandal-plagued seats, candidates supported by the netroots have tread into deep-red districts and been talking to voters for the past year. In August 2005, Democrat Paul Hackett became the first Iraq War veteran to run for Congress. Hackett ran in a special election for Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District, which the national party had written off as hopelessly Republican for decades. With more than half of his money coming from the blogosphere, Hackett barely lost with 48% of the vote. Now the Republican incumbent, Jean Schmidt, is fighting for her political life in a district that Republicans carried in 2004 by a 72-28 margin.
Six years ago, my sister (who at the time lived in Aurora, Illinois) voted for Dennis Hastert. Why? She had met his Democratic opponent, who was literally insane. This year, Army veteran John Laesch
is running against the House Speaker in a heavily-Republican district on a platform critical of the President’s War on Terror. While he is still ten points behind in the polls, Hastert’s meltdown over the Foley scandal has given Laesch a tremendous opening that might cause an upset. I can assure you that the Democrat who challenged Hastert in 2000 (and only got 26% of the vote) would not have had the smarts, resources, or savvy to seize such an opportunity.
Even in Nebraska’s 3rd Congressional District, which covers everything in the state west of Lincoln and hasn’t elected a Democrat since 1958, 31-year-old rancher Scott Kleeb
is campaigning hard – and voters who say that they’ve never even met a Democrat say they’re going to vote for him. While Kleeb is a serious underdog, he has hammered away at his Republican opponent’s support from the Club for Growth – a radical anti-tax organization that even wants to abolish the Department of Agriculture (not a popular position in Nebraska.) As Kleeb told a meeting of D.N.C. members, “I am your Fifty-State strategy.”
Markos Moulitsas, who runs the blog Daily Kos
, has cautioned Democrats not to get too optimistic about this November’s elections. We’ve been burned for the last three election cycles, and many people I know have tuned out of politics in despair. But while voter turnout is still an open question this year, the liberal blogosphere has helped lay the groundwork for a Fifty State Strategy, and it would behoove Democrats to leave no district behind. As Moulitsas said a few months back, “I’m not optimistic about 2006 – but I am optimistic about 2016.”
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