Democrats Preparing To Cut Losses In Vulnerable Races
If you happen to be a Democrat in danger of losing this November with no real hope of closing the gap with your opponent, things are about to get a whole lot more difficult for you:
WASHINGTON — As Democrats brace for a November wave that threatens their control of the House, party leaders are preparing a brutal triage of their own members in hopes of saving enough seats to keep a slim grip on the majority.
In the next two weeks, Democratic leaders will review new polls and other data that show whether vulnerable incumbents have a path to victory. If not, the party is poised to redirect money to concentrate on trying to protect up to two dozen lawmakers who appear to be in the strongest position to fend off their challengers.
“We are going to have to win these races one by one,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, conceding that the party would ultimately cut loose members who had not gained ground.
With the midterm campaign entering its final two months, Democrats acknowledged that several races could quickly move out of their reach, including re-election bids by Representatives Betsy Markey of Colorado, Tom Perriello of Virginia, Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio and Frank Kratovil Jr. of Maryland, whose districts were among the 55 Democrats won from Republicans in the last two election cycles.
Representatives John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, chairman of the Budget Committee, and Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, who is seeking a 10th term, are among the senior Democrats who have appeared to gain little ground in the summer months in the toxic political environment. A sputtering economy and discontent with Washington have created a high sense of voter unease that has also put control of the Senate in question.
To hold the line against Republicans, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, issued an urgent plea for members in safe districts to help their endangered colleagues by contributing money. She called out Democrats who were delinquent on paying their party dues and instructed members with no re-election worries to tap into a combined $218 million from their campaign accounts to help save their majority.
“We need to know your commitment,” Ms. Pelosi wrote to lawmakers last week in a private letter, demanding that they call her within 72 hours to explain how they plan to help. She added, “The day after the election, we do not want to have any regrets.”
Party leaders have ordered new polls in second-tier districts to see if Democrats in less competitive areas are suddenly vulnerable. Democrats are scouring for signs of a Republican wave, carefully watching clusters of races in Illinois, Indiana, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which under a worst-case scenario could represent almost enough seats to lose the House.
“In 2008, there was this sense of hope and this sense of being able to change the world,” said Representative Zack Space, Democrat of Ohio. “A lot of that enthusiasm doesn’t exist now, and I think a lot of that is a result of having been in a recession for two years.”
It’s an understandable reaction, of course. Faced with limited resources and a limited amount of time, Democrats are wise to consider not throwing good money after bad in a race that they aren’t going to win anyway. As Jim Kessler points out in today’s Washington Post, however, there is another strategy for the Democrats:
There is a model for Democrats: Ronald Reagan’s triumph in 1982. What can Obama and the Democrats learn from the Great Communicator? Plenty. Reagan understood that the economy was so bad that to tout his “accomplishments” would be laughable. But though he couldn’t sell the electorate on where the nation was at the time, he knew he could sell them on where he planned to take it. With the country shaken by a series of recessions and foreign policy setbacks, he rallied Americans behind his optimism (“Don’t let anyone tell you that America’s best days are behind her”) and faith in American exceptionalism (“the last, best hope of man on Earth”). Things might look bleak today, he told voters, but blue skies lie ahead.
If Democrats are to hold on in November, they must follow Reagan’s tack, sketching a vision for the future that has the United States leading the globe with the world’s strongest economy — one fueled by private-sector growth and a successful middle class. And they must resist the temptation to succumb to a populism that portrays members of the middle class as weak, powerless victims.
Optimism wasn’t Reagan’s only tactic, of course. He also told people that there were only two routes to take — his, or the one that led back to Jimmy Carter. In the process, he portrayed the Democrats as the party of pessimism, limits and the belief that, as he put it, “the United States has had its days in the sun, that our nation has passed its zenith.”
Reagan’s strategy did work to some extent in 1982. While Republicans lost 26 seats in the House, they managed to hold the Senate and, of course, when Regan’s optimism was proven correct two years later, he was rewarded with a landslide re-election victory.
Kessler seems to think that Obama and the Democrats would have similar success if they adopted Reagan’s strategy. The problem with that thesis, however, is that Reagan’s optimism wasn’t just an affection he developed at the last minute for the 1982 elections, it was part of his message throughout the 1980 Presidential campaign, and throughout his Presidency. For the Democrats to try talking like Reagan at this late hour would sound strange to most voters, and wouldn’t be consistent with the message they’ve been putting out for the past two years.
More importantly, though, no amount of messaging is going to undue the damage that two years of bad policies and a bad economy have done to the Democratic Party in Congress. That’s why they’re wise to start cutting their loses and doing what they can to prevent a bad year from becoming horrible.