Thursday, April 27, 2006

Hope against hope

Here's how desperate the Democrats are: In announcing the first 22 "targeted" House races for 2006, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Rahm "Hired Truck" Emanuel named eight districts where John Kerry got 45% or less of the vote in 2004. Josephine Hearn of The Hill reports:
Confident that their political prospects are the rosiest in recent memory, House Democrats are planning a more aggressive effort to direct money to promising Democratic challengers this year.

Over the next week, they will kick off a revamped Red to Blue Program that will benefit more challengers and start earlier than in previous election years.

In 2004, Red to Blue raised $7.5 million for 27 candidates, resulting in an average take of more than $250,000 per campaign. Democrats hope to improve on those numbers.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), revealed the names of the first 22 beneficiaries of the program in a letter yesterday to his Democratic colleagues. For the most part, they represent the strongest Democratic challengers.

“This is an exclusive program that rewards the candidates and campaigns that are most skilled, not only at raising money on their own, but at getting their message across to the voters they hope to represent,” Emanuel wrote. Other members active in the program concurred, adding that fundraising ability and success attracting press coverage had been key criteria in selecting the members.

You can go read the whole thing, but the key point is that Emanuel -- even to have a mathematical possibility of taking back the House for Dems -- is apparently forced to "target" districts that went 55%-64% for Bush in 2006.

Among those are certain obvious choices: The 50th District in California, where former Rep. Duke Cunningham is now in federal prison. I mean, when a congressman goes down in a huge stinking scandal, that's got to be some kind of an opportunity, and you can't blame Emanuel for targeting the seat. But as DailyKos has noted, Dem challenger Francine Busby can't break 45% in a district that's still staunchly Republican.

But some of the other DCCC "targets" are simply hopeless. I'd say it's a waste of time and money for Democrats to support Heath Shuler in North Carolina's 11th District, where incumbent Republican Rep. Charles Taylor has a district that gave just 43% of its vote for Kerry in 2004. Ditto for Ken Lucas' hopes of knocking off incumbent Republican Rep. Geoff Davis in Kentucky's 4th District, where Kerry got just 36% in 2004.

Note that Emanuel is touting the success of the Dems' "Red to Blue" program in raising $7.5 million in 2004. But the GOP kicked butt in 2004. When your definition of "success" doesn't actually involve winning elections, you've got a problem. (MoveOn.org is the most obvious example of this problem.)

There are some genuinely hopeful districts on the DCCC's target list, but not anything like enough to take down the GOP House majority. And remember, Dems have to defend some vulnerable seats, too -- there's Al "Beach Boy" Mollohan in West Virginia, for instance. But some of Emanuel's "targets" make no sense at all: Why go after Republican Rep. John Hostettler in Indiana's 8th District, where Kerry got just 38% of the vote in 2004?

It's true that Hostettler has an aversion to fundraising -- he doesn't take PAC money -- and has faced a series of close contests in the past. But winning that district will be a cinch for any GOP campaign team with a lick of sense:
  • Bring in Dick Cheney, Condi Rice and other big names for fundraising events.
  • Schedule an early light run of warm "feel-good" ID ads on radio and TV: "John Hostettler: Great American."
  • As soon as the Dem challenger goes negative (it's a given), do the anti-negative thing: "Why is Brad Ellsworth resorting to dirty smear tactics against a great American like Johh Hostettler?"
This is Campaigning 101, and given Republicans' awareness of their vulnerability in this mid-term election, the GOP will send in their ace guys to help Hostettler if he really needs it. So despite all the talk, Indiana's 8th is a real long shot for Emanuel & Co.

The Democrats are pumping sunshine up everybody's skirts right now, and what they're risking is a repeat of what happened with the bogus exit-poll numbers on Election Day 2004: Everybody gets all giddy and expectant and then, when the bitter reality comes home to roost, there's a furious backlash.

Emanuel would be smart to remind Democrats that, despite their party's genuine positives for 2006, the GOP isn't going to roll over and play dead between here and November. I've been telling people that this election's going to be rough-and-tumble fight, a real thrill ride that keeps everybody awake until the wee hours on Nov. 8. It's going to be close, and there's no telling at this point how it will turn out. But looking at this DCCC list of 22 top "targets," I don't get the sense that Emanuel has any special mojo working.

-- McCAIN

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