Sean Oxendine's blog

Did Unopposed Seats Cause The Democrats' Gains To Be Understated?

Fivethirtyeight is always an interesting and entertaining read, but I think Nate Silver overreaches in his piece from last week entitled "Are the Republicans Still a National Party?"  My disagreement here isn't so much with his tentative conclusion, which I think is indeterminate at this point.  I tend to agree more with his initial answer to the question, which was in essence "we'll have a better idea if this is a re-alignment in 2016."  After all, when I took David Mayhew's elections course in 1992, we began the semester reading articles about the permanent Democratic majority in the House and the Republican lock on the electoral college.  Both theories were toast within two cycles.  Many of us will remember 2004, when Republicans were crowing about how their strong position in the South and Mountain West, how the Upper Midwest was trending their way, how they had won 97 of the fastest growing 100 counties, and how the Democrats were being reduced to a coastal party relegated to decaying, dying urban cores.  Heck, I remember 1998, when Republicans held every district in the Mountain West and the Great Plains except for five.

For that matter In the non-wave year of 2004, Democrats came within single digits of House Republicans in only about ten races, and within twenty points of House Republicans in about forty.  This before they picked up fifty seats over the course of the next two elections.  In other words, things can change very, very quickly in politics, I think the whole concept of re-alignments and permanent majorities is largely bunk in the modern world of personality- and media-driven elections.  In other words, I think the Democrats' position may be a lot more precarious than many seem to think it is.  But time will tell on that point, and it may well be that we're seeing the first thing that resembles a truly permanent majority in a long, long time.  It's just too early to tell.

But there was one thing that I pretty strongly disagreed with Silver on.  He writes that:

What happens when a candidate runs unopposed varies from state to state. Some states automatically award him the seat without putting him on the ballot or tallying his votes. The House popular vote total, therefore, will not give any credit to the Democrats when this happens. Other states will put the candidate on the ballot by himself (or against third-party opposition), let the voter punch the card for him, and then tally the results. When this happens, though, there is often a rather severe undervote, since there's not much reason to vote in a contest where you have only one choice.The upshot of this is that the House popular vote tends to discount those areas where a party is so dominant as to discourage competition, because less competition in a district also means fewer votes in that district. Congressional Districts have roughly the same number of people as one another, and so a fairer way to evaluate the House might simply be take the average of the vote share received by each party across all 435 districts (giving a candidate credit for 100 percent of the vote when he runs unopposed). If we do things this way, then we find that the Democrats won, on average, 56.0 percent of the vote on November 4th, and the Republicans 41.3 percent. That's a difference of 14.7 points, far more formidable than nominal 8.9 point advantage that the popular vote total gave them.

It's true that unopposed candidates result in an undervote, but in this case the undervote is probably for the Republicans, though its very difficult to measure.  First off, there were only eight congressional districts where Republicans failed to field a candidate where no votes were recorded:  AR-01, FL-03, FL-17, FL-20, GA-04, GA-05, LA-03, and WV-01.  This certainly hurt Democrats to varying degrees.

But what about the remaining thirty-three seats?  All of them recorded some vote for members of Congress, and many of these members who didn't have Republican opposition still had some type of opposition (in many of these districts, we'll see a Libertarian or a Green candidate get an uncharacteristicly high 20%+ of the vote). 

More importantly, it appears that the Democrats by-and-large still vote for the Democrat in this situation, and that the undervote comes from Republicans.  I've taken these thirty-three seats, recorded the Democrats' vote in 2008, and then put in the next columns their margins when they had Republican opposition.  As you can see, there is really only one instance -- MI-14 -- where the Democrat came even close to his unopposed margin in the face of major-party opposition.  [ED NOTE:  For some reason this table looks right in "edit" mode, but doesn't publish correctly]

District 2008 vote 2006 margin 2004 margin
AL-07 228,518   122,389
AR-02 212,303 43,420 45,179
AR-04 203,178 84,827  
CA-18 130,192 28,590 53,759
CA-28 137,471 54,104 77,435
CA-30 242,792 112,327 129,217
CA-31 110,955   67,315
CA-32 130,142   54,107
CA-37 131,342   37,157
CA-38 130,211 46,326  
IL-17 220,961 28,904 60,460
MA-02 234,369    
MA-03 227,619   111,839
MA-05 225,947   91,420
MA-08 185,530    
MA-09 242,166 122,052  
MA-10 272,899 93,277 107,134
MI-14 227,841 129,134 178,592
MO-01 242,570 92,209 148,867
NJ-10 169,945    
NY-06 132,055    
NY-09 100,156   65,574
OR-01 237,567 69,775 68,607
OR-04 273,143 66,137 87,729
PA-14 242,326    
TN-06 193,854 69,412 79,925
TN-08 180,366 82,115 113,770
TN-09 198,389 72,289 149,070
TX-09 143,868   72,330
TX-16 130,375   58,605
VA-03 239,911   89,179
VA-09 207,306 67,566 51,540
WI-04 222,728 82,254 126,454

You may argue that the increased turnout in 2008 makes any comparison to 2006 or 2004 irrelevant.  Perhaps, but we would probably expect to see at least one district where the unopposed Democrat won with a small margin than when he faced major-party opposition.

But to the extent we can compare like districts (we can't, for example, compare Watson's district to Waxman's district) where there was major party opposition to those where there was not, we see similar results.  For example, with the exception of MA-08, the Mass districts are all pretty similar (as far as Congressional districts go) in terms of partisan bent and demographics.  We see that the unopposed Democrats got between 225,000 and 272,000 votes (In MA-08 the Democrat got  185,000 votes).  The opposed Democrats didn't fare too much better, receiving between 203,000 and 226,000.  The difference was that in the districts where a Republican was on the ballot, the Republican tended to get about 80,000 votes, reducing the Democrats' margin in those districts to about 120,000.  Perhaps its possible that there weren't a similar number of Republicans in the unopposed Massachusetts districts, and perhaps its possible that there were even more Democrats waiting to vote against a Republican in these districts, but that strikes me as improbable given the overall similarity (again, relatively speaking for Congressional districts) of these districts.

We see similar results in Tennessee, where unopposed Democrats in fairly diverse districts TN-06, TN-08, and TN-09 got 193,000, 180,000, and 198,000 votes respectively, while Democrats in TN-04 and TN-05 got 140,000 and 180,000 votes.  The Republican in those latter districts got 94,000 and 85,000 votes respectively, reducing the margin of the winner substantially vis-a-vis the opposed Democrat. 

Finally, let's note that there is a reason why you might get a better result by averaging winning margins.  The reason is that, while Congressional districts in states that aren't single-member are generally pretty similar with respect to the number of persons in their districts, they aren't with respect to the number of voters. Typically, urban Democratic districts have averaged lower turnout than Republican districts, especially in urban minority districts, althought with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, the difference may not be as pronounced this time around.

An Interesting Republican Pickup Opportunity

CNN is headlining that PEBO is planning on naming Sen. Ken Salazar as his Interior Secretary.  This will result in the appointment of a replacement by incumbent Democratic governor Bill Ritter.  The seat was set to be up in 2010 anyway, so there will likely be no special election (unless there is a simultaneous special election to fill out the last two months of Salazar's term, which is possible depending on how the law is worded.  Such an election would give the new Senator a leg up on seniority).

This may be a situation like Colorado Senate last time around, when Democrats were placed in a worse position by the retirement of incumbent Wayne Allard (although they still won the seat handily).  Like Allard, Sen. Salazar was headed for re-election in 2010 with fairly tepid approval ratings, which may have made beating him an even easier pickup for Democrats than the open seat turned out to be.

It will be interesting to see who Ritter appoints as Salazar's replacement.  Colorado has five Democratic representatives in Congress, but two of those just won their seats while a third -- Rep. Diana DeGette -- is probably too far to the left to hold the seat in 2010.  Ed Perlmutter would be a good choice -- he's in his second term.  Democrats hold two statewide offices, with Barbara O'Brien as Lieutenant Governor and Cary Kennedy as State Treasurer, although I'm not certain whether either is considered Senate material.

Assuming Ritter doesn't go with Perlmutter, that leaves the other Representative, Rep. John Salazar, as a solid replacement for his brother.  Salazar is a centrist Democrat who represents a Republican-leaning district, giving him a solid base in a swing area of the state.  The two things going against him would be charges of making the seat a hereditary gift and the competitive special election which would take place in his seat (Obama likely barely carried the district, but it likely did not swing as heavily to him as did the rest of the state).  Anyway, unless Ritter appoints a caretaker, I'd bet on either Salazar or Perlmutter taking the seat.

On the Republican side, Republicans dream about former Governor Bill Owens running for the seat, but he indicated little interest in running in 2004 in a much more favorable political environment for Colorado Republicans.  Secretary of State Mike Coffman was just elected to the House, leaving relatively-newly-minted Attorney General John Suthers as the only statewide elected official.  Rep. Tom Tancredo is likely challenging Ritter for election as Governor, and Rep. Doug Lamborn is pretty new to his job.  The cupboard is pretty bare here, unless Republicans pull Owens or quarterback John Elway out of their wazoo.  But appointees also don't have a wonderful track record, and the political environment is likely to be at least somewhat more favorable for them in 2010 than in 2006 or 2008, so anything is possible at this point.

UPDATE:  In the comments, someone points out a rather obvious overlooked candidate:  Denver mayor John Hickenlooper.  My thought on Hickenlooper is that he doesn't have the benefit of a Salazar or a Perlmutter who represent a swing areas of the state -- Denver is pretty solidly Democrat.  Moreover, in many states -- don't know if this applies to Hickenlooper or Colorado in general -- you try to avoid having a politician from a major metropolitian area run for statewide office, because there is usually friction between that area on the rest of the state.  But if we're going to have a mayor of Denver, what about Wellington Webb?  He's a little old, but he was fairly popular, and would have the added bonus of being the first African American Senator from Colorado.  Or, to keep the seat Hispanic, name Federico Pena, who surprisingly is only 61 years old.

We Won. Weird.*

For the first time in about four years, the GOP had what could reasonably be described as a successful election night.  Patrick has covered the strategic implications of this nicely; I would only add a reminder that our concerns aren't academic; in 2008 we left fifteen Republican-leaning districts held by Democrats uncontested, many of which were in areas of the country where Obama severely underperformed, and which could have been susceptible to negative coattails this time around.  This can't be allowed to happen in 2010 if we want to seriously contest control of the House.  And this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the success of candidates like Cao probably can be used to induce more challengers into races in districts that are much more naturally competitive.

I also think the apparent win of John Fleming (pending recounts and counting of provisional ballots) is good news for Republicans.  Had this election been held pre-November 4, I feel pretty comfortable saying Republicans would have lost.  Given the extreme narrowness of the win, it is more ambiguous than I would have liked, but nevertheless this is the exact type of district Republicans were losing in special elections earlier in 2008.  In fact, Republicans lost districts a lot like this in 1998 (MS-04), 2002 (LA-05, TN-04), and 2004 (LA-03), and 2008 (AL-02, AL-05).  Of course, we won a lot of these types of districts in the timeframe as well.

At any rate, I think the best we can say about this race is that we have another datapoint, but it lies on the "improvement from 2004-2008" side of the ledger.  Then again, MA-05 would have fallen on that side of the ledger as well, but the consecutive good results in GA and LA gives greater cause for hope for Republicans since early 2005.  Which is saying something.

Along these lines, I think it is useful to resurrect an old chart I made, which compiles the number of seats held by Republicans against the party that held the Presidency, going back to Roosevelt.  There's an obvious trend here.  Political scientists have debated the reason for this, but I'm partial to the theory that the American people instinctively wish to balance out the party that holds the Presidency.  In close races like LA-04 and LA-02, that tendency can make the difference.  Hopefully that trend will continue into 2010, and close races Republicans lost in 2008 like IL-14, MS-01, and LA-06 will have different outcomes.  Of course, recruiting quality candidates and raising money will go a long way to accomplishing that goal.**


*hat tip to Kos for coming up with this title after his party's successful 2005 elections.

The Real Test Is Saturday

First apologies for the absence.  I had hoped to liveblog Tuesday's results, but I have one word for you:  rotovirus.  After my bout with hand/foot/mouth disease two weeks ago all I can say is that life gets interesting after your kid starts pre-school.  They become glorified little germ factories.

Republicans are obviously in relatively high spirits after the thumpin' of incumbent  challenger Jim Martin in Tuesday's special elections.  It was pretty widely expected that Saxby Chambliss would win re-election, but most people expected at best an eight-to-ten-point win (the number I had in my mind).  Chambliss won by about fifteen points.

Reactions and interpretations to the election have been varied.  For a good roundup of reactions, check out MichaelW's post at QandO.  My sense is this:  It is a good datapoint for the GOP, but it is only one datapoint.  It is far too early to conclude that the GOP is on the mend, or that Democrats' standing with the voters has begun to decline.  On the other hand,  I think we have some good evidence for the following:

1) This election is only a datapoint, but it is a useful datapoint -- Although turnout was lower than the general election, this was a very high turnout special election.  Chambliss actually received about 200,000 more votes than he received in the 2002 midterm election, while Martin received about as many votes as Cleland did that year.  In other words, I'm more comfortable with using this election as a datapoint than I am with using most other special elections (not very).

2) "Save the filibuster" is a useful slogan for 2010 -- Democrats are going to have a harder time in the 2010 Senate midterms than many expect right now.  This isn't to say that they are doomed, or are going to lose seats, or anything like that; just that we have some evidence that the size of their majorities poses a potential problem for them.  One of the theories for why the President's party has lost seats in almost every midterm election going back to the Era of Good Feelings is that voters rationally choose to counterbalance the President by beefing up the opposition party.  If this is the case, then the prospect of truly unlimited power for the President's party should act as a significant brake on that party's ability to advance to sixty seats, absent some good luck (eg if the Senate election rotation was timed such that Republicans had open seats in heavily blue states like Rhode Island and California this time around, such that voters there wanted such power for the President, against the wishes of much of the rest of the country).

Polling data show that a good chunk of Martin's voters were concerned enough about the prospect of a filibuster-proof Democratic majority to call into question whether they would vote for him.  We don't know how many of Chambliss's voters in the special election echoed this concern, but given the Rasmussen result, we may be able to infer that they are not inconsequential in number.  And that's at a time when Obama has approval ratings in the 60s, something that is unlikely to last once he gets to business of actually governing.  Assuming that Obama's approvals only decline to the mid-50s by 2010 (which would be an outstanding result for him), the "save the filibuster" attack would hold considerable promise for a GOP that is only defending three seats in states that went for Obama by more than his national average (and only marginally so at that).

3) Obama had coattails -- We knew this before the election, but this gives us some idea as to the magnitude of how many people showed up just to vote for him.  I'd been skeptical that we'd really seen a permanent upward tick of black participation in the electorate, or that youth participation would remain as high going into 2010.  This lends some support to that theory.  For a fuller explanation, see Michael Barone's excellent breakdown of the November/December election results in Georgia.

4) The real test is Saturday -- On Saturday a Republican and Democrat will face off in the election for the Fourth Congressional district in Louisiana.  What makes this election somewhat useful is that this district has a similar partisan makeup to LA-06 and MS-01, two Republican districts that Democrats picked up in special elections earlier this year by running moderate-to-conservative Democrats.  While I will urge caution here because there are still important differences -- the Republican candidate is stronger than the Republican candidate in LA-06 and the Democrat is the urban candidate here (he was the rural candidate in MS-01) -- the fact that we have two relatively similar case studies of pre-Obama special elections to weigh against a post-Obama special election could allow us to draw some useful inferences here that we would not normally be able to draw from a special election result.

This should be a close race -- Democrats after all were winning open seats in the South with regularity before 2006/2008; see LA-05, LA-03, TN-04, etc.  But if Republicans win the Louisiana district by more than a couple of points, combined with the Chambliss result, we will begin to have some good evidence that the anti-Republican backlash of the last few years has really begun to subside.  Stay tuned.

This Apolcalyptic Rhetoric Is Getting Ridiculous

In the last couple weeks we've seen no shortage of sentiment implying that the GOP is in something akin to death throes, provided that it doesn't come to resemble something other than the modern GOP.  This post has been building in me for a while, but the latest piece by Ron Brownstein, titled The Bush GOP's Fatal Contraction, kind of set me off.

Look, I'm not going to say that nothing bad happened to Republicans on November 4.  I don't need to repeat the litany of losses we suffered that day.  If you've forgotten, read Brownstein's piece.  I've seen those numbers myself.

But I don't think its fair to say that "Bush leaves behind a party that looks less like a coalition than a clubhouse."  It is a pretty d*mn big clubhouse.  In the past few years, under a Republican President's watch, we've had two wars go badly, one of which a very large chunk of the country believes was unnecessary and founded on lies, a recession begin, instances of severe corruption, sex scandals, graft, massive deficit spending, and a city go under water, the financial system collapse, and a Republican President argue for a $700 billion bailout.  All that was missing was plagues of locusts, and I'd have signed up for Hal Lindsay's newsletter.  The Democrats nominated not just a political candidate, but a pop culture phenomenon, who raised three quarters of a billion dollars over the course of his campaign, who ran (at least in Virginia) on a platform of ending a foreign adventure, tax cuts for 95% of the American people, a health care plan in the middle of the free market and government-run plan, and good old fashioned mom and apple pie.

The result?  The Democrat got about 53% of the vote, about the same as the first President Bush got against Dukakis, and if 5% higher than Kerry performed.  Lest you think that this can all be chalked up to the racism of those darned West Virginians, Obama only ran about eight-tenths of a point behind Congressional Democrats.

In other words, about 9 in 20 voters voted for Republicans, versus 11 in 20 Democrats.  In similar circumstances like 1952 and 1920, the verdict against the in-party has been much more dramatic.  This is a bad result, but it is not a "chuck the social/fiscal/defense conservatives over the edge" bad result. 

Brownstein continues that "[t]he consistent thread linking the 2006 and 2008 elections was the narrowing of the playing field for Republicans even as Democrats extended their reach into places once considered reliably "red."  Pardon my colloquialisms, but "well duh."  The Republican party consistently failed to perform and to produce good results over the past four years, and when it did (in Iraq), it was too late for the 2006 elections, and just in time for the business cycle to swing negative.  When the Republican party was performing well, from about 2001-2003, it looked like reliably blue areas of the country like the upper midwest and the Pacific Northwest were trending their direction, while nothing was going right for Democrats.  When you have power and you govern well, the country swings your way.  When you have power and you don't the country does the opposite.  Very quickly, it turns out.

The results of this election should not have surprised anyone, and if they did it should have only surprised them by how well the Republicans performed given the circumstances.   When you have a President with 25% approval ratings, you don't make advances into blue states, you struggle to hold on to purple states, and you lose some ground in red states.  That's not partisanship talking, that's common sense. 

And Brownstein overlooks the most important fact of all when he writes: 

But to win the GOP nomination, McCain embraced Bush's core economic and foreign policies and then selected, in Sarah Palin, a running mate who waged the culture war with a zeal that made Bush and Karl Rove look squeamish. Both decisions weakened McCain's position with centrist voters; then the financial collapse deepened the hole.

The very important fact that he overlooks is that even with Sarah Palin and McCain's supposed embrace of Bush's economic and foreign policies, McCain was leading Obama before the financial collapse took place (and this was well outside the time of the regular convention bounce).  Obama was reduced to making snarky comments about lipstick on pigs and old dead fish and running commercials about how McCain couldn't send e-mails.   He was getting ready to drop Keating 5 ads.  In other words, up until September 15, this was a very winnable race for Republicans.  It wasn't just at the Presidential level either -- between the RNC and the financial collapse, every generic congressional ballot poll had the Democrats' lead in single digits; we also had the first poll showing Republicans leading in the generic ballot since 2004.  We were headed toward a three or four Senate seat loss, rather than the seven or eight one we're looking at today.  Given the overall condition of the country even pre-AIG/Lehman Brothers, that is astounding.

If McCain had pulled it off, and Obama had received only 49% of the vote and Democrats had made minimal gains in Congress or worse, the conclusion would be either (1) that Americans are racist or (2) that Democrats just can't win the Presidency.  Sorry, but the difference between a permanent Republican majority and a pup tent Republican party isn't 4% of the vote.

Anyway, the point of all of this is to go back to something very, very important that Patrick wrote about a week ago, and which conservatives should ponder carefully before they start excommunicating any branch of the party or otherwise seriously altering their message.  He writes:

American elections are by and large not referendums on ideologies. They are contests of personality, optics, and performance in office. This goes the same for when they win or we win -- whether it's 1980, 1994, or 2006/2008. The Democrats did not have to change their ideology to win; they needed to change the charisma level of their standardbearer and needed an economic crisis and a prolonged unpopular war.

Because ideology doesn't matter in elections, and so much of politics depends on ephemeral characteristics like personality and who was in when the economy cycled south, the parties paradoxically have relatively wide latitude to govern ideologically without fear of public backlash once they get in. This is why cries of "socialism" were so ineffective during the campaign, and likewise why Bush got most of what he wanted in his early Presidency, even before 9/11. If Barack Obama is able to adopt far-left policies and make it look like he's making the trains run on time, the country will enter a new liberal era not by virtue of public opinion, but by acquiesence to what appears to be competent governance. In 1993-94, the Clintons tried to move the country to the left and looked incompetent in the process. It was the latter more than the former that opened a door for conservatives in 1994.

This is spot on.  Republicans didn't lose because they were too conservative, or not conservative enough, or didn't ban abortion, or wanted to ban gay marriage.  They lost because they were given the reigns of power, and they didn't perform.  If you look at the big party changes across recent American elections:  2006/08, 1994, 1982, 1980, 1974, 1966, 1958, they share a common thread:  The in-party screwed up.  It doesn't have much to do with what the out-party was doing.  If the Democrats screw up, all of those glowing internal exit poll numbers about Hispanics and youth and turnout and what-not will turn as depressing for them as they did in 2002 and 2004, when we were crowing about how Republicans had won 97 of the 100 fastest-growing counties.

That's the worst thing about this election for Republicans -- our fate is not really in our hands.  But in the meantime, we shouldn't act like the results from November 4 are a 1964/1984 "will we ever govern again" result, because they weren't.  What we're doing on this site is important, and the party does need to examine how it interacts with its online communities, how it presents its message, and how it attacks the incoming administration.  But that's ultimately for what happens when we are handed the reins of power.  At what point in time we're handed the reins depends as much on the results the incoming Administration is perceived as supplying as it does anything we do in the background, but in the meantime, we've got a pretty darned good bedrock to build upon.

Governors 2009/2010

Governor's races are odd birds.  Of all the races I follow -- House, Senate, Presidential, even state legislative -- they tend to be the least partisan.  The reasons are similar to the reasons that Presidential races often seem so issues-less, especially when compared to the legislative races:  People don't look at their chief executive and see a bundle of issues; they see a leader.  This is more pronounced at the local and state level, where they just see someone who fixes potholes and makes sure their kid gets funding for afterschool football.

On top of this, these races are going to be very much subject to the performance of the economy over the next few years.  In 2002, Democrats and Republicans alike suffered as chief executives were forced to make cuts in state budgets during the 2000-2001 semi-recession.  Given the full-blown recession/semi-depression we are likely headed towards, there could be a similar effect.  Sarah Palin is still very popular in Alaska, but after she cuts education to keep the budget in balance, will she still be?

So anyway, theses are very preliminary.  Right now if I had to guess, I'd say Republicans would net one or two Governor's mansions, bringing them to 23 or 24 seats.  I've bolded the ones that I think seem especially primed to change hands. 

Given the large number of open seats and undeclared candidates, I'm even less certain about these than the Senate ratings (which is pretty darned uncertain).  This is especially true of open races that I've labelled uncompetitive, since really no one can call an open Governor's race uncompetitive this early.  But just watch me.  Because I'm dangerous like that.

More below the fold.

Senate Preview 2010

In light of Patrick’s earlier post on the importance of Senate recruiting, I thought it would be good to give a preliminary outlook of where things stand in the Senate. I’ve divided the Senate seats for 2010 up into three categories for each party: Seats that will be competitive no matter what, seats that could be competitive with the right national environment and/or recruiting effort, and seats that would require a major shift in the national environment to become competitive. 

At first glance, the outlook is pretty grim for Republicans. Of the two competitive Senate seats for the Democrats, both probably at least slightly lean their way to start. For the Republicans, probably three of the four Senate seats for Republicans are at best 50-50. With the right combination of recruiting, retirements and national environment, this could easily get really bad, really quickly. Considering that at the beginning of this cycle only the open Colorado seat and maybe Oregon or Minnesota would be placed in the definitely competitive category, we see how important a role the environment and recruiting can play (indeed, without stellar recruiting by the DSCC of candidates who didn't intially want to run, AK, NH, NM, and VA might have had different outcomes). Similarly, in 2004, Senators Chafee, Allen, and DeWine, and potentially Talent, would have at best been in the “potentially competitive” category. 

But it’s a double edged sword, and shows why you should ALWAYS recruit your best candidate to run. If Tim Roemer had run against Dick Lugar in 2006 – someone considered as unassailable at recruiting time as, well, Mike DeWine – he probably would have had at least a 50-50 chance at becoming a Senator. We just don’t know how the national environment will look two years from now, and that will greatly impact who is seen as vulnerable. The situation swung wildly from Democrats to Republicans to Democrats from 1992 to 1994 to 1996, and swung pretty decisively from 2004 to 2006. It isn’t impossible to imagine Bayh or Mikulski or even Obama’s replacement being vulnerable in 2008, provided we have the right recruits in place and are running in a favorable environment. 

It’s also worth noting that the famed midterm election tendency, which finds that the President’s party always loses seats in the midterm election, simply doesn’t hold as well in the Senate. While there are only three exceptions since the Civil War in the House, there are a number of exceptions in the Senate since direct election of Senators commenced in the early 1900s, including 1962, 1970, 1982, 1998, and 2002. Therefore, we probably shouldn’t expect the “midterm tendency” to bail Republicans out.

So with that said, the ratings are below the fold.

Now That's What I'm Talking About

There's a new blog around, Red Albany, dedicated to covering the race for the New York Statehouse.  Judging from the content so far, it looks to be very well done. 

More, please.

A Reality Check On New England

The supposed big story of the Congressional races is that Republicans lost their last Congressional seat in New England with the defeat of Chris Shays.  The implications of this are supposedly ominous, as Reid Wilson declares:

But Shays' defeat shows that even someone prepared for a tough race who has spent years building his reputation within the district can go down to defeat. Republicans are going to have to re-establish a foothold in the New England before they can seriously challenge for the Speaker's gavel.

The answer to this is "hogwash."  New England holds a special place in history as the traditional seat of power in the nation.  When the Northern Republican party was in its prime, New England was the place to be, politically, economically, and culturally speaking.  But it is a crumbling ediface of its former self, with the accompanying decline of economic, cultural, and especially political influence. 

In the 1950s, New England had twenty eight Congressional districts.  In the Republican party's greatest time of historical dominance in the early 20th century, it had around thirty-three seats.  Today, New England has twenty-two states seats.  It will lose another after this census, meaning that it will have only five more seats than Massachusetts alone had at mid-century, and will barely have half as many seats as, say, Texas.  Indeed, Texas alone presently supplies about as many Republicans to Congress as all of New England supplies Democrats.

Even adding New York to the definition of New England does little to alter the analysis; by adding New York to the New England states we end up with fifty-one seats.  That's less than California, and it will drop by another three after this census.  And between New York and New England, Republicans have dropped a grand total of eleven Congressional seats (six from New York, not New England).  Even taking over every Democratic seat in New England AND New York would barely get Republicans a majority in the House. 

This isn't to say that the Republican party shouldn't compete in New England -- it should, it can (as evidenced by continued successes in gubernatorial races, competitive House races in Vermont, Maine, and Massachsetts in the worst possible conditions imaginable in the last few cycles, and continuing party competitiveness overall in New Hampshire), and it will.  A House seat is a House seat.  Obviously the Senate picture is very different, since you're looking at 12% of the Senate drawn from those states. And to the extent that problems in New England are symptomatic of problems in other, growing portions of the country, like Fairfax County Virginia or Orange County North Carolina, that point (a different one than that being made above) is taken.

But the importance of New England to holding the Speakers' gavel is grossly overstated, and is an artifact of history, much like the belief that upstate New York or downstate Illinois is staunchly Republican.  The focus of the Republican party in the short-to-medium term should remain in the Rust Belt and the Mountain West; fixing the party's problems there will do a lot more for the party's future than re-establishing its bona fides in Rhode Island.

Want To Make A Difference In The Rightosphere?

The gist of Jon's post here is that if you want to make a difference in the rightosphere, cut back on the punditry and rev up the activism.  I couldn't agree more.  As I've written before, it's embarrasing that we apparently had a close race with an outstanding candidate in NY-24, and he didn't show up on any race-watcher's radar screen.  If we don't have people on the ground looking for signs momentum from serious, articulate candidates, the people at the top will never know where to direct energy, attention, and eventually money.

For all the talk of the GOP's inability to win in New England, we've had several other races fly somewhat under the radar screen such as VT-AL last cycle, MA-05 special (this received some prominence), and ME-01, where GOP candidates kept their races in single digits at a time and place when the GOP President and brand have reached especially toxic levels (ME Bush Approval Rating: 23%).  In a normal GOP year, these races are close; in a good GOP year they are very winnable.

But the only way that we can possibly know about these races is either (1) count on the NRCC to tell us about them or (2) have activists on the ground communicating from the roots up where we have charismatic, articulate, intelligent candidates who can run effective campaigns with a sufficient amount of money.  I'll let you decide for yourselves which ones are the most important.

But if you really want to make a difference, follow a state legislative race.  I've long argued that there is a real upside to McCain losing, and that is this:  If he had won, with the economy in the shape it is in (and likely will be at least perceived as being in 2010), we would have had little chance of making gains in 2010, and could have faced another 2006-style blowout (interestingly, GOP losses in statehouses in 2008 were fairly modest). 

This in turn is important because most states will engage in their once-a-decade (usually) ritual of setting legislative districts.  Some states -- including important states such as Iowa and Arizona -- pass this off to independent commissions, but the vast majority of states do it the old fashioned way: Through partisan gerrymandering. 

One of the only reasons that the GOP was able to stay competitive in Congress for most of this decade was that for the first time in a long time, it was able to stay competitive with the Democrats in the gerrymandering department (no, the GOP did not have some nasty advantage here, as the Democrats had some pretty ugly gerrymanders of their own that didn't get much attention in MD, TN, AL, among others).  This can cut both ways, as a heavily gerrymandered state can become a disaster area for the gerrymandering party if the partisan winds shift even a little bit (see, e.g., Pennsylvania and Georgia).  But a modest gerrymander such as Ohio and Michigan can provide real bulwarks against even substantial partisan change.

Right now, we have little information about what goes on in state races.  Much will depend on what happens in open Governor's races in states like PA and AL, where an ailing Obama economy could shift things to the GOP (yes, the voters will turn on the party of change that quickly, see 1994 and 1982).  But the statehouses are a key component.  I've listed statehouses below where we're within seven in the state Senate or state House -- in other words, where flipping four seats would be enough to gain a majority:

AK-Senate, 10-10 Democrat (Reps hold House and Gov.)

CO-Senate, 20-14 Democrat (Dems hold large House majority and Gov.)

IN-House, 52-47 Democrat (Reps hold Senate and Gov.)

LA-Senate, 22-15 Democrat (Reps hold Gov.)

LA-House, 52-50 Democrat (Reps hold Gov.)

ME-Senate, 20-15 Democrat

MS-Senate, 27-25 Democrat (Reps hold Gov.)

MT-House, 50-50 Democrat (Reps hold Senate)

NV-Senate, 12-9 Democrat (Reps hold Gov., shaky)

NH-Senate, 14-10 Democrat

NJ-Senate, 23-17 Democrat

NY-Senate, 32-29 Democrat

OH-House, 53-46 Democrat (Reps hold Senate)

OR-Senate, 18-12 Democrat

PA-House, 104-99 Democrat (Reps hold Senate)

VA-Senate, 21-19 Democrat (Reps hold House)

WI-Senate, 18-15 Democrat

WI-House, 52-46 Democrat

Obviously some of these are critical.  Being shut out in Colorado would allow Democrats to improve upon the partisan gerrymander they succeeded in getting a judge to approve in the 2000 cycle, further entrenching their majorities (indeed, given that they did this in the 2000 cycle while holding onto only one chamber doesn't give me a lot of hope here).   Controlling redistricting in states like OH, LA and PA, which are slated to lose seats, can help ensure that the seats given up are Democratic seats, and not Republican seats.  Taking control of the Indiana House would allow Republicans to undo the Democrats' redistricting plan from the 2000 cycle which led to their 5-4 majority.  And making certain that we have a seat at the table in NV can help ensure that the new district is at the very least a "fair fight" district, much like NV-03 is now.

But we can't help unless we know what is going on at the local level.  You're our only connection, and we need your help if 2010 is going to be a success.

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