Nationalizing November's Midterms
by Jonathan Singer, Sun Mar 19, 2006 at 05:11:35 PM EST
Newsweek's Jonathan Alter recently sat down with DCCC chairman Rahm Emanuel to talk 2006 strategy, a conversation that focused on Democratic efforts to nationalize House elections around the country. In contrast, Alter writes,
The Republican strategy is to localize the contests. Republicans are banking on having bought off enough votes with the type of local pork-barrel projects that Democrats once used. The flaw in the GOP logic is that the last three midterms have all been nationalized. In 1994, the big issue powering the Gingrich Revolution was widespread dislike of Clinton. In 1998, Democrats held their own because of a national backlash against impeachment. And in 2002, Bush bucked tides that historically flow against the party controlling the White House by exploiting fears after 9/11.
In order to help nationalize this year's midterms, Emanuel intends on releasing "The Plan: Big Ideas for America" in August, a modern Democratic version of the GOP's 1994 "Contract with America." Alter didn't get the exact details of the plan but came away with this general picture.
The strategy for getting swing-district voters to fire their incumbents is already taking shape. Just as Harry Truman ran against the "Do-Nothing Congress," Democrats will run against the "Rubber-Stamp Congress," which pimped for K Street, took a dive on its critical oversight duties (particularly on Iraq) and helped the president bankrupt the country by shoveling money toward the rich. Emanuel won't say yet which votes supporting Bush he plans to wrap around the necks of incumbents. But look for gut-punch ads that highlight the incumbents' 90-plus percent backing for Bush on issues like cuts in college loans and veterans benefits, privatizing Social Security, selling out to Big Pharma on prescription drugs and halting stem-cell research. Republicans are now scurrying away from Bush, but it may be too late. They can't take those roll-call votes back.
The key to the program comes in that last sentence -- "they can't take those roll-call votes back." For all of the Republican talk of distancing themselves from their wildly unpopular President, in the past they've gone to great lengths to give George W. Bush everything he's wanted -- even during this Congress.
In a nationalized election, Republicans won't be able to talk pork, or at least the voters will care less about those projects than in other years. No, every one of the Republicans who voiced support for partially privatizing Social Security, every Republican who voted for the disappointing Medicare prescription drug bill, every Republican who voted in favor of rules defending indicted GOP leader Tom DeLay, and every Republican who voted in favor of cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, student loans and food stamps is going to face angry voters this year. This is what nationalizing the election is all about.
Maybe Rahm Emanuel is as politically deft as was Tip O'Neill, maybe not. Remember, for all of the talk of "all politics is local," O'Neill successfully nationalized the 1982 midterm elections by hammering President Reagan and the Republicans over Social Security en route to a 27-seat gain. But if Emanuel can channel O'Neill and follow through with the strategy of nationalizing the election -- even to a degree -- the next seven and a half months until election day are going to be a lot of fun.