Building a Real House Majority, Part Three: The Northeast Strategy
by Chris Bowers, Thu Apr 13, 2006 at 11:33:51 AM EDT
Nixon's infamous "Southern Strategy" form 1968, based around making racially-charged appeals to whites in order to win southern electoral votes, had receptive audiences outside of the south as well. Certainly, white southerners were the primary targets of Nixon's appeals, but there can be little doubt that a smaller percentage of white around the country also were receptive to Nixon's overtures. I point this out to emphasize that while what I am about to call the "Northeast Strategy" focuses on congressional districts in the Northeast, there are congressional districts that fit into the description of the strategy all around the country.
The Northeast Strategy is based on a simple premise: it is easier for Democratic incumbents in Democratic-leaning districts to defend their seats than it is for Democratic incumbents in lean-red or solid red districts to defend their seats. It is easier on a number of levels:
- 1. Democratic incumbents in Democratic-leaning districts feel less pressure to defect from the Democratic majority position on key votes;
- 2. It is more difficult for Republicans to find and recruit strong candidates in majority-Dem districts, given a smaller pool of potential candidates in the general population and among lower-level elected officials;
- 3. Democratic incumbents in lean-red and solid-red districts will be targeted by the RNC and NRCC before Democratic incumbents in lean-blue districts will;
- 4. Very few congressional elections see enough of a national swing to flush out a significant number out incumbents even in lean-red or blue districts. In fact, outside of 1994 and 2002, since at least 1992 there has not been a single year when the national popular vote for the House would have suggested that a Democratic incumbent in even a district with only a +1.5% Dem Partisan Voting Index would have lost.
The "Northeast strategy," as I propose it, entails looking at potential 2006 Democratic pickups in the House, and weighting their order of value based upon the degree of difficult in holding the seat once we take it. For example, after 2006, it will be far more difficult to hold the TX-22 than it would be to hold the CT-02. Thus, at least when only this factor is considered, it would make sense for Democrats to spend more resources trying to take a district like the CT-02 than trying to take the TX-22. While the two districts might cost the same amount of resources to win in 2006, the CT-02 would take far fewer resources to hold after 2006. Thus, for the sake of our chances in future elections, if we were forced to choose between which seat to take, the choice would have to be the CT-02, no matter how sweet it would be to win DeLay's old district.
Now, I am not writing about this strategy to in any win diminish my personal commitment to the fifty-state strategy. I still believe 100% in competing everywhere, in challenging Republicans everywhere, and on staying away from selective targeting of races and states as much as possible. I feel, instead, that this is another strategic layer to an overall theory of retaking the House that I have been looking at since the 2004 election. Specifically, I am advocating for the full-scale targeting of every Republican held seat with a partisan voting index of +1.5% Democratic or more in every election. While I believe that every Republican in Congress should face a democratic challenger with at least $40K to run a campaign, I also believe that every Republican in a district with a Democratic PVI of 1.5 or more should face a challenger with at least $400K and a strong, complimentary grassroots / netroots operation. This should be the target for every election cycle.
There are eighteen seats currently held by Republicans that meet the criteria I laid out above. Most, but by no means all, can be found in the northeast. All of them would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Republicans to win in most years if they are facing a Democratic incumbent. Those eighteen seats are as follows:<Br.<Br> CO-07, CT-02, CT-04, CT-05, DE-AL, FL-22, IA-01, IA-02, IL-10, KY-03, NH-02, NJ-03, NM-01, NY-25, PA-06, PA-07, PA-08, PA-15, WA-08
If we take any of these seats, it is going to be very difficult for Republicans to get them back without redistricting the seat. However, since Republicans already drew the gerrymandered lines in most of these seats, and because Republican control over state legislatures looks as though it will be considerably weaker in 2010 than it was in 2000, even that is not very likely.
Certainly, Democrats have to defend more of these types of seats than Republicans. In fact, DavidNYC puts our defense list of these sorts of seats at 25, seven more than the Republican total of 18. However, 2006 is not going to be the sort of year where Republicans are going to be able to seriously challenge, much less actually defeat, many Democratic incumbents in lean-red or solid red districts. The serious challengers just are not there, and in a year that will go at least lean-Democratic, Republicans will be spending their resources playing defense. Thus, 2006 presents Democrats with an opportunity to increase the number of safe and fairly safe districts for us to hold going into the 2008 and 2010 elections. For every seat listed above that we win this year, we save several hundred thousand dollars for our campaigns in 2008 and 2010. Like the fifty-state strategy, this would actually provide us with more resources, not less, to target swing districts in any given cycle.
Quite a few of these seats are already high on the target list for the DNC and the DCCC. However, not all of them are. DE-AL, IA-02, IL-10, NH-02, NY-25, and PA-15 have not received much national attention. PA-07 is quickly rising in national prominence, and I would like it to stay that way. NY-25 is close to my heart, and actually has a reasonably strong challenger this time around in Dan Maffei. Last time, we didn't even run a challenger in that seat, which ahs a Democratic PVI of +3.4%. I hope that our previous lack of attention to that seat does not hurt Maffei, but it probably will. That is all too reminiscent of our near failures to find candidates for PA-15 and IA-02, even in a year with as much promise as 2006.
This is not a complicated strategy, and I think it makes pretty obvious sense in terms of resource distribution. I have no problem throwing a lot of our resources to win seats like IN-09 and TX-22, both of which saw Kerry drop under 40% in 2004. We can win those seats, and we need to push hard for them. However, if one takes the long view into account, seats with Democratic PVI's should be our primary targets. It will produce easier to hold seats with more loyal representatives. It is essential in building a real majority in the House.