Did Any Democratic Committees Work?
by Matt Stoller, Fri Jan 05, 2007 at 04:49:57 AM EST
Winning is great, but it's also an intoxicant and it can be a mirage, particularly in America. We love winners. We hate losers. If you win you were right. If you lose there's nothing valuable to learn. You saw this for a few years after Dean lost, when insiders would dismiss the internet and say 'Oh well Dean lost so that proves the internet doesn't matter', or when insiders would talk about how Bush used the internet so much better than Kerry did. I don't think that's true, but the biggest piece of evidence for the Bush team's internet skill was Bush's victory. That's kind of silly and when the GOP talked of how they dominated the internet they made a miscalculation.
Here's a similar and very real problem we have to tackle - the failure of much of our infrastructure in 2006.
This may be small consolation for Republicans, who lost their Senate and House majorities to the Democrats in the fall 2006 elections, but it could have been a lot worse.
Of the 202 Republicans sworn in Thursday as members of 110th Congress, 15 maintained GOP control of their seats by margins of just 3 percentage points or less. On the other side of the aisle, just two of the 233 members of the new Democratic majority were winners of contests in which they retained their party's control by similarly razor-thin margins.
In the Senate, where Democrats claimed a 51-49 majority with a six-seat net gain, only one seat was maintained by the incumbent party by fewer than 3 points, and it too was won by a Republican: Tennessee's Bob Corker, the former Chattanooga mayor who edged Democrat Harold E. Ford Jr. for the seat that Republican Bill Frist -- the outgoing Senate majority leader -- left open to retire.
While Corker secured a six-year hold on his Senate seat, the close House races will be closely analyzed by strategists of both major parties as they determine which seats to target in the 2008 House campaigns.
On the bright side for the Republicans, their close winners proved their mettle in an unusually tough political environment for their party, and most fended off tough and highly touted Democratic challengers.
The Republicans won nearly all the close races. That means that we won because of a tidal national wave, and our newfangled databases, field programs, and infrastructure on a national level is not particularly good. The Republican machine is still superior to ours, and it's not clear if we've even begun to catch up (though I think we have).
There are a few questions someone has to think about:
- Is there really an honest conversation about our political operations? Do we really know what worked and what didn't? Do we know why lots of our House women lost?
- Did the DCCC really make a difference this cycle? Is the 50 state strategy actually working?
- Is it possible that electoral machinery is not that important, and that we place too much importance on cult figures who promise all the answers?
- Why is the conversation in the blogs about field so content-poor and difficult to have?
- Is our children learning?
Anyway, I don't really have answers. I am disturbed by all the close losses, and heartened by the victory anyway. Lots of tools are going to open up now with control of Congress - Republicans won't be able to bribe local groups with earmarks anymore, for starters.
Still, is our children learning?
Update: It's a great conversation in the comments. There are several reasons I'm skeptical of our 'infrastructure' - on the House side, candidates like Larry Kissell and Eric Massa went wanting for support in the final days even as people like Tammy Duckworth and Ken Lucas were feted with resources. Others like Lois Murphy, Dianne Farrell, Patricia Madrid, and Mary Jo Kilroy did poorly. Tim Mahoney barely beat Mark Foley. It seems like there might be something wrong with the targeting and messaging. More to the point, we really have no idea why these people lost, why we lost these close races, and how the 50 state strategy fits into any of it. There's almost no tranparency in targeting, field, or party building. That's kind of the point of this post. Yes, we won the House and the Senate, let's not have that obscure the need for a lot more information sharing.