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Monday, December 19, 2005

Starting with the Districts: Examples and Conclusion

Take NY

New York is an excellent test case for this analysis.  At great deal of netroots focus has been put on:

  •  NY-13, the Staten Island district of Vito Fossella (a district with a slight net registration gain by the GOP since 2004)

  • NY-26 the district of NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds

  • and NY-29 the district of right wing Republican, Randy Kuhl

All those districts are districts that Joshua Grossman classifies as "safe GOP" and currently likely unwinnable.  According to Joshua's analysis the voters in these NY districts are likely to act like the voters in other "Safe GOP" districts like OH-02 (Jean  Schmidt) and CA-48 (John Campbell), ie. they are likely to vote Republican even  given excellent, well-funded Democratic candidates with netroots support and third candidate challenges.  That is the flip side of this district-based model; it tells us districts where our efforts, however  well-constructed, will likely fail.

In New York, Joshua's analysis instead points up:

  •  a "Lean Dem" district, NY-25, composed of Syracuse  and currently held by Jim Walsh

  • a "Toss Up" rural district in NY-23 held  by John McHugh.

The analysis also points up four NY "lean GOP" districts:

  • Sherwood Boehlert's NY-24,  

  • Pete King's Democratic-trending Long Island district NY-03 (a district which has gained 2000 Democrats on the voter rolls in the last year)

  • Sue Kelly's NY-19

  • and John Sweeney's NY-20.

In other words, here are six Republicans who are representing districts more open to a Democratic candidate than those in NY-13, NY-26 and NY-29.  If the question is where to allocate scarce time and resources, if the question is finding the most fertile ground for winning a seat with a majority of voters...Joshua's model argues for focusing on these districts. (Incidentally,  Steve Singiser recently made an analysis of the upstate districts that provides an interesting companion analysis to this point of view.)

In sum, Joshua's analysis offers an alternate start point for looking at New York.  Because it is based on voting patterns, the analysis itself doesn't have an ideological axe to grind in picking districts. In fact, because of his start points, Joshua encourages us to look at districts that are trending in our direction...and encourages casting a cold eye on districts that aren't.  If you ask Joshua...and, believe you me, I have... he will tell you that barring a major scandal affecting the incumbents, NY-13, NY-26 and NY-29 should NOT be included in the pool for targeting.  That's something to think about.  In fact, I'm writing this piece...knowing that some will strongly disagree...in part so that we might have that discussion about New York and elsewhere.


Overlooked and Under-emphasized Districts: the DCCC

One of the things that this analysis is very effective at is pointing up vulnerable Republican incumbents we might have either overlooked entirely, or neglected through a lack of emphasis (under-emphasis being one of the basic modes of the DCCC.)

In California there are two districts on everyone's list.  Richard Pombo, in CA-11, has attracted strong opposition in the Bay Area due, in part, to his atrocious environmental record...and the CA-50 district formerly represented by Duke Cunningham has been greatly in the news...scandal , of course, does that.  Joshua's model includes both of these districts.  Less in the news, and yet also in Joshua's pool of districts for evaluation are two California Republicans whose districts are also vulnerable.  David Dreier in CA-26 and Elton Gallegly in CA-24 are both in districts crying out for a coordinated Democratic challenge.  (Currently Russ Warner in CA-26, and Mary Pallant and Brett Wagner in CA-24, are set to enter the fray but with much less attention than those races might deserve. )

Even a cursory glance shows other districts that fit this bill.  In Florida, Ric Keller in FL-08, a district centered in the Orlando corridor that forms the fulcrum of Florida politics...is richly deserving a well-funded battle.  Frank LoBiondo, representing NJ-02, currently has no opponent listed with the DCCC, even though his district is ripe for a concerted Democratic effort. John Kline in MN-02 and Jerry Weller in IL-11 also pop off the list as representing districts that are vulnerable yet little emphasized. Finally, Deborah Pryce representing OH-15 voted with Tom DeLay a whopping 94% of the time though her district encompasses some hard core Democratic precincts in Columbus Ohio.  Despite this, her 2004 opponent, Mark Losey struggled with money  issues...that's not something we should let happen again.  Implicit in Joshua's analysis is a question for the DCCC, "Why not take these races seriously this time?"

Now, for many, these names will not be new.  I am not suggesting...nor is Joshua...that his model represents something unorthodox, or that these races should sound "fresh."  Just the opposite.  What's important here is that the focus is on avoiding spending money and energy on races we simply won't win when there are very similar and perhaps under-emphasized races where we can. Deborah Pryce, for example, is in many ways, a figure as easy to get riled up about as current House Whip Roy Blunt.  (Blunt, of course, is someone we here in the netroots worked mighty hard against in 2004...and represents the very "Safe GOP" MO-07). The point is, however, that Deborah Pryce represents a district where we've got a shot at winning and Roy Blunt doesn't.  Joshua's analysis points this out. In point of fact, we in the netroots find maximum leverage in exactly this kind of "neglected" race...a concerted early netroots effort against Pryce might bring a strong Democratic candidate out of the woodwork, draw mainstream Dems and DCCC funding into the battle, and, critically, afford the possiblity of delivering, as a return on our hard work and dollars, a victory in November '06.


Opposition Blogs and expanding the Playing Field

If we do nothing else in the netroots, we should make 2006 the year of the local opposition blog.  (Link to an widely influential article at Swing State Project by DavidNYC.)  Nascent efforts like leftyblogs, Districtblogs and the Soapblox family of regional blogs, like Calitics, are showing that local blogging is an incredibly powerful tool for information sharing and opposition research where it counts...in the districts themselves.

Even more powerful, however, is the opposition blog that focuses on one of these 88 districts.  Take the situation in New Jersey's 7th congressional district where there are two opposition blogs:  Nathan Rudy's Blue 7thand its sibling blog, Dump Mike.  Anyone who's followed politics realizes even with a quick look at these blogs that this is something new and powerful.  One dirty little secret of Senators and Representatives is that they control the news we read about them.  In general, we hear about our legislators only when they choose to do a press release or "make news."  No newspaper actually effectively covers votes. Given that, you can be quite sure that Mike Ferguson is an avid reader of these two blogs...blogs entirely devoted to reporting the truth about him and his voting record.

Now, you might ask what this has to do with the 88. It has everything to do with the 88.

Republicans in districts that have "Democratic tendencies" are under a hell of lot of pressure right now...and that is no coincidence.  Tom DeLay's unified Congress came with a price: these 82 representatives (minus the 6 open seats) are paying that price right now in the form of political heat.  Here's some examples:

  • Robin Hayes, in NC-08, was one of the vote switches  on CAFTA.

  • Mike Rogers, in AL-03, voted YES of CAFTA, but now has voted NO on a new free trade bill

  • Virgil Goode, a tough-to-beat incumbent in VA-05,  just returned $88,000 in Duke Cunningham-linked political contributions: "Goode led the list of those receiving MZM-linked donations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign spending."

  • Even a savvy, hardball Congressperson like Anne Northup in KY-03 has to deal with the reality of demographics in her district, a district that encompasses Louisville.  Northup is much more conservative than her district despite the fact that Bush only won 49% of the vote in KY-03.  The pressure exists acutely in all 88 districts; it's up to us to apply it.

That list could go on and on (like this diary has...argh!!).  Each one of these GOP representatives, currently an incumbent in one of the 88 districts, deserves an opposition blog and a credible local opposition candidate. Many of them, if you google their names, have no negative stories written from the netroots. (How can we in the netroots complain about the DCCC if we haven't taken that first step?)

I've seen first hand how a local blog...even one done on the free blogspot template...can grow to have immediate impact.  A couple months ago blogger Matt Lockshin and I were discussing Chris Bowers very  influential post about blogging: I'm Not Going to Blogroll You mixed with some of the ideas expressed in Joshua's analysis. I could see the gears spinning for Matt.  Within a matter of days, he and a team of netroots activists had launched SayNotoPombo in opposition to CA-11's Richard Pombo...and within weeks of that launch they had impacted the race, drawing the attention of a campaign manager to the district and winning daily hits from Congressional offices in D.C.  Reading Matt's archives and seeing how he grew the site from small blogger to becoming a source of breaking news about the race is a case study in the power of the local opposition blog.  SayNotoPombo has raised over $2000 in opposition to Richard Pombo in two months.  Not bad for a weblog with 0.02% of the traffic of dKos. (For those interested in the race, there's also Pombowatch and VotePomboOUT, both worthy of attention.)

At the start of this election cycle, conventional analysis would not have predicted that Mike Ferguson or Richard Pombo would be having to slog through this kind of opposition in late 2005.  They are.  Not just that, but you can bet that the GOP is going to spend some money defending these "lean GOP" districts where in past years these two candidates would have coasted through.  These two efforts are already helping spread the playing field for 2006.  

That's not just an example of the power of the netroots.  It's also points up that these candidates really are vulnerable.  I can't think of a more powerful and "ready-to-boom" prospect than the combination of these 88 vulnerable districts and the potential of local opposition blogs.  



Power is about leverage.  It's about fulcrum points.  I think of Joshua's analysis that way.  Joshua is saying here's where the GOP is weakest, even when the veneer of an incumbent's popularity hides the fault line...like in Tom Davis's VA-11...that fault line is still there... still vulnerable...just waiting for the Democrats to seize the advantage.

Joshua Grossman has advanced an argument that is worth examining on the merits. It’s not an end point. It’s a start point. Its strength is its common sense moderation. If we had all the resources in the world and strong Democratic machines in every state we’d run hard in every single district. We don’t. In that context we need a rubric that lets us focus on the weak points in the GOP armor wherever we find them. Joshua Grossman makes a strong case that’s worthy of debate and further analysis. One need not agree with every example of his model to give credit to Joshua’s basic point.

These 88 districts represent something at the core of what we’ve been saying all along. It really is about fighting in every region and every state; this really is a national struggle for the nation’s soul. It’s also, as Joshua points out, about finding GOP weak points and…as fighting Dems…going for the jugular in 2006.


{Joshua Grossman can be reached at Joshua@ProgressiveKick.org. If you have inquiries or would like to contribute to his organization, which will be active in the 2006 elections, contact him there.}


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