Categorizing potential Dem pick-ups and future thinking

It is looking more and more likely that the Democrats will win a majority in the House of Representatives. The national mood is solidly against Republicans, solidly against Bush, and so far the public seems to be buying into the Democratic credible promise of oversight and adult supervision of the really dumb ideas from the Bush administration. The Foley cover-up meltdown has only confirmed in the public’s mind that the Republican Party stands solely for power at this time, and therefore does not deserve to wield power. Things are looking good, so I will again attempt to make myself look like an idiot and think about a potential future.

As I see it, there are five groups of seats that the Democrats have a strong chance of winning. These seats will have different profiles in the probability of short and long term re-election rates, and they will also have different preferred policy portfolios.

1) GOP held seats in Blue districts — the CT Three, the Philly belt for top tier, NH-2 for a second tier race — are the most obvious examples of seats that are trending solidly blue, and moderate Republicans are fighting against the national tide this year. Symbolic fights and good constituent service combined with lots of funding would normally be enough for these Republicans to escape defeat, but this could be a smaller analogue of 1994’s treatment of conservative Southern Democrats for these Northeastern moderate Republicans.

2) Traditional swing seats such as Indiana-8 where both parties have this seat circled on their challenge map for the past three cycles and the next eight cycles. Lots of money, lots of advertising, and strong candidates that are guaranteed to produce attritional slugfests which will define the national mood.

3) Time for a change seats that are marginally conservative (PA-10, PA-4) but have decent Democratic strength. Good campaigns combined with the incumbent screwing things up are needed for significant gains in these seats, but if Democrats win, these seats are the padding to a majority.

4) What the hell seats such as Wyoming At-Large, and Idaho 1 where the GOP nominates weak candidates and are relying on institutional and infrastructure advantages against an energized and fresh Democratic opposition.

5) No way in hell am I voting for that bastard seats — TX-22, NY-24, FL-16 — These seats look to be likely Democratic pick-ups due to monumental screw-ups, indictable offenses and generally poor judgement of the Republican incumbents.

These five categories are how I see the potential pick-ups for Democrats this November. Some seats fit into more categories than one. For instance PA-10 is a conservative district with a Republican entrenched in a mistress choking scandal so it can be categorized as 75% #3 and 25% #5.

The Democratic Party’s incumbent base is pretty strong as they survived the tough years of 2002 and 2004. The incumbents have won election and re-election in very strong anti-Democratic years. So the question is if the Democrats pick up a majority, how do they defend that majority in future elections.

Democrats who knock off Republicans who hold blue districts (group #1) are the easiest candidates to protect in future elections. Run as generic to liberal clean government Democrats who are in favor of the Democratic Party acting as an opposition party, and these future incumbents should see a high re-election rate.

Good constituent service, good campaigning and an ability to bring home the bacon is one strategy for Democratic incumbents who just won in swing seats. I don’t think that the Democratic Party can reshape the national mood and sub-group identification that drives voter preference and participation enough in a short enough time to provide significant issue based protection for these individuals. Another strategy is to adapt the Republican practice of seeing a 218-217 vote as an ideal vote as that would allow several vulnerable Democrats to hide on controversial issues. This group over the intermediate to long term (3+ cycles) need to move the current group of swing races into solid Democratic seats, so that the third group of races are the new swingable races.

The third group is the toughest group to predict on how to protect. Here I believe basic accountability and a strong committment to oversight would work pretty well. Avoid the social conservative redmeat issues that some Democrats and liberal pundits believe can be used to buy peace. For instance, ignore William Salentan of Slate’s advice to trash the practicality of reproductive rights even while mouthing platitudes towards keeping them legal. This strategy has been a failed strategy of appeasement. Look for wedge issues such as the 95-10 abortion reduction strategy to seperate the hardcore social conservatives from people who are actually concerned about pragmatic solutions. Stem cells has been a beautifully played wedge issue this cycle. This group will often need to be protected, and it will be a source of frustration to liberals, but I think that if we liberals remember this magical phrase “AGENDA SETTING POWER” we’ll be happy enough.

The fourth group is a bit easier to define a strategy but harder to defend as the institutional weakness of the Democratic Party is still a problem in the Mountain West. Keep away from the moralizing, keep away from bedroom issues, keep away from gun control, and continue the leave me alone/privacy policies. Also continue to promote the emerging environmental/outdoor user/sportsman alliances while encouraging short term increases in energy extraction under the guise of “energy independence” with a long term goal of changing the basis of energy within the US economy. Wilderness environmentalism v. pollution environmentalism is going to be a problem here. These are seats the Democrats if they win are going to have a relatively high attrition rate on.

The final group are the toughest seats to defend. These seats should be the top challenges for the GOP in 2008 as the districts tend to be pretty damn conservative with strong GOP machinery within them. I don’t think a whole lot can be done on the policy side besides allowing these Democrats to be on the losing side of a lot of close votes. These Democrats if they want to hold their seat have to know where every Social Security check is to be delivered and be able to call Grandma Millie on the 1st of the month to ensure that she got it.

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