Sunday, October 22, 2006

Don't Count the Republicans Out

By Molly Ivins
Creators Syndicate

Thursday 19 October 2006

Stunning coincidence. The verdict in the long-running trial of Saddam Hussein in Iraq is now due two days before our congressional elections in November. Astounding. How ineffable.

Sometimes you know the Republicans have just lost the rag completely. This week, Dick Cheney said to Rush Limbaugh regarding the Iraqi government, "If you look at the general, overall situation, they're doing remarkably well." The vice president also acknowledged there's some concern because the war wasn't over "instantaneously." We have now been in Iraq just one month shy of the entire time it took us to fight World War II. Seventy Americans dead so far in October. Electricity in Iraq this year hit its lowest levels since the war started.

What infuriates me about this is the lying. WHY can't they level with us? Just on the general, overall situation.

Put me in the depressive Dems camp. We always look good going into the last two weeks, until we get hit with that wall of Republican money (though I do think Ohio is beyond political recall at this point for the R's). Of course, both sides always complain about unfair advertising, but I must admit that almost all political advertising strikes me as ludicrous and I don't notice the D's looking simon-pure. A little shading, a little emphasis here and there - I'm hard to shock on political ads, but I do get more than miffed when they take the truth and just stand it on its head.

For example, if ever there has been a friend to Social Security it would be Rep. Chet Edwards from Waco, Texas, a D loyal to the FDR, LBJ and government-exists-to-serve-the-people tradition. So what are the R's attacking him on? Not supporting Social Security. All this kind of thing does is render political debate completely meaningless.

The argument now is that D's have a seven-point structural deficit going into any election. I see the problem, I just have no idea what the actual numbers are.

Let's start with the easy end, the Senate. From the book "Off Center" by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, as recently quoted by Eric Alterman in his blog: "The mismatch between popular votes and electoral outcomes is even more striking in the Senate. Combining the last three Senate elections, Democrats have actually won 2.5 million more votes than Republicans. Yet now they hold only 44 seats in that 100-person chamber because Republicans dominate the less populous states that are so heavily overrepresented in the Senate. As journalist Hendrik Hertzberg (of the New Yorker) notes, if you treat each senator as representing half that state's population, then the Senate's 55 Republicans currently represent 131 million people, while the 44 Democrats represent 161 million people."

OK, we all know about the small-state advantage in the Senate. How did the People's House get so far out of fair? Paul Krugman explains: "The key point is that African-Americans, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic, are highly concentrated in a few districts. This means that in close elections many Democratic votes are, as political analysts say, wasted - they simply add to huge majorities in a small number of districts, while the more widely spread Republican vote allows the GOP to win by narrower margins in a larger number of districts."

I should also point out that Democrats used to pack minority voters into the same districts when they drew the redistricting lines because of simple racism. Minority candidates need more votes to win, as polling consistently shows them several points ahead of where they actually finish because some people still cannot bring themselves to vote for black politicians even if they agree with them.

For instance, race is a factor this year in Harold Ford's Tennessee Senate contest - even though political people keep pretending it's not.

I'm the one who has been writing for two years that the American people are fed up with the war in Iraq and with the Bush administration's lies and incompetence. I'm the one that keeps beating the Washington press corps about the head over how out of touch it is. I'm the one who has been insisting there's a Democratic tide out here, and that the people are so far ahead of the politicians and the media it's painful to watch.

So how come I'm not thrilled? Because I watched this happen two years ago - same rejection of the Iraq war, same disgust with Bush and Co., same understanding Republicans are for the rich, period, same polls showing D's with the lead going right into Election Day. And the same geographic gerrymander and same wall of money in the last two weeks. I'm not close to calling this election, and I'm sure not into celebrating anything yet.

Go to Original

Funding Constrains Democrats
By Jim VandeHei
The Washington Post

Wednesday October 18 2006

Party chiefs see chance to take 40-plus seats with TV push.

Top Democrats said yesterday that they are planning to significantly expand the number of GOP House seats they will target during the final 20 days of the campaign but that financial disputes and fundraising problems are hindering the effort.

Democrats said private polls have convinced top party officials that they could pick up 40 or more seats - nearly double their internal projections from a week ago - if they spend enough money on television advertising for long-shot races. Strategists James Carville and Stan Greenberg are among those pleading with party leaders to go deep into debt to run ads in as many as 50 GOP-held districts.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) has privately signed off on targeting a new group of GOP incumbents who were once considered safe for reelection, starting with Rep. Gil Gutknecht in rural Minnesota, officials said.

The number of seats Democrats could pick up "is expanding, no doubt about it," Emanuel said. "But you have to figure out what is smoke and what is fire."

Emanuel said he believes as many as 58 seats are now in play.

Still, several Democrats complained that the party is on the verge of blowing a once-in-a-decade political opportunity because of financial troubles.

The Democratic National Committee has no plans to help finance a last-minute push because it just took out a loan to spend up to $10 million more, primarily on Senate races, and particularly in Virginia and Tennessee, a top official said. "We are looking, but unfortunately there is not much more we can do," said DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney.

Harold Ickes - a Democratic operative who recently created an independent political group called the September Fund with a goal of raising $10 million to $20 million for House and Senate campaigns - said his group cannot afford to target races beyond those that Democrats have already identified as must-wins to capture control of the House for the first time since 1994.

"It has been more difficult raising money than I expected," said Ickes, noting that his group has raised between $5 million and $10 million, half its original goal. "My sense is there is more optimism than is probably warranted," he said about Democratic prospects.

If Ickes's statement is correct, most of his group's money has come in recent weeks. According to the latest Federal Election Commission filings, Ickes's group had raised slightly more than $1 million through Sept. 30.

Greenberg added: "I don't see the evidence the big donors are stepping up."

More broadly, Democrats are deeply divided over the smartest political strategy for profiting from a political environment that has deteriorated for Republicans in the aftermath of the Mark Foley page scandal.

Some Democratic officials and donors want their money concentrated to maximize the chances that the party captures the minimum number of seats necessary to gain majorities in the House and the Senate, rather than having resources spread too thin by spending on second-tier targets. The party needs to pick up 15 seats to win control of the House and six to take power in the Senate.

But Carville, Greenberg, Emanuel and others are now arguing in private deliberations that Democrats have a historic chance to not only win the House but also capture enough seats to build an effective governing majority. They are telling donors that it is worth the risk to shoot for a 40-plus seat gain, which would give Democrats a large enough majority to guarantee that they could move legislation and carry out investigations of the Bush administration.

"You would be crazy not to get your donors to do whatever they can and borrow what you need" to run ads in every competitive race, Greenberg said. Based on his polling, Greenberg is telling party leaders that it is not unrealistic to envision a 41-seat gain, which would give Democrats the same governing majority Republicans had after their 1994 takeover.

"I am saying this is a twice-in-a-lifetime environment," Carville said. "You try to maximize it."

Republicans have tacitly acknowledged that Democrats are right about the expanding field of competitive races. In recent days, for instance, national GOP organizations have pumped money into a race for an open seat in Idaho and into other races that were previously regarded by both parties as out of reach for Democrats.

This is not an easy bet for Democrats. It would be virtually impossible to expand the number of House seats with fully competitive races without taking some money away from efforts to win back the Senate.

Democrats said big donors such as George Soros, a billionaire financier who has funded liberal causes, are refusing to help Democrats offset the GOP's edge in spending by outside political groups. A top official who often speaks with Soros and other major benefactors said they remain upset by the Democratic failure to win the White House and Congress in 2004 and have turned their attention to long-term efforts to build a network of think tanks and advocacy organizations to support liberal causes. The richest donors also see presidential elections as more glamorous and worthy of high-level support, the official said.

A spokesman for Soros was out of the country and unreachable.

Bob J. Perry, a Texas realtor and staunch Republican, is on pace to single-handedly outspend many of the Democratic political groups such as Ickes's. Perry has given more than $7 million to efforts targeting nearly a dozen Democratic candidates, including several that are considered long-shot bets.

Bill Buck, a founder of Majority Action, an independent organization hoping to elect a Democratic House majority, said his group is investing $500,000 in New York's 19th district against Rep. Sue W. Kelly (R) - a race that was hardly on anyone's radar screen at the start of the election campaign. Kelly is being challenged by John Hall, best known for writing the lyrics to the 1970s hit "Still the One." But Democratic officials said any effort to target a new group of GOP House members will have to be financed by the DCCC.

The DCCC is likely to go deep into debt, perhaps topping the $11 million deficit it racked up in 2004. The committee can borrow as much as a bank is willing to lend. The other option is to take money out of Republican districts that the party is confident it is almost certain to win.

This approach carries a big risk, however. If the party pulls ads in districts such as the Indiana base of Rep. Chris Chocola, who is trailing by double digits in private Democratic polling, it might allow an established GOP incumbent to creep back up in the race.


Chris Cillizza of contributed to this report.

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