FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
The 2009/2010 special elections, to date.
I’d like to unpack this paragraph from the Hotline, mostly because the assumptions behind it are in in large part why the Democrats all of a sudden have found themselves in trouble this election cycle.
But the elections present a problem for the NRCC, too. The 2 specials so far during Pres. Obama’s term have both been in GOP-heavy seats. Dems have won both. The DCCC knows how to run and win a race; special elections put pressure on the NRCC, which already has limited resources, to demonstrate they can too.
To begin: “The 2 specials so far during Pres. Obama’s term have both been in GOP-heavy seats. Dems have won both.”
Err. No. To quote a scientist friend of mine; that’s not even wrong.
Even assuming that we’re merely talking about House elections held after January 20, 2009 – which we should not be; there were two Louisiana special elections between the election and the Inauguration that the Democrats tried and failed to win – there have been five races, not two.
Of the five of those races, the two that came closest to ‘GOP-heavy’ are the two in New York – and neither deserves the title, as they’re both swing districts. Looking at them:
- NY-20 was Gillibrand’s old seat – which means it was held by a Democrat. The challenger (Tedisco) was picked by the local GOP organization, and he stumbled badly out of the gate by guessing wrong on the popularity of the stimulus.
- NY-23 was the Scozzafava/Owens/Hoffman race, and it is frankly not useful as a measurement for anything. The local GOP again picked the nominee, who was well to the Left of the Democratic pick, and who was the only candidate who was flatly unacceptable to the NY Conservative party, which is why they did not join the GOP on a fusion ticket. The eventual Conservative party candidate eventually drove the Republican candidate out of the race, whereupon she endorsed the Democratic nominee out of spite – leading to the Democratic candidate winning*. That’s not an election: it’s a two-part television docudrama.
So, even assuming that you don’t include the two LA races, the special election history for this cycle consists of four Democratic party retentions and one flip, with the flip being part of one of the more lurid political dramas in recent history. And I should also note here that in neither case in NY was the NRCC working with a candidate who was either in tune with the national base, or actually chosen by local voters. This will be important to remember, later.
Next up: The DCCC knows how to run and win a race; special elections put pressure on the NRCC, which already has limited resources, to demonstrate they can too.
Let’s concede from the start that everything after the semicolon is correct for the NRCC… as long as we concede that the bit about pressure is true for the DCCC, too. It is not difficult to win three special elections where your party’s delegate is heavily favored to win. It is also not difficult to win a special election where the Other Side’s partisans have openly decided to teach their own state party a lesson. And it is not all that difficult to win a special election where you have the incumbency advantage and the opposing candidate has stumbled out of the gate; except that in NY-20, the DCCC came within a razor’s edge of losing. All in all, the proposition that the DCCC is good at winning races this cycle is based on a reed that is thinner than it looks. Maybe a little thinner; maybe a lot thinner; maybe not thinner enough to matter. We’ll see how it goes.
My conclusion? The reputation for effectiveness of the two parties’ House committees is dependent on the relative quality of the candidates in the individual races (which is something that neither the NRCC nor the DCCC has control over). When they have good candidates (or ‘good enough’ candidates for a particular district) to work with and the other side has bad ones (or ‘not good enough’ candidates for a particular district), the good candidates win. It’s the districts where they both have good candidates that will be most of interest, and we really haven’t seen that play out yet.
But we will.
*And then setting a speed record for breaking a campaign promise, which is why he shouldn’t unpack his bags.
Crossposted to Moe Lane.