Is Dean Rescuing the Republicans in 2006?
They elected him. And conservatives couldn't be happier. Last year the Democrats' choice of Howard Dean as DNC chair was almost as beautiful a sight in the eyes of conservatives as their ultimate hope of having him as the party's nominee for president in 2004. And now it turns out that it was a much better option having Dean run the party for four years rather than just having him run his party's ticket in the ground in a one shot deal.
Because this week we learned that the Democratic Congressional Leadership is most dismayed about their party chairman's misuse of party funds. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are understandably apoplectic, given that The Democrats have raised $50.1 million with $5.8 million cash on hand, compared to the Republicans' $103 million raised and $34 million cash on hand. Dean's plan is pretty simple. He is trying to bolster the party's ground efforts to make it competitive in all 50 states. It's a nice vision statement, but an abominably shortsighted and stupid thing to actually try given the party's limited resources, especially when Dean is probably tragically misreading the political tea leaves.
There are a number of things that don't work against the sitting Republican Members of Congress and Senate. Campaign Finance Reform was an excellent bit of strategery on the part of the White House. It makes it harder for challengers to mount an attack on incumbents, and while I believe it to be unconstitutional, the Supreme Court disagreed, and it will likely be the law of the land for a little while.
And while there exists a significant dissatisfaction with Congress as a whole--and there almost always has--remember that Congressional turnover is a very rare thing. Because as Jay Cost over at RealClearPolitics could tell you, more often than not, my generic dissatisfaction with Congress applies to your Member of Congress, not mine, whom I have met at Fourth of July parades and seems like a nice guy/gal.
So in that vein, there is little to speak of as far as the House races are concerned. It isn't changing hands as there aren't enough interesting races to make a power switch possible at this stage. And in the Senate, while there is a good opportunity for the Dems to capture a seat or two, they may be looking at a wash at best, as the Republicans will likely take just as many or more Democratic seats.
The seats where the Democrats stand a real chance for scoring turnovers are those of Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), and Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R?-RI). Likewise, The Republicans have a shot at unseating Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and scoring pickups of open seats in Minnesota and Maryland. There also is an outside chance that Sen Bill Nelson (D-FL) can be unseated, but of that I will not be convinced until there is a heck of a lot more movement towards his likely opponent, Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL) And per the Washington Post's scorecard, there exist nine competitive races (and as stated before, I think Maryland and Florida need to be in the mix there). At this stage, the Senate seat count is 55-44-1. The Independent "1" is likely to stay that way as retiring Senator James Jeffords (I-VT) will very likely be replaced by independent Socialist Bernie Sanders. Which means that to win control of the Senate, the Democrats must hold all of their open seats, win each of the races where their incumbent is at risk, and must win each and every one of the competitive races where Republicans are trying to hold seats. And while in any given election this would be statistically unlikely, this year, it's largely an impossibility that they would have a shot at getting even halfway there.
They aren't offering anything new. With Pelosi and Reid keeping the message a little too far left of center to be attractive, keeping an irritating plaintive tone, and jumping on every negative story like a bunch of chimpanzees on crack bouncing on a trampoline, they give no incentive for anyone to pull their party's lever, punch the chad, whatever. But the real problem is the money. Because with Dean wasting away the party's cash and not bringing in enough to justify his boondoggle, the party is unprepared and in a world of hurt going into this election.
Pelosi and Reid know that the party is being spread way too thin, and that Dean's effort to rebuild the party precinct by precinct across the nation is potentially disastrous. The Dems have a few strongholds in cities and in leftist enclaves like those found in northern California, the upper West Coast, the New York metropolitan area, and some locales throughout the industrial Midwest and southwest. But that's largely it, and it explains why they have had significant electoral troubles since the 1980s. Their support is limited and localized.
It would make sense if Dean was attemtping to shore up his party's organization in competitive jurisdictions. In fact, that would be the wisest thing he could do. Targeted strategies directed at getting out the vote in critical precincts and having people accountable for doing so is an excellent way to improve a ground plan. But trying to do it across the nation is probably one of the worst non-strategies he could have devised. And I'd dare say that it's just the strategy that a Republican would have a Democrat follow.
Elections, especially the close ones, are very often won and lost by the availability of cash to the campaigns. Given that this season will have more than a few close elections, the Republicans will be better positioned to finance their candidates than cash-strapped Democrats who will suffocate under the weight of Dean's party-building plan which will be ironically destructive.
Because Dean's biggest miscalculation is that his party can afford the temporary drubbing that a lack of cash will create. But the problem with that notion is that such a setback would be temporary or affordable. The Democrats get donations precisely because they still retain some power. Let them take a significant hit in an off year election where they should have picked up some seats and the perception that they are becoming less and less electable will become reality. The reality part finds its truth in terms of fewer future donations based upon the perception, thus repeating a cycle of losses.
It probably won't be that bad, but the Democrats can't afford any disappointments at this stage of the game. They are behind. Getting further behind isn't the way to winning.
Dean need only follow his genius plan through 2008--if he even lasts that long.