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Blue America: Electoral Targeting for 2008 Races

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Just a brief word on primaries for faithless Democrats like Ellen Tauscher and Rahm Emanuel and then I won't mention them for the rest of this story. The beauty, though, in primaries is that targeting can be done based substantially, or even entirely, on the record of the incumbent. In other words, if the incumbent gets elected as a Democrat but then votes like a Republican, Democrats have the right duty to hold his or, in Tauscher's case, her, feet to the fire. The $20 million that it cost Holy Joe Lieberman to retain his "safe" seat should serve as a warning to Tauscher-type Democrats. Judging by her actions since the primary, one Tauscher-type Democrat, Jane Harman, has learned a valuable lesson in politics and I think we can expect better things from her because of Marcy Winograd's muscular primary challenge.

Unfortunately, in targeting for the general election, the degree of odiousness of the incumbent is all too often not the determining factor of whether or not to target a seat. The reality of electability takes precedence. Believe me, it's purely coincidental when the seat of an especially hideous Republican winds up an electoral priority for the DCCC or DSCC. That's what made Jerry McNerney's race against Dirty Dick Pombo so important and that was the one saving grace of the victory by anti-choice Emanuel puppet Heath Shuler over Charlie Taylor.

Late in October I was working on a piece I never got to finish: "The Dirtiest Dozen Republicans in The House." It was meant to be more than just another list of the worst of the worst. I started by noting how all the Democrats seriously targeted by the GOP for the midterm elections were the Democrats who voted most frequently with Republicans on substantive issues.

They' didn't go after the liberals, the populists and the progressives who they can't stop screaming about. They targeted the Democrats who have supported Bush and who have most frequently rubber stamped his policies and gone along with his anti-human, corporatist agenda. In this huge anti-Bush year, which augured so well for Democrats, Democratic incumbents reckoned to be endangered included reactionaries like Charlie Melancon (LA), Jim Marshall (GA), Chet Edwards (TX), Leonard Boswell (IA), John Barrow (GA), Alan Mollohan (WV), John Salazar (CO), Melissa Bean (IL), John Spratt (SC). By voting records, outside of housekeeping tallies, these incumbents are hardly Democrats at all.

But that's where the GOP put it's money. Conservatives in Georgia, for example, who donated money to the GOP saw their contributions paying for partisan campaigns against Jim Marshall and John Barrow, Democrats who generally vote very much how Georgia conservatives want them to vote, while not a red cent went into defeating a Georgia liberal whose voting record drives them crazy– John Lewis– who they didn't even bother to oppose.

Now what about the Republican incumbents being targeted by Democrats? In the true sense of the term, there are no longer any moderate Republicans, but of the dozen least fascist-oriented Republican incumbents — ones who occasionally vote in the interests of their constituents instead of for corporate interests — only 4 were seriously targeted: Chris Shays (CT), Michael Fiztpatrick (PA), Nancy Johnson (CT), and Rob Simmons (CT). (All but Shays were defeated.)

Way on the extreme end of the political spectrum, however, where it gets hard to sort out who's a conservative and who's an actual fascist, quite a few lively races were under way that were meant to oust some of the most extreme hate-mongers and right wing fanatics in Congress. Among the worst Republicans who had serious challenges to face in November are Mean Jean Schmidt (OH), Chris Chocola (IN), John Kline (MN), Jim Ryun (KS), Marilyn Musgrave (CO), Thelma Drake (VA), Michael Sodrel (IN), Barbara Cubin (WY), John Doolittle (CA), Dirty Dick Pombo (CA), J.D. Hayworth (AZ), Dennis Hastert (IL), Robin Hayes (NC), Charles Taylor (NC). Six of these extremist ideologues went down to ignominious defeat.

Still, the vast majority of far right fanatics in the Republican House caucus, including some of the absolute most bigoted and most corrupt, got off scott free with virtually no serious challenge.

Look, for example at the list of the 33 unreconstructed neoConfederates who voted against renewing the Voting Rights Act this year: Richard Baker (LA), Gresham Barrett (SC), Roscoe Bartlett (MD), Joe Barton (TX), Jo Bonner (AL), Dan Burton (IN), John Campbell (CA), Michael Conaway (TX), Nathan Deal(GA), John Doolittle (CA), John Duncan (TN), Terry Everett (AL), Virginia Foxx (NC), Trent Franks (AZ), Scott Garrett (NJ), Phil Gingrey (GA), Joel Hefley (CO), Jeb Hensarling (TX), Wally Herger (CA), Sam Johnson (TX), Steve King (IA), John Linder (GA), Patrick McHenry (NC), Gary Miller (CA), Charlie Norwood (GA), Ron Paul (TX), Tom Price (GA), Dana Rohrabacher (CA), Edward Royce (CA), John Shadegg (AZ), Tom Tancredo (CO), Mac Thornberry (TX), and Lynn Westmoreland (GA).

Although grassroots Democrats supported vibrant campaigns against Doolittle and Tancredo (and against the retiring Hefley's even worse replacement), the other 30 on this list of human scum had almost nothing to worry about. And that doesn't even go to the virtually unchallenged kingpins at the helm of the whole Republican culture of corruption– Roy Blunt, John Boehner, Don Young, Jerry Lewis, Duncan Hunter…

So who are Democratic targeters zeroing in on for 2008? The first rule of thumb, after watching for retirements, is to look for seats where the Republicans won by 5% or less.

Just going by the numbers that would put 40 Republican-held seats into contention. Seven of them are also freshmen, traditionally considered to be an incumbent's most vulnerable year since they haven't had time to establish themselves as institutions in their districts, delivering bacon to the locals in return for political fealty above and beyond ideology. The seven freshmen who won tight races are Vern Buchanan (FL-13; who didn't really even win and may not be seated), Bill Sali (ID-01), Peter Roskam (IL-06), Tim Walberg (MI-07), Michele Bachman (MN-06), Adrian Smith (NE-03), and Dean Heller (NV-02).

Several grassroots and netroots favorites nearly unseated Republican incumbents and know they can count on no-strings-attached support if they try again.

This puts 19 Republicans from the under 55% list in jeopardy: John Doolittle (CA-04), Brian Bilbray (CA-50), Marilyn Musgrave (CO-04), Michael Rogers (MI-08), Joe Knollenberg (MI-09), Thaddeus McCotter (MI-11)– Michigan will definitely be a battleground state in '08– Michele Bachman (MN-06), Adrian Smith (NE-03), Mike Ferguson (NJ-07), Jim Walsh (NY-25), Randy Kuhl (NY-29), Robin Hayes (NC-08), Mean Jean Schmidt (OH-02), Deborah Pryce (OH-15), Phil English (PA-03), Jim Gerlach (PA-06), Thelma Drake (VA-02), Dave Reichert (WA-08), and Barbara Cubin (WY-AL).

Several of these Republicans won with less than 50% of the vote, making them particularly interesting as targets– including Doolittle (49%), Musgrave (46%), Buchanan (officially it was 50/50 but the voting irregularities were so blatantly egregious that this race should be re-run), Jon Porter (NV-03; 48%), Ferguson (49%), Heather Wilson (NM-01; 50/50 with less than 900 votes separating the 2 candidates), Hayes (even closer– 50/50 with less than 400 votes separating the two), Pryce (50/50 with around 1,000 vote disparity), and Cubin (48%).

The other Republicans who managed to stay in office with 55% or less of the vote were Richard Renzi (AZ-01), Chris Shays (CT-04), Dick Keller (FL-08), Mark Kirk (IL-10), Jerry Weller (IL-11), Mark Souder (IN-03), Geoff Davis (KY-04), Lee Terry (NE-02), Scott Garrett (NJ-05), Tom Reynolds (NY-26), Charlie Dent (PA-15), and Mike McCaul (TX-10).

If you go back to the Blue America archive of candidates we raised money for, you'll find several we will be encouraging to run again in 2008, particularly Charlie Brown, either Vic Wulsin or Paul Hackett, John Laesch (who will be ready to run as soon as Planet Denny Hastert announces he's resigning to replace Bush's ex as the new ambassador to Japan), Angie Paccione, Larry Kissell, Tony Trupiano, Eric Massa, and Steven Porter.

Personally I feel we made tremendous headway in CA-25 and CA-45 with Robert Rodriguez and David Roth and I'd like to see them both continue to build a Democratic base in those districts.  And my fingers are crossed that a close watch on incumbent Democrats Al Wynn, Tim Mahoney, and the aforementioned Jane Harman, will either yield acceptable behavior or fresh primary challenges from Donna Edwards, David Lutrin and Marcy Winograd.

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Howie Klein

Howie Klein

Howie Klein spent much of his life wandering around the world living in places like Afghanistan, Nepal, Holland and Morocco. He moved backed to America when Richard Nixon resigned and promptly helped start the first punk rock radio show in the country and then a DIY punk rock record label. His adventures in the music business ended a couple of years ago when he retired as president of Reprise Records. He began blogging almost immediately, starting Down With Tyranny. Jane taught him html while he held one of her dogs at a party. He is a raw foodist, lives in L.A., swims and hikes every day, thinks Howard Dean could be a president as great as FDR and will never be completely happy until Bush and Cheney are behind bars.

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