The House in 2012: Dark Money Still Works at the District Level
So all three leaders in Washington will return to their positions, assuming John Boehner gets re-elected speaker. If you liked the crackerjack leadership of the last couple years in Congress, you’re going to love 2013-2014!
Republicans completely blew their chances at a Senate majority, and now face a 55-45 deficit. The run-up of the score by Democrats actually helps them deal with a tough 2014 Senate map, tougher than 2012, believe it or not.
In the House, Democrats actually did OK. They lost the 2012 election on Election Night 2010, when Republicans gained enough majorities in state legislatures to control most of the redistricting process. That basically put control of the House out of reach, and will make it difficult to change that for the rest of the decade. If you factor in the loss of 11 seats from redistricting, Democrats won something like 17-18 seats rather than the 6-7 they will pick up in reality.
However, I would append that with two additional points. One, Steve Israel of the DCCC did little to nationalize the race, and his candidate selection left much to be desired. He was stung by a series of late retirements, particularly from a handful of Blue Dogs. But I wouldn’t call Israel’s work superlative in any way.
The more important point is that dark money does work. It works in the House. SuperPACs and independent expenditure groups wasted historic amounts of money running into a demographic brick wall at the national level. Even at the statewide level, Democrats could withstand the attacks. But in the House, late money that poured into a discrete number of seats had a real impact. Winnable seats turned sour, even in places where Democrats did well.
The lesson here is that, when the dark money has nowhere to hide, and where the race is sufficiently high-profile that the charges made in those SuperPAC ads get a full airing, the impact can be blunted. In addition, statewide and national candidates have the ability to fight back with their own resources. But at the district level, you can still effectively frighten the electorate, demonize the opponent, and make your way to victory. With the district lines set for the next eight years, this will be critical for Democrats to understand and wrestle with. The democracy remains on the knife’s edge at the district level.