“Safe seats” no longer “safe” for Democrats

The NYT has an interesting write up today on what the Democrats are facing now on the issue of so-called “safe seats.” In a nutshell, they aren’t safe anymore:

ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio — Republicans are expanding the battle for the House into districts that Democrats had once considered relatively safe, while Democrats began a strategy of triage on Monday to fortify candidates who they believe stand the best chance of survival.

As Republicans made new investments in at least 10 races across the country, including two Democratic seats here in eastern Ohio, Democratic leaders took steps to pull out of some races entirely or significantly cut their financial commitment in several districts that the party won in the last two election cycles.
Representatives Steve Driehaus of Ohio, Suzanne M. Kosmas of Florida and Kathy Dahlkemper of Pennsylvania were among the Democrats who learned that they would no longer receive the same infusion of television advertising that party leaders had promised. Party strategists conceded that these races and several others were slipping out of reach.

With three weeks remaining to save its majority, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has increased its spending on two New York races, along with at-risk seats in Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky and Massachusetts, setting up a map of competitive districts that is starkly different from when the campaign began.

This is what the GOP faced in 2006 when Dem party “leaders” like Rahmbo Emanuel and then-DNC Chair Howard Dean decided to try and win back the House by running so-called “moderate” Democrats in conservative districts like North Carolina’s NC-11, where Heath Shuler defeated the incumbent Republican. It’s a strategy that helped them gain control of the House for the first time since 1994. But they’ve screwed up so royally that – if the wave of bad polling numbers for Democrats holds true on November 2nd – their control will be short-lived. I do see some races, primarily up north (of course) where if the Republican wins, you’re looking at a situation where a “moderate” Republican will replace a liberal Democrat, but that’s what you have to deal with in districts where it’s not in the bloodstreams of voters to elect a solidly conservative candidate.

That said, here in North Carolina there are three House races where the GOP could see solid conservative pick-ups, and two of them in districts previously thought to be “safe” by Democrats. There’s the NC-7 seat, currently being held by “Blue Dog” (cough) Mike McIntyre. That seat has been in Democrat hands for over a century, but Republican candidate Ilario Pantano has waged an aggressive campaign in which he’s challenged the myth that McIntyre is a “moderate” by tying him to Pelosi in ad after ad and debate after debate, and he has not backed down from McIntyre’s desperate attacks. Prior to the May primary, no one was saying that race would be competitive. It is now. Same same for the NC-2 seat, currently held by Bob “Who Are You?” Etheridge. GOP candidate Renee Ellmers has launched a strong campaign to defeat Etheridge in which she, too, questions the assertion that her opponent really is a “moderate” politician, and her campaign was greatly aided by the shocking video in which Etheridge man-handled someone asking him questions. The NC-8 race sees Republican Harold Johnson taking advantage of the fact that district has been competitive the last few election cycles by running a “kitchen table issues” –style campaign against incumbent Larry Kissell, with the primary focus of the campaign being about jobs … and Kissell’s ties to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

It’s interesting to see how the dynamics have changed for Democrats in just four short years. It didn’t take long for people to realize that when promising a big government agenda, the rhetoric actually sounds a lot better than the reality – the reality being higher taxes, more fees, increased regulation, government takeovers, “health care reform” efforts that are short on solutions but big on problems, a strong disdain for private enterprise and individual liberty, etc. For Republicans, it took 12 years (1994-2006) before the American public said “enough” – and even then they primarily said it because of the scandals and the fact that when it came to the size and scope of government, more than a few elected Republicans were turning into “Democrat-lite” types, and it came to a point that the two parties could not be distinguished on fiscal matters.

If Republicans do gain back the majority in the House (a scenario I see as very likely – the Senate I’m not so sure about), they will have a primetime opportunity to show not just to show their conservative base that the mistakes of the past won’t be repeated again, but they’ll also get the chance to demonstrate to middle of the road and independent voters who are fed up with big government liberalism that this time around they won’t forget why they were voted in to represent them in the first place. If Republicans fail to get the message the voters look like they’ll be sending next month and continue the spending binges they were notorious for under the Bush administration, then they can be expected to have Republican challengers in their respective primaries next time around because, as we’ve seen over the last couple of years or so, there is no longer an advantage to being an incumbent – no matter the party. Too much is at stake to give an incumbent who didn’t listen to his or her constituency the first time around another 2 or 6 years to “fix” their mistakes.

Are you listening, Republican candidates? I certainly hope so.

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