With the result of the special election in New York’s 20th district likely to remain up in the air for weeks, both parties were essentially robbed of the chance to take their rhetorical victory lap in a competitive contest that they were hoping would set the tone for the 2010 election cycle.
But even as a relatively small number of votes separated the candidates in Tuesday’s undecided special election — and both sides were laying claim to eventual victory — top party operatives sought to make the best of what the contest will mean for their prospects and message next year.
“We feel like we’ve made a competitive stand in a Northeastern race, something we haven’t done in a while, and we feel like we’re going to be coming out on the winning side once the votes are counted,— said Guy Harrison, the executive director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
If Republicans ultimately win the special election for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) former House seat, it would represent their first pickup in the New England region since 2004.
Harrison’s remarks were made Wednesday afternoon during a wide-ranging discussion sponsored by the Hotline among the four top staffers for each campaign committee.
Harrison and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Executive Director Jon Vogel took the opportunity to lay out their respective top targets for 2010.
Vogel cautioned that the House committees are just beginning the recruitment process but specifically called out GOP Reps. Jim Gerlach (Pa.), Mike Castle (Del.) and Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) as “some of our top recruiting targets.—
Castle and Gerlach are mentioned as possible candidates for higher office, and if they were to leave, Democrats would have a good chance at picking up their seats.
For House Republicans, Harrison said the seats held by freshman Reps. Frank Kratovil (Md.) and Alan Grayson (Fla.) as well as Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.) will be the GOP’s best opportunities to pick up seats from incumbent Democrats. All three of the districts represent territory formerly held by Republicans that switched hands in the Democratic waves of 2006 and 2008.
At a separate meeting with reporters Wednesday, DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) acknowledged the tougher task that the party faces in defending an increased number of incumbents next year.
Now that Democrats have 255 seats in the House, the electoral math dictates that they will have to play offense for vulnerable incumbent Members in 2010. What’s more, the party in power has historically lost seats in the midterm election in a president’s first term in office.
“If you look historically, we’ve got a very heavy lift. We realize it. We’re realists,— Van Hollen said.
He said that in the 2006 cycle, there were 10 Democratic House Members in the DCCC’s “Frontline— program — a group of Members that are deemed the most vulnerable incumbents of the cycle and receive extra aide from the committee. In 2008, there were 29 Members on the Frontline program, he said. This cycle’s Frontline list has 40 Members on it so far, which emphasizes how many Democrats are looking at tough re-elections in 2010, Van Hollen said.
Vogel argued the New York seat is more rural and exurban than many of the districts that his party picked up in the 2006 cycle, when Democrats took control of Congress. Nonetheless, President Barack Obama carried the district overwhelmingly in November.
But if that’s the case, Harrison said he looks forward to playing offense in the 2010 cycle.
“I’m glad the DCCC is ceding this as ground that this is going to be one of the toughest seats for them to hold because we have another 49 seats that [GOP Sen.] John McCain actually won that Democrats are holding, unlike this seat that Obama actually won with 58 to 42 percent,— Harrison said.
On Tuesday, Republicans were hoping for an outright victory for state Assemblyman Jim Tedisco because it would have been a symbol that the GOP had turned a corner and was on the rebound after losing seats in Congress for two consecutive cycles.
Likewise, Democrats were hoping that businessman Scott Murphy would pull off the upset and that it would have been seen as a positive referendum on Obama’s first couple months in office as well as the Democratic majority in Congress.
But instead of declaring a winner, both parties will have to wait weeks while the 20th district is recanvassed before they can point to a decisive loss or victory for their side.
At the Hotline panel, the top Senate campaign committee staffers also took the opportunity to lay out their top targets for 2010.
J.B. Poersch, the executive director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, called out Sen. Jim Bunning (Ky.) as his party’s primary target. Bunning has publicly feuded with Senate leaders about his re-election race and is widely viewed as the most vulnerable target next year.
In addition to Kentucky, Poersch also said GOP Sens. Arlen Specter (Pa.), Richard Burr (N.C.) and David Vitter (La.) were top targets for the DSCC.
“Maybe in that order,— Poersch said. “Initial polling tells me that all four incumbents have big problems in front of them.—
Rob Jesmer, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, named seats held by Democratic Sens. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Roland Burris (Ill.), as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), as the party’s top pickup opportunities. But while Republicans are publicly discussing potential top-tier candidates in Illinois and Connecticut, the GOP is still searching in Nevada.
“I’m very confident that we’re going to find someone against Sen. Reid,— Jesmer assured the crowd. “I think it’s notable that the first place that the president is going is go help raise some money [is] for him.—
Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.