House Race Bloggers: So Little Knowledge, So Much Hot Air
After spending much of 2004 pummeling the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, liberal bloggers have now turned their keen analytical skills to 2006.
Contributors to two of the better known political blogs, Daily Kos and MyDD, seem to believe that they know more about House campaigns than do the professionals who have spent years actually working on races and running campaign committees.
[IMGCAP(1)] The first rule of blogging apparently is “All Opinions Are Equal,” with “Experience Doesn’t Matter” a close second.
Last cycle, Markos Moulitsas (whose Web bio does not mention any campaign experience) of Daily Kos promoted a number of Democratic House candidates, including Missouri’s Jim Newberry and Ohio’s Jeff Seeman and Ben Konop as good targets for fundraising assistance. Newberry drew 28 percent of the vote against Rep. Roy Blunt (R), while Seeman hauled in 33 percent against Rep. Ralph Regula (R). Konop topped the trio, taking 41 percent against Rep. Mike Oxley (R).
All three races were unwinnable from day one for the Democrats, so raising cash for those challengers was about as useful as flushing money down the toilet.
Blogger Chris Bowers at MyDD perhaps is the best example of how clueless some bloggers really are about politics.
Last summer, he penned a piece, “DCCC Not Aggressive Enough,” in which he complained about his party’s House campaign committee. Now, in a two-part series called “Taking Back the House,” he insists “we need to attack everywhere.”
“I want 80 serious challenges to GOP House incumbents every two years and a Democratic name on the ballot in all 435 districts,” he demands. “I have had enough of just targeting the twenty or so top races — let’s engage in a full-frontal assault. … The first step is to identify eighty Republicans against who we could mount a serious challenge.”
It is undeniably true that you can’t defeat an incumbent if you don’t run someone against him. So, yes, it’s better for a party to field candidates in 435 districts, if possible.
But some Republicans didn’t have Democratic opponents because they were unbeatable, and no Democrat wanted to waste his or her time (to say nothing about money) by running. You can’t make a race competitive simply by putting a name on the ballot, and the Democrats would not hold even a single additional seat had they put a name on the ballot in every district during the past two cycles.
As for Bowers’ assertion that he wants “80 serious challenges” to GOP incumbents next year, he might as well ask for 120 or 150. I want vacation houses in Napa Valley and Palm Beach, and I’d like to be 35 years old again. “If wishes were horses, beggars might ride,” as the English proverb puts it.
If Bowers had any historical perspective, he would know that there have been cycles when there were five or even 10 dozen competitive races, and where the DCCC showered money on second- and third-tier contests that it hoped would develop during a political wave.
Of course, if no wave develops, much of that money is wasted, and the committee is criticized for “throwing away” money on long shots when it should have poured all its resources into the candidates who had the best chance of winning.
I’m sure the DCCC would be thrilled to come up with 80 competitive races for 2006, and if Democrats get the political version of a tsunami running in their favor next year, I’m sure they will. But you simply have to be painfully naive and uninformed to think that there could have been 80 competitive Democratic challengers last cycle.
Looking at Democratic presidential performance numbers, as Bowers and Moulitsas do, gives you some guidance about recruiting candidates and targeting GOP incumbents, but it doesn’t tell you everything. Not by a long shot.
DCCC operatives and party leaders tried to recruit good candidates last cycles in every obvious district of opportunity. But even when they thought they had a blue chipper, many of them turned out to be busts.
Washington’s 5th district? Don Barbieri got hammered by almost 20 points in an open-seat contest. Texas’ 19th? Randy Neugebauer smashed another incumbent — and surely the strongest Democrat who could have been on the ballot — by 18 points. New Jersey’s 5th? Rep. Scott Garrett is a conservative Republican in a Republican district, and he won last time by more than 16 points.
All three of those districts are in the top 47 races on the MyDD Web site.
Bowers and many of his fellow bloggers may like the idea of beating up a high-profile Republican incumbent even though there is no chance of defeating him or her. That’s OK, since they are ideologues, not analysts. But the DCCC doesn’t need advice from pie-in-the-sky idealists who think that every idea they have is a new one and every new idea is good.
Blogging is getting more attention in the mainstream media and from the political parties. As vehicles for fundraising, blogs can’t be ignored. And some bloggers have interesting things to say. But when it comes to campaign savvy or understanding how the campaign committees operate, two of the most high-profile liberal bloggers have an exaggerated sense of their own importance and insights.
Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.