HOW RAHM EMANUEL LOST THE HOUSE FOR THE DEMOCRATS-- AND HOW ACTBLUE, MOVEON, MARKOS, JANE, DUNCAN, HOWARD DEAN AND A HOST OF OTHERS SAVED THE DAY
Paul Lukasiak is a friend of mine from over Firedoglake way. He's not only brilliant, he's been really supportive of Blue America. He lives in Philadelphia and is best known as a super researcher who not only challenges, but devastates conventional wisdom. Paul is best known for "The AWOL Project," which examined Bush's military records from the perspective of the contemporaneous Federal laws, DoD regulations, and US Air Force policies and procedures relevant to those records...
...and no, he didn't forge the Killian memos. The wingnuts don't like him. And after today, neither will Rahm Emanuel. Here's Paul's first blog for DWT; I hope his first of many. (Paul put up four tables in conjunction with this story that I suggest you take a look at.)
Despite all the praise being heaped upon Rahm Emanuel for the Democratic Party takeover of the House of Representatives, his strategy was a failure. The simple fact is that Emanuel's plan was to target 21 Republican seats as part of his Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Red to Blue" strategy, and as of right now, while Democrats needed to take 15 seats to regain control, only nine of those 21 DCCC picked seats have changed hands (three are still in contention). Most of these candidates were "hand-picked" by Emanuel, based on his perception of their prospects to win election---and most of them failed, often by significant margins-- and at great financial cost.
The real source of the Democratic victory can be attributed to six other factors-- all of them related to progressive politics.
1) National "Netroots" activism which raised funds for, and awareness of, progressive candidates in races being ignored by the DCCC. At least 9 of the Democratic gains can be directly attributed, at least in part, to collective blogger efforts like of DailyKos, MyDD, and The Swing State Project's NetRoots Campaign, and Firedoglake, Down With Tyranny, and Crooks and Liars' BlueAmerica Campaign, and a host of individual bloggers like Duncan Black (Eschaton).
2) The creation of ActBlue, a PAC organized by progressives that made it possible for anyone to raise money for candidates through their own websites, and for progressives to give money to candidates with just a few mouse-clicks.
3) The efforts of progressive politicians like Wesley Clark (WesPac) and Russ Feingold (Progressive Patriots Fund) to support grassroots candidates, and financial contributions of other progressive organizations and their membership, such as People for the American Way, Emily's List, and MoveOn.org. The latter organization deserves special mention for its efforts to encourage progressive grassroots participation, notably its "Call for Change" program
4) Howard Dean's 50 State Strategy, which poured money into state party organizations and helped empower grassroots activists.
5) Grassroots (including local "netroots") efforts (encouraged by the Dean strategy, as well as the victory of Ned Lamont in the Connecticut primary) which energized progressive grassroots activists nationwide. Another 10 seats which were ignored by Emanuel, and which did not have significant "national netroots" backing, changed hands.
6) The number of scandals plaguing the GOP this election cycle-- a factor which the progressives identified and attempted to exploit to the hilt (with moderate success) but which the DCCC only attempted to exploit when entrenched Republican congressmen were forced to resign-- or after progressives who had targeted the races had made them competitive.
EMANUEL'S FAILURE BY THE NUMBERS
The failure of Emanuel's strategy can be demonstrated by the numbers. Of the 21 "first wave" picks announced on April 27th, only nine have been declared winners, with one (Joe Courtney in CT-02) holding a 170 vote lead over the incumbent, and three others losing by 1400 (Madrid, NM-01), 2700 (Kilroy, OH-05) and 3600 (Burner WA-08) votes in races that are still considered "too close to call." Four of Emanuel's "first wave" picks lost by over 10,000 votes (Busansky, FL-09; Lucas KY-04; Derby NV-02; and Cranley, OH-01). Only three of Emanuel's picks received support by the two largest ActBlue organizations (Murphy, PA-06; and Gillibrand, NY-20 both supported by Blue America, with Burner supported by NetRoots.) At least three of the DCCC's "first wave" picks were against incumbents who were directly implicated in the Abramoff scandal (Hayworth, Taylor, Sweeney), and a fourth (Nick Lampson) was running against a write in candidate for Tom Delay's old seat. (Lampson did not run for Delay's unexpired term, but his Write-In opponent received more votes in that contest than Lampson received in the general election.)
On July 12, the Red to Blue page added a "second wave" of 14 candidates, one of whom was running for an open Democratic seat (Wilson, OH-06) and thus not a "Red to Blue" candidate. There were eight "winners" selected-- 5 of whom (Joe Sestak, Patrick Murphy, Chris Carney, Bruce Braley, and Mike Arcuri) had received significant support from either Blue America or Netroots before being "piggybacked" on the efforts of the progressive community. Of the three remaining winners, two were in districts that had candidates with major scandal problems (Ney's district, where Zachary Space beat a replacement candidate after Ney won the primary and was indicted, and the district of Abramoff associate Chris Chocola.). Only Ed Perlmutter (CO-07), running for an open seat in a district in which Bush received only 48% of the vote in 2004, represents a "pick" by the DCCC where their help was probably a key to victory. The "second wave" also included two candidates (Weaver and Wetterling) who lost by 23,000 votes. (One of the "second wave" races, Christine Jennings in FL-13, is being contested by Jennings, who lost an open seat race by 373 votes, with an undercount of 18,000 votes that even Jeb Bush acknowledges is "strange.")
In other words, out of 35 races that the DCCC targeted for conversion to the Democratic Party by early July, Emanuel only managed to find "winners" in 12 of them on his own-- at least five of his other victories were based on progressive bloggers providing the seed money that demonstrated that these were viable candidates. Moreover, the DCCC picks included at least 6 races where the challenger does not seem to have had a realistic chance of success-- in other words, Emanuel directed money to candidates that could have been better used elsewhere.
The DCCC also released two additional "waves," the third on September 18th, and the last on October 27, a few days before the election. The third wave consisted of nine races, three of which were actually for open Democratic seats-- and all three of these candidates won by substantial margins. The vast majority of the final two "waves" were for candidates that had received substantial financial support from ActBlue fundraising pages, or other progressive organizations like Emily's List and MoveOn.org.
By way of contrast, the two largest ActBlue affiliated fundraising groups supported nine winning candidates before the DCCC finally recognized their competitive nature-- and supported eight other progressive candidates that, had they had earlier and more substantial support from the DCCC, stood an excellent chance of winning their races.
The most significant failure of Emanuel's strategy was his inability to recognize until it was too late truly competitive races in which progressives ran against entrenched right-wing incumbents. His "fourth wave" candidates included Charlie Brown (-7000), Larry Kissell (-480), Eric Massa (-6000), and Victoria Wulsin (-2300) all were within reach of defeating some of the most noxious right-wingers in the House, yet were virtually ignored by Emanuel. Emanuel's fourth wave also included Jack Davis (who came within 5700 votes of unseating Foley-tainted Tom Reynolds-- had the DCCC invested in that race when the Foley scandal broke, it could have made the difference) and Larry Grant, who was vying for an open seat in Idaho, and lost by 12,000 votes against a far-right winger.
WHY EMANUEL FAILED
There are numerous reasons why Rahm Emanuel's DCCC strategy was a failure, and that, absent the energy and commitment of the progressive grassroots and netroots, the overwhelming victory by Democrats in the House would not have happened. If left up to the DCCC, the Democrats still might have managed to eek out a small majority for control of Congress thanks to late breaking scandals like the Foley debacle, but the failure of so many of Emanuel's "picks" to win in districts that should have resulted in easy Democratic victories is a testament to his incompetence.
First and foremost was Emanuel's tendency to seek out "Republican Lite" candidates, while ignoring more progressive candidates. While the DCCC had success with "GOP Lite" candidate Heath Schuler in North Carolina, its difficult if not impossible to find an early DCCC pick who was aggressively critical of Bush himself, especially Bush's mishandling of the Iraq War despite polls showing that most Americans disapproved of what was going on in Iraq.
Secondly, Emanuel virtually ignored the importance of the grassroots in choosing candidates. A prime example was his insistence upon supporting Tammy Duckworth over grassroots candidate Christine Cegalis, which likely cost the Democrats that seat. In 2004 Cegalis had received over 105,000 votes against entrenched GOP incumbent Henry Hyde, running a campaign on a shoestring. She had a strong grassroots organization in place. Duckworth, by contrast, did not even live in Illinois' 6th district. Nevertheless, Emanuel thought that a war hero would have a better chance of taking the open seat, and poured DCCC money into (and directed other contributors to) Duckworth's primary campaign. The result-- Duckworth eked out a victory in the primary, only to receive a mere 82,701 votes and lose to Peter Roskam by 4,200 votes.
Finally was Emanuel's decision to concentrate early on a limited number of races (21) where Democrats could pick up seats, rather that spread DCCC money around to a far larger number of candidates in GOP controlled districts. In previous years, this strategy has proven fatal, but thanks to the progressive "netroots" and other grassroots organizations-- and the DNC's 50 State Strategy devised by Howard Dean, sufficient seed money was made available to a far wider range of candidates earning them name recognition and providing voters with viable alternatives to entrenched GOP incumbents to consider. Emanuel didn't seem to even be aware of the large plurality of Americans who strongly disapproved of Bush's performance, and would vote against GOP incumbents who were mere rubber stamps for Bush's policies. Instead, he concentrated primarily on the small number of districts with GOP incumbents where Kerry had beaten Bush, or where there was a GOP incumbent so corrupt that a Democratic candidate was almost a lock.
WHY THE DEMOCRATS WON
First and foremost, the single most important reason why Democrats will wind up with over 30 additional seats in next Congress can be summed up in two words: "George Bush." Three more words also played an essential role: "Rubber Stamp Republicans." The disaster that is Bush and the GOP Congress managed to energize a Democratic base that was dispirited after the Democrats' poor performance in 2004, and angered and alienated two-thirds of the independent voters to the point where they felt compelled to vote for change.
There are two other key words: "Ned Lamont." Lamont did two things that made a huge difference-- it was he who made it clear that taking a strong stand against Bush's war in Iraq could win elections. But even more crucially, Lamont demonstrated to potential grassroots activists that odious yet entrenched incumbents could be defeated at the polls.
Howard Dean's recognition that the failed strategy of the last decade-- concentrating on fielding and supporting GOP Lite candidates in select districts that might be vulnerable to a Democratic takeover-- would result in Karl Rove's "permanent Republican majority" lead to the 50 State Strategy, which decentralized the all-important question of how Democratic Party money was spent-- with re-energized state party organizations as a main consequence.
But Dean's strategy will take years to be fully effective, and in 2006 it was the grassroots-- especially the "netroots"-- that made the difference. The progressive blogosphere and other organizations were instrumental in providing the volunteers and early money that turned also-ran candidates into viable candidates-- and they not only got the ball rolling, they kept it rolling right up until election day.
With few exceptions (like Heath Shuler in North Carolina) most of the "turnover seats" that the DCCC claims credit for could have been won by progressive, grassroots candidates-- there was a wave in this nation, and the DCCC picks were able to ride that wave. Rahm Emanuel is no genius-- indeed, his strategy was just as much of a failure as it had been when it had been employed in elections over the last decade.
We can expect in 2008 that the GOP will be trying to come back with a vengeance-- and it is essential that someone who understands and appreciates the importance of grassroots in elections be placed in charge of the DCCC for the next election cycle. Rahm Emanuel has to go-- the GOP will still have the structural advantages that were the result of political gerrymandering, as well as an expected financial advantage. 2006 showed us how to win, and the lessons of 2006 must be carried forward if the Democratic Party is to remain the majority in the House.
-by Paul Lukasiak