Fights Worth Fighting-- In Wisconsin And California
In 2010 the Republicans were very serious about taking over the House. The NRCC-- their version of the DCCC-- suited up for full on war early on and they decided to not just go after weak struggling freshmen who had won in the Democratic wave year of 2008, many of whom had come in on President Obama's coattails, but to also go after very senior Democrats, some of whom had been in office "forever" and who were powerful, heavily-financed committee chairmen. So it wasn't just backbencher weak links like freshmen Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ), Travis Childers (MS), Suzanne Kosmas (FL), Bobby Bright (AL). Michael McMahon (NY), Harry Teague (NM), and Kathy Dahlkemper (PA), but also powerful old warhorses like John Spratt (SC), the Budget Committee Chairman, first elected in 1982 and Ike Skelton (MO), the Armed Services Committee Chairman, first elected in 1976.
These two powerful chairman easily outspent their GOP opponents:
John Spratt ($2,497,633)- Mickey Mulvaney ($1,510,414)
Ike Skelton ($3,107,552)- Vicky Hartzler ($1,351,176)
But there was something else these two races had in common. McCain had beaten Obama in each district the year before. In SC-5 McCain won with 53% (while Spratt beat his Republican opponent 62-37%) and in MO-4 McCain won with 61% (at the same time Skelton beat his Republican opponent 66-34%). Astounding numbers! So what changed? What made popular local politicians like Spratt and Skelton, both of whom used their committees to bring home the bacon to the district, suddenly so vulnerable? There were several factors, of course, but one was that the NRCC actually went after them and went after them for real.
Their replacements as committee chairs have been nothing short of tragic for the United States. Paul Ryan took over as Budget Committee chairman and Buck McKeon took over as Armed Services Committee chairman. Interestingly, each is from a district Obama won-- albeit narrowly-- in 2008. Obama beat McCain 49-48% in CA-25 (McKeon's district) and Obama beat McCain 51-48% in WI-1 (Ryan's district). The two Republican incumbents will also easily outspend their Democratic opponents this year. But the real tragedy is that the defeatist DCCC refuses to target either of these powerful-- yet extremely vulnerable-- incumbents. Ryan and McKeon could both be beaten and replaced by progressive Democrats Rob Zerban and Lee Rogers. But, unlike a surging NRCC in 2010, a mealy-mouthed, despondent, and pessimistic DCCC, led by Steve Israel, a "former" Blue Dog more concerned about electing conservative Democrats than about taking out odious Republicans, has convinced itself that it can't win in either of these districts. The DCCC is wrong.
McKeon is on the verge of defeat-- with or without the DCCC-- based on local politics. And in Wisconsin, Ryan has come to symbolize the national discontent with an anti-social, reactionary, right-wing vision that mixes up the interests of struggling American working families with the demented precepts in Ayn Rand novels enjoyed by adolescents with stunted intellectual growth.
So does it matter that the DCCC refuses to take on powerful Republicans. They made sure that there wouldn't even be an opponent for Boehner this year by sandbagging and sabotaging Justin Coussoule, the Democrat who ran against him in 2010. And they're furiously ignoring Wayne Powell's valiant-- albeit uphill-- efforts to unseat Eric Cantor this year. But taking on McKeon and Ryan are jobs the Democratic grassroots should demand of the DCCC. For whatever byzantine reasons Nancy Pelosi thought she had to appoint an "ex"-Blue Dog like Steve Israel to head the committee, she should replace him before it's too late and the country is relegated to another two years of heinous Republican congressional domination. Yesterday a poll was released showing that half the voters now understand that the House "Republicans are deliberately hamstringing efforts to resuscitate the economy in order to bolster their chances of defeating President Barack Obama." It isn't only Boehner and Cantor who are responsible for that agenda. Republican committee chairs like Ryan and McKeon are carrying it out. They must be stopped. But Steve Israel is blocking attempts to stop them.
What does the DCCC even matter, you ask? This week small grassroots donors-- many inspired by a keener understanding of the dangers to the nation of Paul Ryan than Steve Israel will ever have-- put Rob Zerban over the million dollar mark in fundraising, one of the few Democratic challengers to achieve that 100% on his own, with no help-- to put it mildly-- from the DCCC. (Like I've reported before, one of the biggest annual DCCC donors told me personally that Steve Israel told her not to help Zerban financially.) The DCCC claims they will put Democratic challengers on their Red-to-Blue list (which signals wealthy Democratic donors that it's OK to contribute) if the candidates reach specific fundraising levels. Zerban was told last quarter that if he got to $200,000, he'd be on the list. He went beyond $200,000 and hit $300,000 but Israel blocked him. Israel would much rather see a conservative-- endorsed by the corrupt New Dems-- Jamie Wall get the institutional Democratic help than Zerban. In fact, he added both Wall and Patrick Kreitlow, also from Wisconsin, to Red to Blue. As of the March 31 FEC reporting deadlines here's what the 3 Wisconsin challengers had raised:
Jamie Wall- $445,906
Pat Kreitlow- $559,444
Rob Zerban- $821,063
Even more telling, though, is the amount that came from grassroots donors. With support from the DCCC, institutional donors and PACs opened their wallets for Wall and Kreitlow... but not for Zerban. This is the percentage of money that the FEC reports that the 3 Wisconsin challengers got from individual grassroots donors:
Jamie Wall- 54% from individuals, 32% from PACs
Pat Kreitlow- 64% from individuals, 34% from PACs
Rob Zerban- 80% from individuals, 8% from PACs
Similarly, Lee Rogers' has raised almost all of his funds ($180,429 as of May 16) from grassroots donors-- a startling 86%-- and almost nothing from institutional contributors (7% from PACs). McKeon is probably the most hated Republican incumbent by his own constituents in the entire country. By ignoring the most important local issue (the CEMEX mine), because of his high-handed way of dealing with local officials and the local GOP and because of his astounding record of blatant corruption, the DCCC should recognize him as one of the most vulnerable incumbents in America. But McKeon's problems in his district aren't easily quantifiable and can't be plugged into outmoded DCCC/Cook Report models for winning districts. Lee Rogers can win CA-25 for many of the same reasons why insurgent Democrats Matt Cartwright and Beto O'Rourke beat Tim Holden and Silvestre Reyes in Pennsylvania and Texas, two races that found the DCCC and Cook completely flatfooted. There are some meaningful assumptions for the general that can be drawn for a harder-than-usual-to-read California open primary. In CA-25-- Santa Clarita, Simi Valley, Porter Ranch, and the Antelope Valley-- the numbers show a clear opportunity for Rogers to beat McKeon.
Keep in mind, Democrats didn't turn out for the primary. Neither Rogers, Obama, nor Ed Headington (the local Assembly candidate) had any Democratic opposition so interest from Democratic voters was low. In California, only registered Republicans can vote for a Republican Presidential candidate and only registered Democrats or independents can vote for a Democratic candidate. That can help us estimate what the partisan voter turnout was. A general election prediction could be performed by adjusting for district R/D registrations or Obama/McCain performance as a guide. In either model, the race appears much closer than one would assume.
2012 Congressional Primary
Buck McKeon (R) 33,653 (50.4%)
Lee Rogers (D) 20,117 (30.1%)
Dante Acosta (R) 8,588 (12.9%)
Cathie Wright (R) 4,413 (6.6%)
2012 Presidential Primary
Barack Obama (D) 18,490 (27.7%)
Republican Candidates 35,483 (53.1%)
Abstentions 12,798 (19.2%)
2008 Presidential Election
Barack Obama (D) 49%
John McCain (R) 48%
CA-25 Based on R/D Registration
Democrats underperformed by 5.9%
Republicans overperformed by 9.4%
CA-25 Based on 2008 Obama/McCain
Democrats underperformed by 21.3%
Republicans overperformed by 5.1%
In any case, we know that the sample of primary voters in no way represents an accurate picture of the general election turnout. Past district performance shows that there could be a realistic swing of 15-26%. Furthermore, Rogers received over 1500 more votes than Obama, showing crossover support. McKeon, as a 10-term incumbent, committee chair, with near universal name ID, barely garnered 50% of the vote in a primary with vastly disproportionate Republican turnout. A well-run campaign by a Democratic opponent could be successful. This has the makings of a “toss up” district. So where's the DCCC? Wasting money by working to elect Blue Dogs and other conservatives in hopelessly red districts.
Meanwhile, you can find Rob Zerban and Lee Rogers both on the same page-- and it isn't a DCCC page. They cane beat Ryan and McKeon without raising as much money as either one of them-- but they do need some contributions to help them stay competitive on the media and able to mount serious get out the vote efforts.