Saturday, April 16, 2016

Is A Democratic Wave Building? The Current DCCC Won't Be Selling Surf Boards


The fairytale about a Democratic wave taking back the House from the Republicans has reared its head again, this time from Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley at Sabato's Crystal Ball. We'll get into the crystal ball in a minute but a short version of reality is that the DCCC is so corrupted and incompetent after years and years of Rahm Emanuel-model campaigning that the organization is adept at only one thing: losing easy seats. They are incapable of winning and until Pelosi and Hoyer are gone, the Democrats will never recapture the House, not even if the top of the GOP ticket is Bozo the Clown and the fetid corpse of Benito Mussolini. You just can't beat an incumbent with nothing. And nothing is what the DCCC is all about.

Kondik and Skelley start their statistical and very theoretical hunt for a wave in Pennsylvania's bizarrely gerrymandered and misshapen 7th congressional district, an R+2 swing district that Obama won with 53% in 2008 and lost with 49% in 2012 and which includes most of Delaware County stretches north into Montgomery and Berks counties and west into Chester. It's exactly the kind of district the Democrats have to win-- by beating GOP incumbent Pat Meehan-- if they're going to have any chance of even getting close to taking back the House. But the DCCC has a weak, unelectable candidate, a wealthy, moderate pastor named Bill Golderer but all the local activists and county Democratic parties are behind Mary Ellen Balchunis, a progressive college professor who ran in 2014. (The DCCC, which prides itself on going against local Democratic parties, has Golderer on their Red to Blue emerging races list, normally a mark of painful and imminent political death.) The numbers don't matter if the Democrats aren't unified behind a candidate-- and they won't be. An, regardless of waves, at the end of December Meehan had $2,202,899 on hand, while Golderer had $234,419 and Balchunis had $10,006. OK... let's hear the statistical arguments.
Partly because the GOP controlled redistricting in many key states after 2010 and partly because Democratic strength is more geographically consolidated in big cities, the current congressional map gives Republicans a basic structural advantage. That a district like PA-7, which Romney won while he was losing by about four points nationally, is the median House district for Obama’s 2012 performance illustrates this. So does the fact that Romney won 224 House districts to Obama’s 211 while Obama was winning a second term (this is based on the new maps in Florida and Virginia, which improved Democratic prospects in both states-- Obama won 209 as of the 2012 lines). But as we ponder the situation in the House as Republicans appear likely to nominate a potentially polarizing person-- Donald Trump or Ted Cruz-- to lead their national ticket, we have to consider a world in which the Democrats not only win the White House again, but win it by a bigger margin than Obama did in 2012. As we discussed last week while updating our Senate and gubernatorial ratings, the coattail effect and the higher propensity for straight-ticket voting could prove to be very damaging to the GOP with Trump or Cruz leading the party in 2016.

The Crystal Ball has repeatedly asserted that, in this polarized political age, it would be difficult for one party to win much less than 45% of the two-party vote (the total vote won by the two major parties) in a presidential contest or win much more than 55%. Whereas Barry Goldwater (R) and George McGovern (D) were blown out in 1964 and 1972, respectively, with between 38% and 39% of the two-party vote, today a larger share of voters fall into the Democratic and Republican camps to start out, meaning the parties have higher support floors but also correspondingly lower support ceilings. In 2008, Obama won 53.7% of the two-party vote; in 2012, he won almost exactly 52%, the record-tying seventh consecutive White House election where neither party won more than 55% of the two-party vote (1876 to 1900 was the last time such a competitive streak occurred).

To examine the possibilities of a Democratic “wave” in the House, we’ve laid out three basic scenarios based off the 2012 election result as a starting point. These scenarios examine how a one-point, two-point, and three-point increase in Obama’s two-party vote in each congressional district would affect the number of districts won by Obama and Romney. A Democratic improvement by three points nationally would reach the 55% two-party upper limit discussed above. To be sure, in 2016 there will not be a perfectly consistent change in vote support from the 2012 baseline for either party throughout the country. And there is also the possibility of a significant third-party or independent candidate emerging who could scramble this math-- for now, these calculations assume that one does not, but that is far from certain.

Nonetheless, a national swing across all congressional districts demonstrates the potential effects of the GOP nominating an outside-the-mainstream standard-bearer. Table 1 lays out the outcomes when one moves Obama’s 2012 two-party vote up one, two, and three notches.

If the Democratic share of the 2012 two-party vote improved to 53% nationally and increased by one point across all 435 congressional districts (and the GOP share correspondingly decreased by one point), Democrats would edge ahead in the total number of districts won at the presidential level, but only by nine seats. In terms of exposure, Republicans would go from holding 28 seats in Obama districts to holding 39. Considering Republicans presently hold a 247-188 edge in the House, such a shift could conceivably threaten the GOP’s majority. Still, to win back the House, Democrats would have to win almost every seat carried by the Democratic presidential nominee that is currently held by a Republican. And at the same time, Democrats would have to defend five seats won by the GOP presidential nominee. If there were no crossover district results in 2016-- an exceedingly unlikely scenario-- Democrats could net 34 seats, four more than they need for a majority. This is probably a bridge too far for the House’s minority party, particularly given that some of these Obama-seat Republicans are entrenched, veteran incumbents with weak Democratic opponents.

However, the next two scenarios back up an observation made by RealClearPolitics’ Sean Trende: In many states, Republican-controlled legislatures drew a large number of marginally Republican seats in order to maximize the number of seats the party could control. But a relatively large Democratic wave could inundate even some supposedly safe GOP seats, overcoming a seemingly high floodwall. Whereas a one-point increase over 2012 would result in nine net seats being won by the Democratic presidential nominee, a two-point increase (54% nationally) quickly raises that net advantage to 35 seats. Suddenly Republicans would be defending 50 seats in districts won by the Democratic presidential nominee, and two Democratic-held Romney seats would become slightly more blue than not. This would give Democrats a substantial target list to get to the necessary 30-seat gain they need to take back the lower chamber. And a three-point Democratic increase to 55%, a reasonable upper limit in our eyes, would leave 56 GOP-held seats in blue territory. Overall, Democrats would hold a presidential vote edge in 241 seats. This would be similar to the 2008 presidential vote: That year, Obama won the two-party vote in 242 congressional districts as currently drawn.

What types of districts become exposed, and where are they? Well, almost all of the Republican-held districts that could come into play in any of these scenarios are located in states that Obama won in both 2008 and 2012, as shown in Table 2. Only AZ-2, encompassing the southeast corner of Arizona around Tucson, and TX-23, a giant southwestern Texas district that the two parties have swapped in three straight cycles, are in red states.

About half could be safely described as suburban and/or exurban in nature. A number are in the orbit of major cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Denver, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia (including PA-7), Tampa, and Washington, DC. Some of these districts, such as VA-10, have wealthy and highly-educated voters who may not go for Trump or Cruz. Many of these 56 districts also have large nonwhite populations, including some of the more rural ones. In the case of the two red-state seats in this group, both AZ-2 and TX-23 have large Latino populations, particularly the latter, which has one of the 15-highest shares of Hispanics of any district in the House. While many of these individuals are not necessarily registered to vote (or even eligible to), it’s not hard to imagine heightened Latino turnout with Trump at the top of the GOP ticket leading to down-ballot problems for Republicans.

While the GOP has a large majority to work with and are considerably more likely than not to hold onto the House, these scenarios illustrate that Republicans could find themselves under duress if the top of the ticket battle goes awry for them. Coattails and straight-ticket voting could conceivably carry Democrats back into the majority if that happened.

The headliners here are probably the two Republican-held seats that move from Leans Republican to Toss-up: NV-3, an open swing seat held by Rep. Joe Heck (R), who is running for Senate, and IA-3, held by first-term Rep. David Young (R). Obama won both districts in 2012, and they both vote roughly with the national average in presidential elections. Neither party may have a truly top-tier candidate in either race. Young is an incumbent, but he’s hardly as entrenched as his predecessor, former Rep. Tom Latham (R), who retired in 2014. Democrats are choosing among Jim Mowrer, a veteran who unsuccessfully challenged conservative Rep. Steve King (R) in IA-4 last cycle, as well as businessman Mike Sherzan and former state Senate candidate Desmund Adams. In NV-3, national Democrats prefer synagogue leader Jacky Rosen over attorney Jesse Sbaih, to the point where Sbaih, a Muslim, accused Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, the Silver State’s Democratic political godfather, of telling him that a Muslim couldn’t win the seat. Reid denies this. Republicans are deciding among state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, the establishment favorite, as well as perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian (son of former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian) and far-right state Assemblywoman Michele Fiore.

The bottom line here is that none of these candidates has particularly deep roots, meaning that fundamentals and the presidential race really could decide things. That’s why we look at both as Toss-ups.

Five of these changes push seats that were already Likely Democratic into the Safe Democratic column. Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (D, AZ-9), Julia Brownley (D, CA-26), Dave Loebsack (D, IA-2), Tim Walz (D, MN-1), and Ann Kuster (D, NH-2) occupy districts that are at least somewhat competitive on paper, but all of them seem to be in decent shape. In all likelihood, we might be checking back on some of these districts in 2018, particularly if a Democrat occupies the White House and Republicans benefit from generic discontent with the president’s party, a common affliction in midterm years that fueled big GOP elections in 2010 and 2014. But for now, these Democratic incumbents appear safe.

Two additional Democratic seats, both in California, also look difficult for Republicans. Both the open CA-24 (held by Lois Capps, who is retiring) and Rep. Scott Peters’ San Diego-area seat, CA-52, were very competitive in 2014, but Democrats generally perform better in California House races in presidential years. Both of these seats move from Leans Democratic to Likely Democratic.

The one ratings change that favors the Republicans is in the open VA-2, where Rep. Scott Rigell (R) is retiring. This is a district that Romney narrowly won under the state’s new congressional map, but it’s competitive on paper. However, Democrats failed to recruit a top-tier challenger: The only person who filed is Shaun Brown, a perennial Newport News City Council candidate. Republicans, meanwhile, may have a de facto incumbent nominee: longtime Rep. Randy Forbes (R, VA-4), who is running in VA-2 after his district became very Democratic in court-ordered redistricting. Forbes does need to get through a primary, but the Republican edge is growing anyway in this district: We’re moving VA-2 from Leans Republican to Likely Republican.

In Northern Virginia, first-term Rep. Barbara Comstock (R, VA-10) will be well-funded and is a strong campaigner used to tough races. But her district, as noted above, could be a place where Trump or Cruz could bomb as a presidential nominee. VA-10 has the nation’s highest median income and more than half of its residents have a college degree, far above the national average (about 30%). LuAnn Bennett (D), a businesswoman who was once married to former Northern Virginia Rep. Jim Moran (D), is a promising candidate who will still need top-of-the-ticket help to beat Comstock-- and she very well could get it in this swingy district with a small Republican tilt. We’re moving VA-10 from Likely Republican to Leans Republican.

Finally, three other Republican-held districts move from Safe Republican to Likely Republican, mostly out of an abundance of caution. Reps. Don Young (R, AK-AL), Ryan Zinke (R, MT-AL), and Scott Tipton (R, CO-3) all have drawn intriguing Democratic challengers, and if a down-ticket Democratic wave develops, perhaps all could be vulnerable even though their districts-- statewide districts in the case of Young and Zinke-- are significantly more Republican than the nation as a whole.

It’s hard to imagine any of them actually losing. But, then again, it’s hard to imagine Democrats winning back the House. However, that remote prospect is getting at least a little more plausible because of problems at the top of the GOP ticket. And if the Democrats do indeed threaten the GOP House majority, they will probably be putting House districts in play that at this point do not seem all that competitive. Perhaps one of these districts would qualify.
Goal Thermometer Alaska? Really? Don Young has $606,985 banked right now. The Democrat didn't raise the $5,000 needed to trigger a report. Montana seems more feasible, but... Zinke's last report showed $743,984 in the bank (after spending $2,021,767) while Democrat Denise Juneau had $239,601 banked. And in CO-03, Scott Tipton had stashed $586,289 and the Democrat hadn't triggered a report yet. So... you can't beat someone with no one and you can't beat the Republicans with the current DCCC. If you would like to elect more progressives in districts where they can win-- regardless of Sabato's crystal ball or the lack of DCCC balls, please tap the magic thermometer on the right.

In his report for MSNBC today, Alex Seitz-Wald looked into what effect Bernie can have on the congressional races-- and he started in the heart of darkness: Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the corrupt congresswoman from south Florida. She's "facing her first real primary fight since she was elected to Congress from Florida in 2004," he wrote. "Her challenger is Tim Canova, a progressive law professor fueled by the Sanders movement. It’s a longshot, but Canova has some key actors from the Sanders coalition behind him. Sanders has long called for a “political revolution” that would sweep ideological allies into office up and down the ballot, and Canova is one of handful of congressional candidates who support the presidential candidate and are running on a similar platform. “We are part of the same movement,” Canova said of Sanders.
Sanders has so far made few steps to expand his political revolution beyond the top of the ticket.

On Wednesday, his campaign deployed their powerful email fundraising list for the first time to support three candidates who have endorsed the Vermont senator, New York’s Zephyr Teachout, Washington’s Pramila Jayapal and Nevada’s Lucy Flores. While aides would not comment on whether he will help Canova, the Sanders campaign is expected ramp up its help for candidates down-ballot.

Howie Klein, a longtime critic of Democratic congressional leaders who runs the Blue America PAC, said supporting candidates like Canova is the next organic phase of the Sanders movement.

“Bernie has made it real clear that the revolution isn’t about getting him in the White House,” he said. “It’s about galvanizing and inspiring a whole generation of people, and many generations of people, to be a part of a mass movement to make real changes to the status quo.”

Blue America has a project called “Bernie Congress” aimed at bolstering campaigns from candidates who back Sanders and meet a high ideological threshold.

Wasserman Schultz has found herself on the wrong side the left on a range of fronts, from her alleged softness on the payday lending industry, to her opposition of medical marijuana, to her perceived reluctance to back President Obama’s Iran deal, to her support for so-called fast-track trade authority opposed by critics of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Comments she made in January on abortion led a large progressive organization to call for Wasserman Schultz’ resignation.

Many Democratic members of Congress have held similar positions, but none are also the chairwoman of the DNC, so there’s an interest in making an example out of Wasserman Schultz.

Before hardly anyone knew Canova’s name, the group Allied Progress began running digital and TV ads in Wasserman Schultz’ district attacking her connections to Florida’s powerful payday lending industry, which financial reform advocates say preys on the poor.

The group placed a billboard on the route the congresswoman would likely take to-and-from the airport, and a second that anyone going to her district office would likely pass.

“This is not going to end anytime soon,” said Karl Frisch, the executive director of Allied Progress, which is not taking sides in the primary. “These lenders are vultures. Why any member of Congress would be cozying up to these people is beyond me.”
But there are dozens of corrupt conservative Democrats in Congress who deserve a primary as much as Wasserman Schultz does. Few are getting them, though. The exceptions are Lacy Clay (MO), who's being challenged by Missouri state Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal; Donald Norcross (NJ), who will have to face Alex Law; and chief Blue Dog Kurt Schrader (OR) who's facing off against Dave McTeague. All on this Act Blue page, along with Canova, of course.

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At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Exit 135 said...

After looking at a map of Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District, the first question is: How can that be constitutional - legal.

The district was not drawn by a monkey on meth, it was drawn by a statistical survey of exactly like minded households to achieve an exact result. It is patently absurd this type of gerrymandering occurs.

At 7:24 AM, Anonymous ap215 said...

I just don't see the Dems winning the House for 3 reasons.

1. Imcompetent DCCC Leadership & Company

2. Gerrymandering

3. Voter ID Laws/ Election Fraud

Until the leadership changes from Establishment to Progressive the Republicans will retain the House.


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