Monday, November 13, 2006



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 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.
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  
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.

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. 
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

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At 6:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

TX(BLUE!)22 here with the skinny on Sekula-Gibbs-Jolie-Pitts' getting "more votes in the Special Election than Lampson got in the General Election":

Dems voted for SSG in the Special Election (and Lampson in the Gen'l) so she'd have to quit her Houston City Council seat in order to serve her 2 whole months in Congress.

SNAP! We ain't stoopid, ya know!

The residents of District 22 worked our collective selves to the bone to get Lampson elected. Turns Out Tom DeLay's backyard is full of Democrats!

Rahm can try to take all the credit but Nick Lampson, his campaign staff, and brazillions of volunteers made it happen.


At 7:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this piece. You have provided what I believe to be the most comprehensive rebuttal to the "Rahm won the House" narrative I have read yet. Further, you succeed in capturing many of the other factors that contributed to Democratic victory.

Great work and come back soon!

At 8:05 AM, Blogger MEC said...

Rahm Emanuel personally recruited Jim Marcinkowski to run against Cheney minion Mike Rogers in Michigan's 8th district, and then abandoned him. Emanuel also ignored Nancy Skinner's strong campaign against Joe Knollenberg in the 9th district, which has been Republican for at least 22 years but is in a county that's trending Democratic. Marcinkowski and Skinner lost in these supposedly "strong Republican" districts by only 4%. If Emanuel had (a) kept his promise and (b) paid attention to events instead of following his own "game plan", we might have won these seats. I really hope Emanuel isn't the DCCC chair for the next election.

At 8:13 AM, Blogger Phoenix Woman said...

Johnnygunn has a DKos diary that maps out the Democrats' 2006 gains -- and shows that the Democrats underperformed in the House races, compared to how they did in the State Houses, governorships, and Senate races. This ties in nicely with Paul's findings.

At 8:15 AM, Blogger Phoenix Woman said...

One other thing: DeLay's gerrymandering finally backfired. In order to create a whole passel of barely-Republican districts, he had to severely water down the GOP presence in strong Republican districts like his own. This left them vulnerable to a big Democratic tidal wave, such as what happened this year.

At 9:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spot On!!! I have long felt to many Dem candidates fear the liberal message and present themselfs as "republican lite". In doing so they appear emasculate themselfs. That hipocritical appearance is offensive to all.

At 10:09 AM, Blogger Jacqueline said...

I like Rahm.

At 10:09 AM, Blogger Jacqueline said...


At 11:03 AM, Blogger Phoenix Woman said...

Mrkg8: Your comments about Rahm's mishandling of his hand-picked pet project, Tammy Duckworth, help prove Paul Lukasiak's point: Rahm couldn't get his own pet elected -- and in fact doomed her candidacy. (I've heard lots of Duckworth backers bemoan the crummy ads he ran for her; her own ads were much better.) Of course, it didn't help that Duckworth didn't actually live in the CD and had to have her ground game parachuted in. (As for Cegelis, she was sandbagged early on once it was clear that Emanuel wasn't going to give her a dime.)

Meanwhile, netroots candidates like Tim Walz did pretty darned well.

At 11:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I completely agree with your assessment. Absent the tremendous grassroots "on the ground" efforts, nothing that Kos, or Atrios, or Howie and Jane did would have made a difference.

By the same token, we've all seen lots of candidates with strong grassroots backing lose, and lose big.

This piece was primarily a rebuttal of the idea that Rahm's strategy had been successful -- it wasn't. So I probably didn't make it clear, but IMHO the "netroots" helped make a bunch of candidates who were considered "long shots" at best into viable candidates who could attract more money and (even more importantly) volunteers. It was the "grassroots" people on the ground, however, that put us over the top.

At 1:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

AlanSmithee: winning takes time and money. Volunteers need phones to call from, headquarters to gather at, flyers and doorhangers to hand out, envelopes to stuff: it all costs money.

The netroots gave money to support the volunteers. All due credit goes to the volunteers, because you can't buy that kind of time and dedication. But the netroots also get some credit for supporting the volunteers with the money they needed to be effective.

Plus, of course, in many cases the volunteers and the netroots were one and the same. Blogging + phonebanking, knocking on doors + giving money through ActBlue... I'm sure a lot of people did more than one thing to make this victory happen.

At 3:31 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

the bloggers I saw mentioned (Kos, FDL and Bowers) most certainly DID get out and work for candidates, so I have no idea what Smithee is talking about. Here in Oregon we had a blogger's night at the phone bank, and I personally spent the entire Election Day trying to bring in votes, after having canvassed my neighborhood to make sure everyone was registered in time.

I'm sure there were some bloggers who were all talk and no action. The ones I read most were not like that. They walked the talk--and demanded that readers do the same.

At 8:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Durbin's involvement is not the issue. Rahm had a choice... back a "carpetbagger" war hero, stay neutral, or support someone with genuine grassroots support.

He threw money and support behind Tammy Duckworth, and dissed the progressive candidate supported by the grassroots.

The key difference, IMHO, is that regardless of how bad the DCCC commercials sucked, Cegalis would have had the organization/grassroots support needed to win that race.

I really, Really, REALLY appreciate all your hard work on behalf of Tammy Duckworth, and I sincerely wanted her to win... I wanted ALL the Democratic candidates to win. That doesn't change the fact that Rahm's strategy sucked....and that Tammy Duckworth's existence on the general election ballot was because of DCCC financial support being directed to her (and potential financial supporters of Cegalis were being discouraged by Rahm and his coterie.)

This isn't personal... I can't put into words how much I admire your dedication to the Duckworth candidacy. But this is about how we win elections -- and about the DCCC wound up supporting so many losing candidates while progressive "outsiders" managed to back winners.

At 9:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish you'd send this to the Chicago TRibune. Last week they, too drank the Rahm Emanuel kool-aid. They repeated the story that it was Rahm's victory. NEVER mentioned Howard Dean. This ought to get their attention. This was excellent! Thank you for all your work.

At 7:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in PA-06 and Rahm's efforts for Lois Murphy were ATROCIOUS!!!!

SIX ....SIX Gerlach ads were shown for every ONE Murphy ad....

The phrase "Liberal Lois.....Liberal Lois" was heard on TV's throughout Chester County over and over again in the Gerlach ads...I didnt see a Murphy ad until at least mid-October...and it was ineffective at best.

She lost by 9000 votes!!!!....9000 votes in an area that leans more moderate than PA-07 where Sestak defeat Weldon with the help of netroots and Weldon's affinity for corrupt behavior......if the Murphy campaign is any indication of how Rahm runs the campaigning wing of the DCCC



At 9:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can we bell the cat (Rahm) and the centrists! Part of their problem is they are still playing by an old play book, but part is that they are sold to the highest bidder. They have become part of the imperial court. They are cut off from the provinces and think their fine silks mean they are the best and the brightest. Spare us all from the capitol city and all it's, pols, experts, etcetcetc.

At 9:13 AM, Blogger Jimmy the Saint said...

Anon 7:19 AM,
I know how you feel. I live in the district as well. Gerlach was beatable, and yet I don't think we did as well this year as in 2004. I don't know who they'll get to run in '08. Thank god it won't be Murphy. It's too bad she lets Rahm and his crew run everything.

At 9:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Paul: for every Heath Shuler Rahm can tout, there's a progressive Larry Kissell in a red state that defeats the CW of the DLC.

I think a full understanding of this requires getting past ALL the egos and looking at the strategy of playing to the middle.

I propose: the middle is a myth.

No voter I know, across the political spectrum, advocates a middle position on any specific issue. Only politicians and political analysts do that, usually because they know their own position can't win.

A realistic middle would weigh each issue individually, based on feedback from voters. A candidate could then find an acceptable position that might be rigid conservative on some, socialist on others, yielding only on 2 or 3 of the half dozen issues that really motivate the voters in any given year. On other issues, they could easily take liberal stances across the board.

To me, that's innovative, progressive and mostly liberal. Voters want an advocate, not a wishy-washy moderate. And in most cases, adjusting to be conservative on two or three issues makes for pragmatic populist progressivism, not Republican Light.

A perfect example? Watch Obama & Edwards do it, with WalMart. Based on my projections for the national economy in early 2008, those two will be best positioned to remain a team and take the presidency. And I bet taxcuts for the 60% at the bottom, plus effective defense measures will be two core conservative principles they'll push to get there - without surrendering on issues like abortion, more socialized healthcare, and other core liberal goals.

At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good analysis but you should have also mentioned that in some cases we won with progressive candidates who defeated Rahm's Repub lite choices in the primary -- e.g., CA-11 -- which strengthens your argument.

You should have also given props to DFA, the group that Howard Dean founded, which was "on the ground" in so many House races -- both those that we won and those that we narrowly lost (my DFA group was involved in IL-10 and IL-11, for example).

At 12:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very pleasing tale and no doubt what everyone on our side of the blogosphere wants to hear.

But I think this is a pretty blatant and biased hit piece. One sign of this is his attempt to blame the NY-26 loss on Rahm. The reason Jack Davis didn't win is because he didn't campaign... more money wouldn't have done a thing, Davis was just an awful candidate. Lukasiak obviously doesn't know a thing about this race and was just looking for more stuff to blame on Emanuel.

"at least five of his other victories were based on progressive bloggers providing the seed money that demonstrated that these were viable candidates." How much did progressive bloggers give to these candidates? Might they have done just fine and had Rahm pick them in the second tier without blog money? Not according to Lukasiak's logic, because everything the bloggers did is right and everything Rahm did is wrong. Look at the fricking title, for christ's sake... his agenda is clear.

Add to that the absolutely moronic logic that crucifies Rahm for his candidates that lost but doesn't hold anything against the netroots for their losing candidates (surely they wouldn't have lost if Rahm had only given them more money!)... this is a crude hit piece that is telling you guys what you want to hear, plain and simple.

At 4:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark -

We had robocalls here in NY-19 and we still won. And we had blogger-types like me who did canvassing and got others involved too. It was a great experience.

A big reason for the success was that John Hall was able to get a lot of committed volunteers. Also Sue Kelly was not really a good candidate.

We played it hard and upfront that Kelly was a rubber stamp - if you like Bush vote for her - otherwise go with Hall. That was a simple message that got through.

I'm sorry Tammy didn't win.

I'm also sorry Larry Kissell didn't win.


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