Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Throwing In The Towel In The Democrats' Great ATM State


Let me start with California and I'll do the rest of the country soon. Obama won big in California in 2008. He beat McCain 8,274,473 (61%) to 5,011,781 (37%). All 51 of the state's incumbent House members were reelected, 34 Democrats and 19 Republicans. However, in 8 congressional districts with Republican incumbents, Obama beat McCain. Some were very close, like in the 48th CD (the heart of Orange County) where Obama edged McCain by just a few votes in a 49-49% finish and in the 3rd (the Sacramento suburbs), where it was almost an identical result. Other districts broke more resoundingly with their Republican pasts, particularly CA-45 (much of Riverside County) where Obama beat McCain 52-47%, a nine point swing after Kerry's dismal 43% in 2004. There were no congressional districts in California with Democratic congressmen where McCain beat Obama.

What this says is that, at least in theory, there are 8 Republican incumbents who should be in jeopardy in November. This is the list, along with Obama's winning percentage:
Dan Lungren (CA-03)- 49%
Elton Gallegly (CA-24)- 51%
Buck McKeon (CA-25)- 49%
David Dreier (CA-26)- 51%
Ken Calvert (CA-44)- 50%
Mary Bono Mack (CA-45)- 52%
John Campbell (CA-49)- 49%
Brian Bilbray (CA-50)- 51%

Each of these Republican congressmen is running again this year and each has a Democratic challenger. These are the races:
Dan Lungren vs Ami Bera
Elton Gallegly vs Tim Allison
Buck McKeon vs Jackie Conaway
David Dreier vs Russ Warner
Ken Calvert vs Bill Hedrick
Mary Bono Mack vs Steve Pougnet
John Campbell vs Beth Krom
Brian Bilbray vs Francine Busby

So is the DCCC seeing California as eight clear pick-up opportunities? Absolutely not. The DCCC is playing defense this year, not offense. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has made it clear the priority is to save seats of Blue Dogs and other conservative Democrats who have voted against Democratic priorities and thereby turned off the Democratic base. Virtually all the money the DCCC is collecting this year is going to shore up the desperate campaigns of reactionaries like Bobby Bright (Blue Dog-AL), Travis Childers (Blue Dog-MS), Chris Carney (Blue Dog-PA), Frank Kratovil (Blue Dog-MD), and Suzanne Kosmas (FL). The DCCC is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars per district-- as much as a million in some cases-- to help reelect members who vote anti-Choice, antigay, anti-healthcare. Some, like Bobby Bright and Walt Minnick, are even refusing to commit to vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker if the Democrats win in November.

Now, back to California and to the DCCC support for the challengers there. There's virtually none. Just two of the eight, Ami Bera and Steve Pougnet, are listed on the anemic, mostly ignored Red to Blue page, though neither of them, and none of the others, are getting any substantive help from the DCCC. Bera and Pougnet are, of course, grateful with the little help they are getting, though both campaigns, like the other six, are working hard on the ground and not counting on DC for anything. Like I said above, virtually every dime is going to bolster the conservatives who have caused the enthusiasm gap for the Democratic Party with their lockstep votes with John Boehner on so many crucial issues. So far the DCCC hasn't spent any money at all on media buys for any of the California challengers. Pougnet has raised $5,789 on the Red to Blue page and Bera has raised $1,255. Presumably, some Democratic donors will write checks because they're on that list. And the some media outlets interpret the list to mean they're "serious" candidates.

In 2008 the incumbent who came closest to be ousted was corrupt sex predator Ken Calvert, who beat challenger Bill Hedrick 129,937 (51%) to 123,890 (49%)-- in a district that is trending Democratic and where registered Democrats now outnumber registered Republicans. After Hedrick's shocking totals, the DCCC admitted they had made a mistake by not backing him and promised to not let that happen again. Although that's exactly what they're doing again. Not only haven't they given Hedrick any financial help-- which he can really use; they acknowledged last time that he would have won had they helped him-- but they haven't even given him the symbolic gesture of putting him on their limp Red to Blue list.

Calvert, a Big Business fave for his record of unwavering support for corporate bailouts and corporate welfare, has collected $1,368,747 so far this year. Bill's grassroots supporters have contributed $367,698 towards his campaign. (Blue America has helped him raise just over $10,000 so far and the PCCC is on the ground and working their butts off doing the functions that a less venal and confused and more competent DCCC should be doing.)

In CA-48 Beth Krom, the former Mayor of Irvine, is challenging John Campbell, an avowed “Birther” who is widely regarded as one of the most stridently partisan, do-nothing obstructionists in Congress. Beth is no naïve newcomer. She won five consecutive races as a Democrat in Irvine-- right in the heart of conservative Orange County. And she didn’t just win by a hair; she won her second term as Mayor with almost 60% of the vote. And guess what? Irvine is the largest city in the district, representing almost 30% of voters.

If that alone was not enough to catch the eye of the DCCC, she’s raised almost $600,000 with the vast majority coming from new contributors in the district. At a time when it’s pretty hard to separate people-- if not corporations-- from their money, Beth has built a whole new fundraising base. And get this... I'm hearing that more than 20% of her money has come from Republicans and another 20% from independents. That’s unheard of in Orange County, and demonstrates that Beth-- like Obama-- can get the crossover support necessary to win.

From what virtually every candidate and some Insider sources have told me, there are basically two criteria that guarantee the attention of the DCCC: raise $1 million without their help or run in a safe Democratic district where the minute you have won the primary you are the de facto winner of the general election.

I’ve met Beth Krom; she’s got moxy and Blue America was really proud to endorse her. To her credit, she doesn’t seem to have let the lack of enthusiasm by the power elite in Washington distract her from her goal. She made headlines a few months ago by winning the Democracy for America All-stars competition for grassroots organizing, beating out 99 other candidates nationwide. She’s exactly the kind of person we need in Washington, and if the DCCC or EMILY’s List (I don’t know what EMILY stands for today, but it definitely no longer means Early Money Is Like Yeast) were smart, they would have made Beth’s campaign one of their higher profile races.

I asked Beth how she feels about being ignored by these folks, and here’s what she said:
“Is it frustrating? Of course it’s frustrating. I see Joe Sestak on MSNBC talking about how he raised $4 million in four weeks following his primary win, and I understand the power that these endorsements have. Other than the $25,000 we raised following our DFA All-star win, every penny we’ve raised has been through a phone call or event. I’ve put every friendship and relationship on the line to raise what we need to fund a credible campaign-- I’m still $250,000 short, so tapping into a national network of support would be a dream right now. This is a race we can win. Partisan registration has changed dramatically with Republicans representing only 44% of registered voters, and many of those folks supporting me. We’d love to be put on the DCCC Red to Blue List, and know it would help us immensely, but with or without institutional support, our team is determined to do everything we can to make history in November.

I spoke to over a dozen candidates in districts across the country where Obama won but where the DCCC has just given up and there is tremendous frustration and even anger. Most of the candidates, understandably, were reluctant to go on the record and express their contempt for the party organizations. Russ Warner, however, is a straight-shooter and didn't hold back. He ran against David Dreier in 2008 and lost by approximately 32,000 votes out of around 150,000 cast. Russ has raised around a quarter million dollars this year which isn't bad until you see that Dreier, one of Wall Street bankster's most beloved California shills, has $1,021,140 in his campaign warchest. Needless to say, the DCCC has no interest in Russ' race whatsoever. Russ doesn't seem terribly interested in them either.
"The DCCC is one of the most self-serving organizations in Washington, DC. They only help those candidates in the 'good old boy' system. I'm not part of the good old boy system. They didn't help me much last time and this time they're not helping me at all.

Blue America is trying to help Russ overcome the immense financial wall he has to climb to be competitive with Dreier. If you can help, our DumpDavidDreier page is a good place to start. And what Russ had to say is pretty much what I heard from all the candidates who had run before and from almost all of the first time candidates as well. The feeling is that Obama ran a campaign that inspired hope among people disaffected from 8 years of Bush/Republican/corporate rule-- and then handed power to back to conservatives (an effective governing coalition of Republicans and Blue Dogs). It’s obvious the national Democratic party has chosen to play it’s power in ways that serve the party rather than the people. If incumbents lose their seats this November, they will have only themselves to blame.

The Democratic party used to stand for something more than protectionism. We can only hope the Democratic leadership will learn something from the pummeling that pollsters and pundits are predicting. Failing to embrace opportunities to pick up new seats seems like an obvious misstep. What a shame that with a Democratic President and House majority, the party is too short-sighted and self absorbed to support fresh ideas and help inspiring candidates.

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At 12:33 PM, Anonymous me said...

Too bad Obama has been such a disappointment. If he'd acted like he had a set of balls, this election would have been a Democratic cakewalk.

Obama, you're no FDR.


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