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The rabid West Wing fans among us (okay, fine, this is the GUCD blog… let’s face it, that’s probably all of us) probably remember a sub-plotline of the Season 4 midterm elections wherein the Democratic campaign for the California 47th, Horton Wilde, actually lacks a pulse. While this is obviously a made-for-TV scenario, if we take a look at the upcoming midterms, a Democratic congressional candidate who is actually dead suddenly doesn’t seem too far-fetched.

Anyone who follows Democratic politics closely has probably picked up by now on the schism between DNC Chairman Howard Dean and DCCC Chair Rahm Emanuel. For more a detailed report on the Dean-Emanuel smackdown, check out Tom Edsall’s May 11th Washington Post article on the subject, which reports on a month-long inside the Beltway rumor of a conflict between Rep. Emanuel and Gov. Dean over campaign strategy for the midterms.

Dean has long since championed what he dubs a Democratic “50 states” strategy, arguing that Democrats can and should contest races in all 50 states, even those that polling and demographics suggest are near-unwinnable. The idea behind this philosophy is that Democrats can’t strengthen themselves in the long run unless they compete everywhere. Emanuel (a former ballerina and Clinton strategist from Illinois upon whom, rumor has it, the West Wing character Josh Lyman was largely based), on the other hand, has been very vocal with concerns that the DNC is spending too much money, too fast, on races that are uncompetitive for the Democrats, with the fear that it will leave the Democrats with empty pockets come the October election crunch. Emanuel has argued for spending DNC money where it can do the most good—in races that look competitive for November.

This debate is more than just about how or where to spend money. Dean’s 50 state strategy raises some interesting issues for the Democrats—mainly, how to make the party competitive in blood red states. This includes spending money on races that will most likely go Republican, yes, but it’s also about more than just money; it’s about recruiting qualified candidates to challenge GOP incumbents.

So far, the national Democratic mood seems to be treading Emanuel’s way, if we take a look at a few November House races. Many races in strongly Republican districts have literally no declared Democratic candidate, robbing voters of these districts of a chance to vote on their officeholders. (Some states, like Louisiana, have no Democrats running in in more than half of their congressional districts.) This smacks of un-democratic government. (“Saddam Hussein for President of the Republic of Iraq, vote yes or no,” anyone?) Democrats are letting legitimate chances to make their voices heard go unanswered, like in the CA-44, where Republican incumbent Ken Calvert has been strongly implicated in some of the schemes that downed his ethically-challenged colleague Duke Cunningham in the CA-50. It's strange that no Democrat has stepped forward to challenge Rep. Calvert on his, ahem, little ethics problem. (All of this is to say nothing of districts where the Democrat is on the ticket merely as a formality, with little in the way of a campaign and no support from the National Committee.)

I agree with Governor Dean. It saddens and angers me that in 2004, we didn’t even try in the South. Had Sen. Kerry won Ohio, he would have been elected president without a single Southern state. The last time that happened, the South seceded from the Union. Now, I’m not saying that the situation is quite as dire as 1860, but it’s embarrassing that we claim to be a national party and yet aren’t even bothering to really campaign in more than half of the country.

I’m also not saying that it will be easy. Yes, we have limited funds, and yes, it is difficult to get qualified Democratic candidates to act as sacrificial lambs on behalf of the party. But it shouldn’t be impossible. I’m not proposing a complete solution here, but it’s a start. There are lots of proud Democrats out there who would run given the promise of even an iota of support from the national party. Yeah, they’d probably lose, and nobody likes to be a loser, but I like to think that there are a few patriotic Americans in red states like Louisiana, Arkansas, and Indiana that could step up to the plate and get the debate started. Heck, I’ll even do it, just give me a few years to work on my southern drawl. Politics is about more than just winning; it’s about the ideas. Gov. Dean’s 50 State Plan is a step in the right direction. But as long as large parts of the US are de facto one-party states, we’ve already lost.


Liz Fossett said...


I have a super (and, once again, Kentucky) example...

Daniel Mongiardo lost the U.S. Senate seat in '04 by just 2% of votes. IN KENTUCKY?! Yes, one of the reddest states could have had a good, blue Senator.

The problem? No one believed in his until way too late. Though he was polling very high, Mongiardo didn't receive money from DCCC until mid-October! Though it was a generous amount, the money couldn't do a whole lot just 2 weeks before the election.

The loss of Daniel Mongiardo was a tragedy really. The state is flogged by problems with the Republican majority and a well-performing Democratic Senator could have made a huge difference. I hope we'll all understand the importance of a 50 state party. Dean hasn't impressed me much, even when he's yelling, but this course is undoubtedly the best.

Adam Hearts Dems said...

actually rachel, ken calvert does have an opponent named louis vandenberg running in ca-44 and we have actually done an amazing job this year of recruiting candidates...in 1994, republicans set the record for most districts with republican candidates by running 419 candidates in the 435 districts, but we've broken that record this year already by running 424 candidates in 435 districts and we have a chance to fill 431 by the end of the filing deadline period

Rach C said...

Whoops. I just checked the CA Secretary of State's website (full candidate list here, for anybody who's interested), and Adam's right. My bad. There is indeed a Democrat running in CA-44, even if he literally only has $50 on hand as of the last FEC disclosure. Although it might not so much be the fact that Vandenburg has received a whopping total of $1250 in contributions since the establishment of his political committee, perhaps, as Vandenberg's endorsement of Al Gore for prez in '08 that makes it difficult for voters to take this candidate seriously. (Seriously, take a look. Half of Vandenberg's main page is literally taken up by a giant picture of the Gorester.)

(Although it is worth noting that we can't take the DCCC site as gospel-- they've been known to be wrong on occasion.)