A few months after being defeated in his party’s primary, Republican Rep. Gilchrest (MD-01) announced he was endorsing the Democratic candidate in his district. Now, the same scenario has occurred in Michigan’s 7th district: Former Rep. Joe Schwarz, who was defeated by Tim Walberg in the 2006 Republican primary, just endorsed Walberg’s Democratic challenger.
This is an important development in a race that recent polls have shown is highly competitive. Democrats have been arguing that Walberg is too extremist to represent the district, and the defection of more moderate Schwarz will help them make their argument. That said, it’s important not to make too much of this news. Schwarz has been out of office for two years, and while his defection can help Democrats highlight Walberg’s conservatism, endorsements rarely move any numbers by themselves. Two important questions: Will Schwarz actively campaign for Schauer? Will he shoot an ad like Gilchrest did?
As for Rep. Walberg, he is getting some help from conservative group Club for Growth, which recently said it will spend $175,000 in this district. Any outside money is golden for House Republicans who have to face a barrage of Democratic ads without any help from the NRCC. The DCCC has already spent almost $170,000 in this district alone hitting Walberg with ads like this.
Meanwhile, in another important House district, the DCCC has released an a in FL-24, the first that slams Rep. Tom Feeney for his ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. This comes a week after Feeney released a remarkable ad apologizing to his constituents for “embarrassing them.” That apology ad - never a good sign when an incumbent feels compelled to air one - is currently being aired, so the district’s voters are being exposed to this story in a way they were not before - and the DCCC is clearly looking to go for the kill with a brutal spot that hits Feeney for being “one of the most corrupt” congressmen:
But the DCCC’s most consistent strategy right now is to use the financial crisis to hit Republican candidates across the country on Social Security. This is something we already discussed a few days ago, but the DCCC released a number of new spots yesterday that invoke the Wall Street meltdown to attack the Republicans’ support for privatizing Social Security. Lou Barletta is the target of such an ad in PA-11; in MO-09, the DCCC hits “insurance executive” Blaine Luetkemeyer and warns that this is the “toughest ride since the Great Depression:”
If Democrats could get away with it, they would always air ads about Social Security. This is an issue that fundamentally favors their candidates, but it is not one that always weighs heavily on voters’ minds. Yet, the stock market’s yoyo and the Wall Street crisis that has been on the frontpage of all newspapers lately makes ads about Social Security savings extremely relevant. And it is precisely because the country’s political environment has shifted towards a focus on bread and butter issues that Democrats are now hoping to nationalize the congressional elections and score a repeat of 2006.
Finally, I have alluded a few times to the impact congressional ads might have on the presidential election. Down-the-ballot candidates across the country are airing spots that use the same arguments, the same imagery and often the same slogans as those John McCain and Barack Obama are hurling at each other. I wrote a detailed analysis of this on the Huffington Post, and I will not post the entire piece here since it would be repetitive to readers of this blog who have already seen most of the spots I allude to. But here is my take on why, in this game of message amplification, it is Democrats who stand to gain the most, and Republicans who face the greatest pitfalls:
GOP candidates are trying to convince voters that they are not the typical Republican, that they are unique and can take on the party establishment. But that argument risks becoming a caricature if all Republican candidates say the same thing. It’s one thing for McCain to brand himself as an anti-establishment firebrand, but the entire party cannot credibly run against itself without it becoming a transparent stunt. Can a voter in New Hampshire’s first district come to believe that John McCain, John Sununu and Jeb Bradley are all mavericks? If so, who is the establishment?
There is the parallel possibility that the use of the Bush tag becomes a caricature and thus loses its effectiveness, but the risk is less important as there is nothing contradictory in the Democrats’ argument that the entire Republican Party is tarnished by the Bush years. For a voter in North Carolina to hear over and over again that McCain, Dole and vulnerable Rep. Robin Hayes are all “more of the same” serves as an indictment of the GOP as a whole. By amplifying the volume of Obama’s multi-million ad campaign, the Democrats’ down-the-ballot TV spots could help ensure that Bush remains on the minds of voters when they go to the polls on November 4th.