As soon as all Republican representatives voted against the stimulus bill, it became clear that GOP opposition would become a major talking point in the Democrats’ midterm campaign.
While it is impossible to predict the exact impact this debate will have on the 2010 election until we know how the economic crisis will evolve, Republicans will at least suffer a short-term hit since the stimulus plan is currently popular among Americans. The political risk of a “no” vote was particularly great for vulnerable Republicans elected from economically distraught areas like Michigan or Ohio, but Democrats have no plan to stop to the Midwest. The DCCC’s decision to launch radio ads in 28 congressional districts attacking Republican incumbents for voting against the plan is a clear sign that Democrats hope this issue will further damage the GOP brand; after all, the DCCC is currently more than $16 million in debt, so it would not spend money unless it saw a potential reward.
Reads one version of the ad, targeting Rep. Christopher Lee, who was just elected in NY-26: “Did you know Congressman Christopher Lee voted against economic recovery to immediately create and save over 390,000 New York jobs? Times are tough, tell Christopher Lee to put families before politics.” Another version, targeting Minority Whip Eric Cantor, compared the stimulus to the bailout: “Did you know Congressman Eric Cantor voted to bail out big banks, but opposed tax breaks for 95 percent of American workers? Times are tough, tell Member to put families first.”
These spots play a double purpose. First is a legislative one: They are intended to scare vulnerable Republicans into voting for the stimulus bill when it comes to the House in the weeks ahead. The Obama Administration is clearly hoping for some GOP votes in order to claim bipartisan support, and representatives facing tough 2010 races are the most likely to cross over. (This is something we saw in reverse last week: Most of the 11 Democrats who opposed the bill are vulnerable in 2010.)
Second is an electoral one: Democrats are hoping to soften the representatives’ support in their district to lay the groundwork for successful challenges in 2010. In some cases, the targeted Republican is as a possible retiree; the DCCC might be pressuring these members to call it quits by warning them that they would face a tough road to re-election and that they should expect a rough campaign if they choose to run.
Indeed, the list of Republican representatives targeted by the ad represent the who’s who of vulnerable incumbents:
- Don Young (AK-AL): narrow 2008 victory, potential retirement
- Dan Lungren (CA-03): narrow 2008 victory
- Elton Gallegy (CA-24): narrow 2008 victory
- Ken Calvert (CA-44): narrow 2008 victory
- Brian Bilbray (CA-50): narrow 2008 victory
- Bill Young (FL-10): possible retirement
- Tom Rooney (FL-16): freshman
- Lincoln Diaz-Balart (FL-21): competitive 2008 race
- Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25): competitive 2008 race
- Tom Latham (IA-04): swing district
- Donald Manzullo (IL-16)
- Brett Guthrie (KY-02): freshman, narrow 2008 victory
- Joseph Cao (LA-02): freshman, very Democratic district
- John Fleming (LA-04): freshman, narrow 2008 victory
- Bill Cassidy (LA-06): freshman, narrow 2008 victory
- Roscoe Bartlett (MD-06): possible retirement
- Thad McCotter (MI-11): swing district
- Michele Bachmann (MN-06): narrow 2008 victory
- Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO-09): freshman, narrow 2008 victory
- Lee Terry (NE-02): narrow 2008 victory
- Leonard Lance (NJ-07): swing district, freshman
- Christopher Lee (NY-26): freshman
- Henry Brown (SC-01): narrow 2008 victory
- Pete Sessions (TX-32): part of the leadership
- Eric Cantor (VA-07): part of the leadership
- Dave Reichert (WA-08): swing district, narrow 2008 victory
- James Sensenbrenner (WI-05)
- Shelley Moore-Capito (WV-02)
Most of these names are not surprising: These representatives were either shown to be vulernable in the 2008 elections or they seat in swing districts that will leave them perpentually vulnerable. Yet, some of the DCCC’s choices are fascinating. For one, the committee is not airing ads agaisnt a representative like Mark Kirk, who seats in a blue-leaning district (IL-10); this is perhaps due to the higher price of airing spots in the Chicago suburbs.
Meanwhile, we are not used to hearing the names of Tom Latham, Donald Manzullo, Thad McCotter and Roscoe Bartlett. Latham and McCotter seat in Democratic-leaning districts, but the DCCC did little to help their Democratic challengers in the 2008 cycle; with so many other Republican targets now taken care of, the DCCC could turn its attention towards them. Manzullo, meanwhile, represents a district that Bush convincingly won in 2004 but that Obama triumphed in this fall; the DCCC thus seems to be paying attention to IL-16. Finally, Bartlett is mentioned as a possible retirement, so this could be a way of pushing him out; yet, MD-06 is a heavily Republican district and Democrats would face very long odds even if the seat became open.