Two days ago, the NRCC celebrated two recruitment successes against traditionally safe Democrats. Puzzled by the GOP’s excitement in at least one of these districts, I warned that Republicans should be careful not to be distracted: Given all the red territory Democrats conquered in 2006 and in 2008, they are many seats they should be a higher priority to them and their limited funds than CA-47.
The NRCC has also been working to expand the map in other districts that have not been competitive in recent cycles - but this time, their strategy is more logical as they are not losing sight of Democrats who should be their primary targets.
A few days ago, the committee launched a new wave of ads; unlike earlier mass offensives that attacked dozens of Democrats, this one targets a far narrower group of only 5 Democrats:
- Marion Berry (AR-01): He represents an increasingly Republican district that voted for Al Gore in 2000 but gave John McCain a 21% victory last fall.
- Charlie Melancon (LA-04): Melancon has faced no trouble winning re-election over the past two cycles despite representing a district that gave McCain 61%.
- Earl Pomeroy (ND-AL): First elected in 1992, he has faced no trouble winning re-election since he survived a tough race in 2004. Interestingly, the district swung leftward last year: Bush received 63%, McCain received 53%.
- Zach Space (OH-18): This district is not overwhelmingly conservative but it nonetheless leans red (Bush received 57%, McCain 43%). Interestingly, Space is the only Democrat to have been targeted by a NRCC-sponsored TV ad so far this cycle. But something changed
- John Tanner (TN-08): A conservative Democrat, Tanner has easily won re-election since 1988; yet, his district has become increasingly Republican. In 2000, Al Gore won by 3%; last year, McCain prevailed by 13%.
As you are no doubt noticing, this is not the list of the GOP’s top takeover opportunities. Except for Space, these incumbents are well entrenched and not obviously vulnerable, while districts like AL-02, ID-01, MD-01 are not on this list. Does this mean that the NRCC is wasting its money? Certainly not.
At this early point of the cycle, the NRCC is not interested in spending too much money softening up Walt Minnick or Bobby Bright because those incumbents will be endangered in 2010 no matter what happens in 2009; they barely won last year, they represent conservative strongholds and they are certain to draw top-tier opposition. (In Idaho, for instance, Treasurer Ron Crane has been traveling to Washington in preparation for a challenge to Rep. Minnick.)
Yet, the 5 incumbents on this list are not certain to receive a credible challenge - even though the demographics of their districts makes them obvious targets. Indeed, what do these 5 Democrats have in common? Two things:
- They all won their 2006 and their 2008 races with ease and faced minimal opposition.
- They all represents districts won by George W. Bush in 2004 and for John McCain in 2008. (Interestingly, two of them went for Al Gore in 2000.)
- They are all part of the Blue Dog Coalition.
In short: The GOP has an interest in softening them early because it is the only way to ensure that at least some of them end up on the list of endangered incumbents in the summer and fall of 2010.
Many Blue Dog Democrats are so entrenched that nothing Republicans can do will hurt their poll numbers; but how can the NRCC know whether any of them might not be immune to their district’s rightward drift without going after them to test their strength and to signal to potential Republican candidates that they will have the national party’s attention?
The question the GOP wants answered is: Which (if any) of these Blue Dog Democrats have not solidified their conservative credentials enough that the district’s conservative voters could be turned against them? Accordingly, the new radio ads attack them for supporting congressional Democrats’ economic agenda; they questioned their Blue Dog credentials. (Listen to the ad against Melancon here.)
It is possible all 5 of these Democrats will prove too solid for the GOP to spend much time on them; but the fact of the matter is that the NRCC needs to target such districts if it wants to climb back to a majority.
Consider this a preview of the full ratings of the 68 Dem-held vulnerable House seats, which I will (finally) post on Monday.