In case you were wondering what is the one thing the NRCC would like to see congealed as conventional wisdom, its attempt to get minuscule ad buys in 3 districts held by veteran Democrats covered as a major strategic move should give you the answer: Republicans want to show they are serious about expanding the playing field so that the prospect of a red wave is treated seriously, which would in turn allow them to have an easier time recruiting and fundraising in marginal districts.
Who are the three Democrats the NRCC chose for this somewhat artificial demonstration? Rep. Vic Snyder (AR-02), Rep. John Spratt (SC-05) and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (ND-AL). All three have served in the House for a long time (respectively 12, 16 and 26 years); all three represent districts that twice voted for George W. Bush and then for John McCain; none of them has faced a competitive challenge in recent cycles.
The spots attack these 3 Democrats for voting for health-care reform, so they could be a preview of what the NRCC has in store for its 2010 advertisement. (Here’s the one aimed at Snyder.) But the people the NRCC is aiming at are not swing voters but political observers like you and me - people who in seeing these ads might themselves: “Wow, the NRCC must be really serious about targeting just about any Democrat if they’re willing to spend money on Pomeroy despite the fact that he faces no top-tier opposition.” (Of course, Spratt and Snyder do face tougher challenges, the former from state Senator Mike Mulvaney and the latter from former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin.)
The bottom-line: Given that the NRCC’s fundraising troubles haven’t been resolved this cycle - far from it - they are in no position to buy actually air time for now. As such, there’s little use for them to waste money at this point on districts like Tom Perriello or Steve Driehaus’s (no one disputes that these Democrats are highly vulnerable next year, so there’s nothing to prove) whereas symbolic buys that will at least showcase their determination to expand the map could have more value.
One more veteran Democrat targeted, this time in Iowa
Republicans are sure optimistic enough that they continuing to try to throw all they’ve got at the wall and see what sticks. Their latest target in the ranks of entrenched Democratic incumbents is Rep. Leonard Boswell (IA-03), who the GOP has long considered weak; at 75, Boswell has spent decades in politics (though only 12 years in the House) and he could be vulnerable if the electorate is an anti-incumbent mood. This week, two prominent Republicans made it clear they will run in 2010: former Iowa State University wrestling coach Jim Gibbons and second-term state Senator Brad Zaun; both would make strong challengers.
That said, the GOP faces a number of major obstacles to making this race competitive. For one, IA-03 is not a conservative district (Barack Obama won a 10% victory, and the district was split roughly equally in 2000 and 2004); much of the GOP’s tune has been that the Democratic brand is growing so unpopular that incumbents sitting in red districts will be submerged, but Boswell does not enter in that group.
Second, and here again unlike other veteran Democrats who are being targeted, Boswell did face a competitive race recently: He beat state Senator Jeff Lamberti in what was one of 2006’s hottest races. While he was surely helped by the national environment, that doesn’t erase the fact that this forced him to remember how to campaign, stay in touch with the base and keep a ground infrastructure that should serve him next year. In short, the GOP cannot count on the element of surprise in this district.
Finally, desmoinesdem points out that the stakes might not be particularly high in this race: In 2011, Iowa will lose a district and the independent redistricting commission is widely expected to remedy the situation by roughly combining this district and Republican Rep. Latham’s IA-04. It’s unlikely that Boswell would then choose to seek re-election, which means that Latham will be favored to win the new IA-03 in 2012 no matter who wins this year.
Believe it or not, but the GOP also targets freshmen
Meanwhile, one junior Democrat who is in serious danger next year is Rep. Frank Kratovil. In 2008, Kratovil won a tiny victory in a district McCain won by 18%, mostly because of dramatic divisions among Republicans. State Senator Andy Harris is now back for a rematch, and he can count not only on a more favorable environment but also on the fact that the deep wounds of last year’s primary will be forgotten by November 2010. To make sure people take his bid seriously rather than dismiss him as a poor candidate who might again ruin the GOP’s chances, released an internal poll today: It shows him leading Kratovil 52% to 39%. Sure, partisan surveys should always be taken with a big grain of salt, but that sure is a big margin.