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House Dems Aim to Avert Freshmen Losses in '08

Key House Democrats are once again looking in the rearview mirror, studying the Republican revolution of 1994 in hopes of drawing lessons from the opposition party's experience on how to keep their majority in the next election cycles.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, head of House Democrats' campaign arm, is betting he can learn from mistakes made by Republicans in 1995. (The Washington Post)

After modeling their 2006 campaign on the Republican successes of 1994, Democrats are examining what they consider to be the missteps of the early months of 1995 when the new speaker, Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), scheduled a long list of tough votes and later saw a dozen members of the vaunted GOP freshmen class of 1994 lose their reelection battles in 1996.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and other party leaders believe many of the 73 House Republican freshmen in the 104th Congress got caught up in the Washington whirlwind of the so-called revolution. Democratic freshmen in the 110th Congress -- 42 altogether, including 30 who swiped seats previously held by Republicans -- are being warned to stay in tune politically back home as they cast their votes.

Van Hollen told Capitol Briefing on Monday that Democratic leaders are counseling freshmen "to make decisions based on the values and priorities of their district."

This may not sound like the storm-the-gates rhetoric that the liberal base wants to hear, but Democrats have they eyes on the long term.

"If we want to continue to be in a position to enact our agenda, we have to be in the majority. It sounds pretty simple, and it is," Van Hollen said. (Read the transcript of a Web chat Van Hollen participated in yesterday.)

Off the top of his head, Van Hollen knew precisely how many GOP freshmen (11) lost their seats in Election Day '96. (One more freshmen lost a runoff election in mid-December that year, bringing the total number of defeated GOP frosh to a dozen.)

If the Democrats were to lose the same number of freshmen in 2008 that Republicans did in 1996, they could afford a net loss of just three more seats to retain their majority.

Van Hollen is sending a memo to all House Democrats today outlining the shape the party is in headed toward 2008, with the main focus centering on the freshmen class (read it below). Citing recent polling by the liberal polling firm Democracy Corps, he said the Republican brand is much worse off now than the Democratic brand was 12 years ago, spelling continued GOP troubles. "The Republican Party is in disarray and in much worse shape than the Democrats were in 1994," he writes.

In addition, the DCCC memo states that endangered incumbents, who are part of what Democrats call their "Frontline" program, have been given aggressive fundraising targets: If they don't have at least $650,000 cash-on-hand June 30, these incumbents will be considered slackers.

In his interview with Capitol Briefing, Van Hollen said his research showed that too many members of the '94 GOP class were inexperienced and cast votes that helped kill their electoral chances back home. (Example: then-freshman Jim Longley Jr. voted to abolish the federal home heating program -- and he was from Maine! Needless to say, Longley was crushed in 1996 by Democratic Rep. Tom Allen.)

"We don't have any fringe members," Van Hollen boasted.

Republicans profoundly disagree, saying a half-dozen to a dozen freshmen Democrats won solely because of the wave against President Bush.

The past two weeks have amounted to a trial run for Democrats, with their popular campaign agenda items passing by wide, bipartisan margins. But tough votes are ahead, particularly once Democrats allow Republican amendments. The goal for Republicans is to either pressure vulnerable Democrats into abandoning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), or to get them on the record on votes that will be used against them in attack ads in the fall of 2008.

"This is silly season," said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the chief deputy whip for House Republicans.

Cantor is second in command in rounding up support for the Republican position on votes, but he's also been a top fund-raiser for the GOP campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Cantor said 60 Democrats are sitting in districts that Bush won in 2004 and "are not going to be able to go along with the San Francisco agenda."

Notably this week, Democrats have put forward freshmen being targeted by Republicans to be the authors of their initial, popular agenda items giving them a chance to grab headlines back home.

This week, it's Rep. Nancy Boyda (D-Kansas), who stunned observers by ousting Jim Ryun from his Topeka-based seat while she barely spent $300,000. She's been given the lead in promoting a bill to strip future members of their federal pension if they are found guilty of corruption felonies, just days after former Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Here's the full text of Van Hollen's memo to the caucus:

Subject: DCCC MEMO: Sustaining Our Majority

TO: Interested Parties

FR: Chris Van Hollen

RE: Sustaining Our Majority

DA: January 23, 2007

Looking ahead to 2008, Democrats will remain on the offense. At the same time, as a result of our success last November we have many more members in districts that lean Republican in Presidential elections. We are determined to defend these districts by putting together aggressive fundraising plans, setting vigorous volunteer recruitment and house party goals and staffing up the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee early in the cycle.

We have put together a strong Frontline Team, led by Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The DCCC has already begun meeting with Frontline members to begin laying the internal campaign groundwork for the 2008 election cycle.

A. Staying on the Offense

As discussed in last week's memo, we are aggressively on offense and working to put a large number of Republican seats in play. We are in the process of targeting districts where Republicans won by less than 5%, seats won by Kerry in the 2004 Presidential election, districts occupied by ethically challenged incumbents and Republican seats likely to open. By challenging incumbent Republicans we can win additional seats and force them to expend resources defending their incumbents that would otherwise be directed at our most vulnerable members.

B. Setting Aggressive Frontline Goals


Since funding is a key factor in deterring tough Republican challengers, we have put together an aggressive fundraising program for members in tough districts. We have created aggressive goals for our Frontline members with targets ranging from 650k to 1 million cash-on-hand by June 30th.

Volunteer Recruitment and Outreach

In order to build the best local grassroots networks, Frontline members will put together outreach and volunteer programs in their home districts. Frontline members will be required to build and execute a rigorous 100 house party plan or a comparable grassroots substitute with the goal of identifying 1000 volunteers.

Online Networking

The support of net-roots organizations was key to Democrats success in 2006 Frontline members will be required to build an aggressive online operation with the goal of acquiring 30,000 e-mail addresses by November 2008.

C. Battle Tested Incumbents

Democrats have a strong record of defending tough incumbent seats. Taking out the impact of 2002 redistricting, Democrats have lost only six incumbents since 1996. Of these losses we have regained three (WI-08, CT-02 and KY-03). The DCCC will have a mentor program in place with battle-tested members like Jim Matheson (UT-02) and Dennis Moore (KS-02) working with incumbents from tough districts.

The new class is also packed with battle-tested new members like Kirsten Gillibrand (NY-20), Harry Mitchell (AZ-05), Patrick Murphy (PA-08), and Heath Shuler (NC-11) who won tough elections and head into 2008 with a more solid grasp of the political landscape of their districts and a strong understanding of what it takes to win.

The added benefit of incumbency is that it offers an expanded forum for new members to fundraise and deliver to their districts.

D. Delivering on Our Promise to Voters

As the saying goes, "good policy is good politics". The House Democratic leadership has put forth an aggressive legislative agenda right out of the gate, including important initiatives like increasing the minimum wage, passing real ethics reform legislation and allowing for price negotiation on costly prescription drugs. Delivering on what we promised in Speaker Pelosi's "100 Hour Plan" will show the American people our ability to be an effective governing majority, and change the way business is done in Washington.

E. 2006 Democrats vs. 1994 Republicans

Recent polling shows that the confidence of the public is still firmly behind the new Democratic Congress and the party agenda that was the focus of the new members' campaigns.

According to recent Democracy Corps polling, the Republican Party is in disarray and in much worse shape than the Democrats were in 1994. As polling from December 12-17, 2006 shows, 46% of voters have a negative feeling towards the GOP, while only 36% feel positive. Feeling towards the Democrats is 45% warm vs. 33% cool. To put this into perspective, the public is 8 points cooler towards Republicans today than they were towards the Democrats in the aftermath of the 1994 election debacle.

Just as importantly, only 25% of the public believes that the country is headed in the right direction, while 34% believed that we were headed in the right direction in 1994. Democrats are committed to remaining the party of change and reform rather than the status quo.

By Paul Kane  |  January 23, 2007; 11:06 AM ET
Categories:  House  
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Any word on the concept of stripping ex-Congressman of their pensions if they become lobbyists? Not sure how much that would deter anyone but it is at least a move in the right direction.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | January 23, 2007 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Edit: "but Democrats have they eyes on the long term."

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | January 23, 2007 1:42 PM | Report abuse

"But tough votes are ahead, particularly once Democrats allow Republican amendments. The goal for Republicans is to either pressure vulnerable Democrats into abandoning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), or to get them on the record on votes that will be used against them in attack ads in the fall of 2008. "This is silly season," said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the chief deputy whip for House Republicans."

Amendments purely and unashamedly for the sake of politics. So the GOP is all about doing the Party's Business and doesn't give a rat's a$$ about the People's Business? Glad to know that they can be that honest about it. Brings to mind a certain phrase, hmmm, how did it go? Oh yes: "vote them all out," starting with Mr. Cantor.

I'm all for opening up bills for input but Pelosi should change her mind about allowing amendments if they are simply going to be inserted as "poison pills." How much are we paying Mr. Cantor every year?

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | January 23, 2007 2:03 PM | Report abuse

I'm pretty impressed with this. Whether the House leadership can keep this focus over the course of the next 2 years remains to be seen. But if they are really going to continue to follow through with this, then not only will the Democratic party hold or expand their House majority but they will improve the 'brand' of the party overall by keeping their focus on the center.

This could pay dividends in close Senate races and in the Presidential election.

Posted by: Jackson Landers | January 23, 2007 2:11 PM | Report abuse

"This may not sound like the storm-the-gates rhetoric that the liberal base wants to hear, but Democrats have they eyes on the long term."

Perhaps Mr. Kane can cite who among the so-called "liberal base" are seeking a "storm the gates" mentality? Seems to me those on the left who identify themselves as Democrats are quite patient and supportive of the leadership and have evinced no dissatisfaction with them. It's bad enough our coward president uses strawmen, but must our political reporters likewise act like children?

Posted by: tab khan | January 23, 2007 4:07 PM | Report abuse

With Bush gone in 2008, the Dems need to focus on the more important issues: countering the threat of a nuke N.Korea and Iran; balancing the budget; balancing our trade deficit with China, improving our educational systems and standards visavis our Asian and European
counterparts, and sealing our borders.

Posted by: Elmer L. DeLeon CGFM, CIA | January 23, 2007 4:32 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by Admin

Posted by: hentaiser | January 26, 2007 6:25 PM | Report abuse

Hallo allerseits,

für meine Diplomarbeit benötige ich einige Zahlen zum Thema Webblogs.
Mich würde daher interessieren:

ob und wieviele Blogs ihr alle betreibt?
wie oft ihr eure Blogs aktualisiert?
ob ihr eure Blogs monetarisiert?

Wer jetzt nicht weiß, was ein Weblog ist, hier eine Definition von der Wikipedia:
Ein Weblog (engl. Wortkreuzung aus Web und Log), häufig abgekürzt als Blog , ist ein digitales Tagebuch. Es wird am Computer geschrieben und im Internet veröffentlicht. Es ist also eine Webseite, die periodisch neue Einträge enthält. Ein Blog ist ein Medium zur Darstellung des eigenen Lebens und von Meinungen zu oftmals spezifischen Themengruppen. Weiter vertieft kann es auch sowohl dem Austausch von Informationen, Gedanken und Erfahrung als auch der Kommunikation dienen und ist insofern mit dem Internetforum sehr verwandt.

Meine: Blog 1, Blog 2, Blog 3

Posted by: ninabergstein | January 31, 2007 7:49 AM | Report abuse

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