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.
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.
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.
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