Van Hollen: Don't Pop the Champagne Yet
Republicans are scrambling to regroup in the wake of three special election losses and continued atrocious poll data, while Democrats appear buoyant and optimistic at the prospect of gaining significantly more House seats in November. And that makes Chris Van Hollen nervous.
Part of the Marylander's job as Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman is to set expectations for his party, and a new memo from Van Hollen being sent to Democratic House members today (you can read the whole memo here) makes clear that he wants his colleagues to stay grounded as he surveys a playing field that could include "more than 75 seats in play." Van Hollen's primary message: All indicators appear positive for the party right now, but they may not stay that way.
"We must not allow our funding lead over the NRCC, our early preparation, our successful recruiting efforts, and most importantly, our special election wins to lull us into a false sense of complacency," Van Hollen writes. "Historically, following a wave election like 2006, the majority party loses seats. We can beat history, but only if we maintain our political momentum, ensure we have the resources to win, and stay focused on our agenda of change."
Van Hollen emphasized that voters often look for a correction after one party or the other sweeps an election, as Democrats did in 2006, so more huge gains for the party would be an aberration. "If we hold the three seats we just won in special elections we will have broken the historical pattern," he writes. Van Hollen also reminds members that the party won two GOP-held seats in special elections during the 2004 cycle, but still lost seats that November.
And while many Republicans have chalked up their losses in Mississippi, Louisiana and Illinois to the national mood and antipathy to the GOP, Van Hollen makes the opposite case (and in the process, gives the DCCC credit). "It would be a mistake to take the wrong message from Democrats' special election wins," Van Hollen writes. "Democratic special election wins were in large part a result of recruiting strong candidates and our focus, preparation, and organization."
Translation: Fatigue from the Bush administration, a poor economy, rising gas prices and other national environmental factors won't carry more Democrats across the finish line in November. Democratic candidates will need the right message, strong research and field capabilities -- which, Van Hollen brags, the DCCC certainly has -- as well as lots of cash.
The party can't possibly afford to throw a million dollars at every seat the way it was able to do during those special elections. To drive that point home, Van Hollen cites a few examples of particularly expensive media markets with potentially competitive seats "out of the nearly 50 strong Democratic challengers running in Republican-held seats and 32 Democratic Members in challenging seats to defend. As we get closer to November, we will have more than 75 seats in play."
As he has repeatedly in the past, Van Hollen warns that conservative groups such as Freedom's Watch will be big players on the financial front, so Democrats should not feel safe just because the DCCC has significantly outraised its GOP counterpart. "As we saw again in the most recent special elections, our main competition is Republicans' outside groups, not the NRCC," he writes.
Van Hollen's memo is designed to give members some reading material during their week-long Memorial Day recess, but it's also targeted at the media, part of an effort to tamp down blossoming expectations of a huge Democratic sweep in the fall. Mention the word "wave" to Democratic campaign operatives, and they grow queasy. Van Hollen hopes that members will feel the same way.
May 22, 2008; 2:10 PM ET
Categories: 2008 Campaign , Dem. Leaders
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