The point of a congressional majority is to use it, not to keep it
Tim Fernholz recommends Jonathan Martin's autopsy of Creigh Deeds's failed campaign for the Virginia governorship. "The lessons couldn't be clearer," Fernholz says. "Equivocation doesn't win votes. Campaigning on a real agenda does. Running away from President Obama isn't the same as running away from the caricature of the national Democrats, and it doesn't seem to work. Moderate and conservative Democrats would do well to examine these ideas if they don't want to end up losing tough races next year."
Maybe! Or, you know, maybe not. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are way more conservative than their state and they spend most of their time equivocating and curtailing the ambitions of other people who have real agendas. Yet they're wildly popular. Ben Nelson's behavior doesn't seem to have dented his standing as an equivocating Democrat in a conservative state. The House is full of Democrats ambivalent about their party standing and loud about their inner conflicts.
Deeds seems to have been a bad candidate, and that probably mattered. On the other hand, incumbent parties generally lose off-year elections, lose elections when the economy is doing terribly, and lose elections after their party has been in power a long time. Deeds ran smack into all three. A better candidate probably could have done better, but that would have probably meant losing by a bit less.
On some level, this is all obvious: Off-year elections don't favor the minority because the majority forgets to speak clearly. But part of the danger with emphasizing the primacy of campaign strategy and message is that it favors an overly political view of how legislators should think of their seats. The point of the Democratic majority in the next few years is not to enable the campaign strategies that will sustain a Democratic majority. It's to pass legislation, knowing full well that Democrats will lose their majority, and probably sooner than they would like.
That's the nature of politics: The moment your offense succeeds, you are, by definition, left playing defense, as you have more seats to defend than they do. But that means you're never, or at least rarely, playing offense when you can actually score. Health-care reform barely passed the House on Saturday, and most of the Democrats who voted against it are from fairly conservative districts that may not return them to Congress. Passing health-care reform, however, is far more important than holding a marginal district for two terms rather than one. The point of winning uncommonly large majorities is to use large majorities, not to keep them slightly longer than would otherwise be the case.
Photo credit: By Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post
November 9, 2009; 6:33 PM ET
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