Thursday, June 08, 2006

Rothenberg: Mixed News for Congressional GOP

Roll Call's Stu Rothenberg (subscription required) writes that Republicans can take some solace in the results of Tuesday's voting in Califonia, but should be concerned in Montana.

He notes that Francine Busby - the Democratic candidate who lost in the race to replace Duke Cunningham - showed no improvement from normal Democratic numbers in the district. This ought to raise questions about the salience of Democratic attacks. In particular, since the vacancy was created by the resignation of a corrupt Republican headed to jail, you would think that she would have gained on the ethics issue alone, but did not:

California Blues: A Bit of a Downer for the Democrats
June 8, 2006
By Stuart Rothenberg,
Roll Call Contributing Writer

That sigh you heard Wednesday morning coming from national Democrats wasn’t the roar of approval and satisfaction that they hoped for. The results are in from California, and the news was surprisingly good for Republicans.

Former and future Rep. Brian Bilbray drew just under 50 percent of the vote in the special election in the 50th district, holding the open seat for the GOP. Democrat Francine Busby’s 45 percent showing was right in line with past Democratic efforts in the district — and therefore was disappointing.

Given the national political environment, the “lobbyist” line of attack that Democrats used against Bilbray and the nature of the vacancy — GOP ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham took bribes and went to jail — Democrats had every reason to believe that Busby could increase her percentage of the vote by at least a couple of points. But she didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong: Republicans shouldn’t misinterpret the results as evidence that everything is fine and dandy as they head into the November elections. In fact, Bilbray polled under the normal Republican vote on Election Day. A similar 5-point drop-off in the GOP vote in other districts would cost them plenty of seats and possibly control of the House itself.

Moreover, Busby was a mediocre candidate, and the National Republican Congressional Committee had to open its checkbook to save the seat. So it was a win, but a very costly one, for the Republicans.

Even so, Busby’s inability to expand her vote — and Republican voters’ apparent unwillingness to vote Democratic — does raise questions about the prospects for Democratic challengers and open-seat candidates in Republican-leaning, but now seemingly competitive, districts such as Minnesota’s 6th, Wisconsin’s 8th and Nevada’s 2nd.

Rothenberg also notes that the win of a Democrat from Kos-istan, in the primary race to oppose Congressman Richard Pombo, likely removes that seat from the list of potential Democratic targets. It also gives the Democrats a tough test: will they waste money on a losing candidate who happens to be a darling of the netroots:

In the 11th district, Democrats nominated Jerry McNerney over the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s preferred candidate, airline pilot Steve Filson.

McNerney is a nice man, and he deserves a lot of credit for defeating Filson, who had the backing of powerful state and national Democratic insiders. But Rep. Richard Pombo (R) pummeled McNerney 61.2 percent to 38.8 percent in 2004, and there is absolutely no reason to believe Pombo won’t win again this year.

Pombo’s 62 percent showing in his own primary certainly was nothing to write home about. Any incumbent who loses more than one-third of the vote in a primary has problems in his own party and has reason to be concerned about his political future.

But McNerney is simply too far to the left to knock off Pombo in this district, and he doesn’t project the kind of persona that a challenger needs to win against an incumbent. That’s the very reason why Democratic insiders lined up behind Filson, who seemed more polished and formidable.

The big question for the DCCC is whether it will throw its firepower behind McNerney, a favorite of liberals and the netroots.

If DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) decides to take a pass on the race, liberal Web loggers within his party will scream. If he invests significantly in McNerney, he will take resources away from other races that offer the DCCC much better opportunities for victory.

Rothenberg points out a bright spot for Democrats, and a reason for Republicans to worry, in Montana:

Despite polls showing a neck-and-neck race, state Senate President Jon Tester routed state Auditor John Morrison for the Democratic Senate nomination and the right to take on Sen. Conrad Burns (R) in the fall.

Tester has Burns’ homey appeal and lacks Morrison’s personal baggage. And while Republicans surely will attack the Democratic nominee as a liberal, Democrats have to like their chances of picking up this Senate seat with Tester as their nominee.

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