Monday, July 17, 2006

The Fulcrum of the 2006 Election

US News talks about it here. Howard Dean has decided on a 50-state strategy, starting in 2006. Where Democrats formerly conceded most races in a wide swath of red states, they will now try to grow roots and win. US News looks at Mississippi, which is as good a test as any of the strategy. Can the Democrats win back moderate voters in conservative states, and turn out a large percentage of their voters? If so, then maybe in a few years states like Mississippi will be competitive again.

And when I say this is the fulcrum for 2006, I don't mean that success or failure will be determined by whethter Democrats gain House seats in Mississippi, Utah, Alabama, and Texas. In all likelihood, they won't. The question is whether they win more county commissioner and state legislative races, and improve their numbers in Congressional races. And of course, do they win the House of Representives despite having spent so much money in states where they're not currently competitive.

Because the 50-state effort will definitely cost them some seats this year. After every election cycle, there are a few surprise races where one party says 'gee, if we had only known how close this was going to be,' or 'if we only had $100,000 more to spend, we would have won that one.' The Democrats will see one or two of those this year, as they do every year. And if they are still in the minority when they say it, it will gall them that Dean 'invested' money in states where they would see no tangible gains for a few years. And Dean will be fighting for his job.

But if they have a majority, then those missed opportunities won't look so bad. And maybe they'll think it was a good idea that Dean invested some money in long-term opportunities, instead of on today's needs. And maybe Ken Mehlman will have to prepare a plan for investing money in Massachusetts, and Hawaii, and New York.

But Democrats can't be encouraged that the 'role model' race that Mississippi Democrats are looking to was one where a Democratic incumbent pulled in just 43% of the vote in losing reelection. Further, Dean's strategy holds that local Democrats do better than national Democrats because voters know those people better. But that's probably only a small factor. There's also the fact that local candidates aren't as liberal as national Democrats. If John Kerry had spent months campaigning in Mississippi, it wouldn't have helped. It's the policies that were off.

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