Thursday, October 19, 2006

Dean's Wasteful Spending

I'm one of many who's criticized Howard Dean's '50 State Strategy,' which holds that Democrats can't win nationally if they can't compete in Red States. It led Dean spent millions in states like Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Mississippi. I've said it was silly to spend scarce dollars on an effort likely to prove futile, and the DNC is now borrowing money to spend on competitive races.

So how does Dean's investment look so far? There are clearly a number of competitive races in previously safe GOP states and districts. Did Dean's money help create today's environment?

Let's look at the competitive races:

Ohio (Arguably 'purple,' but red at a statewide level)

Tennessee is probably the only Senate race that 'shouldn't' be competitive. Conrad Burns has shot himself in the foot, George Allen is still answering 'macaca' questions, and the Ohio GOP is in meltdown. And the only reason Tennessee is competitive is that Harold Ford is a great candidate.

For the House , I will look at Charlie Cook's latest rating of competitive races. Cook provides the Presidential Vote Index (PVI) for each House district. The PVI indicates how much redder or bluer the district is than the nation as a whole, in the 2000 and 2004 Presidential races. I'll list the competitive House districts which are more than 5 points redder than the entire country:

Likely Dem Seats
John Salazar (CO-3) Bush +6
Stephanie Herseth (SD-AL) Bush +10
Jim Matheson (UT-2) Bush +17

Lean Dem Seats
Jim Marshall (GA-8) Bush +8
John Spratt (SC-5) Bush +6
Chet Edwards (TX-17) Bush +18
Open (TX-22 DeLay) Bush +15
Alan Mollohan (WV-1) Bush +6

Toss Up Seats
John Hostettler (IN-8) Bush +9
Mike Sodrel (IN-9) Bush +7
Geoff Davis (KY-4) Bush +12
Charles Taylor (NC-11) Bush +7
Open (OH-18 Ney) Bush +6
Don Sherwood (PA-10) Bush +8
Thelma Drake (VA-2) Bush +6

Lean Republican Seats
John Doolittle (CA-4) Bush +11
Marilyn Musgrave (CO-4) Bush +9
Open (ID-1 Otter) Bush +19
Ron Lewis (KY-2) Bush +13
Open (NV-2 Gibbons) Bush +8

Likely Republican Seats
Open (CO-5 Hefley) Bush +16
Jim Ryun (KS-2) Bush +7
Jeff Fortenberry (NE-1) Bush +12
Jean Schmidt (OH-2) Bush +13
Barbara Cubin (WY-AL) Bush +19

We won't really know anything concrete until after November 7, but so far it doesn't look like Dean's gamble is paying off. I count only 8 competitive districts that probably 'shouldn't' be: Schmidt, Doolittle, Musgrave, Lewis, Sodrel, Davis, Taylor, and Drake. To me, that looks like 'the wave,' and not Dean's money.

The GOP is weak in three districts for obvious reasons (DeLay, Ney, & Sherwood). Seven seats are held by Democratic incumbents who've already won in hostile territory (Marshall, Edwards, Salazar, Herseth, Matheson, Spratt, Mollohan). At least one seat is held by someone who is a weak campaigner, and who always has close races (Hostettler). The rest are open seats (which are always more competitive), and seats that probably aren't actually competitive (Ryun, Fortenberry, Cubin).

Howard Dean says that his spending was a long-term investment - one that won't necessarily pay off in one cycle. That's good, because I don't see any payoff yet. And of course, if Democrats win the House, all sins are likely to be forgiven - at least for a little while.

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