Monday, July 02, 2007

Roll Call Considers Hillary's Reverse Coattails

Roll Call ($) considers the impact that the leading Democratic presidential contenders might have on down-ballot races. This is an important question, because the Democrats are now very heavily exposed in GOP-leaning Congressional districts. Democrats currently represent 61 House seats that Bush won in 2004; 47 are in seats that Bush won twice. By contrast, Republicans represent only 8 seats won by Kerry.

So it's important that Democrats nominate a candidate who won't drive up the turnout in GOP-leaning seats. That's a problem when your choices are Hillary, Edwards and Obama:

“Having her at the top of the ticket is just as polarizing as [President] Bush at the top of the ticket, even though the electorate right now is looking for a less polarizing figure,” Florida-based Democratic consultant Dave Beattie said.

Beattie said he believes Clinton can be elected president but if she competes in and wins largely the same states that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) did in 2004, she could have an adverse impact downballot on Democratic Members and candidates in states that aren’t competitive on the presidential level.

“I think that the problem with Hillary is there is a caricature of Hillary Clinton among conservative voters. Her campaign is about countering that caricature,” Beattie said. “But where the caricature is strongest, where it’s going to hurt the most, they’re going to be doing the least to counter it...”

Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), who has won re-election since 1992 in a state that overwhelmingly favors the GOP in presidential elections, spoke very favorably of Clinton and noted that Republicans were attacking her awfully hard for someone they say they would prefer to run against.

“It’s way too early to conclude that Hillary would be a disaster downballot for the party,” said Pomeroy, who is still mulling a 2008 endorsement...

“It’s a huge motivator for our base,” said one GOP operative. “Keep in mind where we need to win. We need to regain Republican territory and in those particular districts our base is larger than theirs is.”

Not surprisingly, backers of Obama and Edwards seem to agree.

Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), an early supporter of Obama and also the recruitment chairman at the DCCC, said vulnerable Members in Southern states have expressed private concerns about the top of the ticket.

“They think Barack Obama would be stronger in their district than Hillary Clinton would be,” Davis said, asserting that the Illinois Senator has the broadest appeal, while Clinton’s strength is with rank-and-file Democrats.

Edwards, meanwhile, is campaigning on electability and vowing to expand the 2008 battleground into Southern territory...

Still, while the one-term Senator from North Carolina might appear on paper to have the best-selling assets in conservative states, his campaign has focused on liberal and populist themes that put him to the left of his two major rivals. He has renounced his vote in favor of authorizing the Iraq War and said he doesn’t believe there is a global war on terror — not a message that resonates well with the conservative Southern electorate.

“Edwards has the best demographic profile in the general election, but he will end up having the least sellable ideological profile in the general election,” noted one GOP consultant...

Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.), who has not endorsed any of the candidates, put it this way: “I’d a whole lot rather have to defend Hillary Clinton than George Bush in my district.”

Still, he’s holding out hope that former Vice President Al Gore, a Tennessee native, eventually will enter the race.

Congressman Davis is laboring under a misimpression. Republican candidates won't be defending him. They will be drawing distinctions.

There are no apt analogies in recent memory to this election year -- no year when the incumbent president's party nominated someone with no link to the sitting president. But think about 1992 and 2000, when the two parties nominated vice presidents. Even in those years, the election was primarily about the nominee -- not the incumbent. In 1976, Gerald Ford almost won -- even though he was Nixon's Vice President, and was tarred with Watergate and Vietnam. No -- the GOP won't be 'defending Bush' -- at least not in the way Davis means.

Apart from that, Hillary and Edwards -- who is the furthest left of the top tier Democratic candidates -- will be a GOP dream for driving up turnout. In the charged atmosphere of a presidential election year, either will drive up GOP turnout.

And while Obama is extremely liberal himself, his manner -- and the fact that he is African American -- make it harder for me to guess whether he'll be different in that respect.

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