Sunday, November 02, 2008

Double Whammy: Money, McCain Burden Republicans

By Stuart Rothenberg

While President Bush’s unpopularity and the nation’s struggling economy are huge problems that guarantee a good Democratic election next week, two other factors — the massive Democratic fundraising advantage and Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) surprisingly weak showing in dozens of Congressional districts — are turning this election into a dramatically better one for Democrats.

We have all known that money would be a problem for the GOP, but the Democrats’ financial advantage, and the subsequent political benefit, has been breathtaking.

According to the Campaign Finance Institute, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $67.7 million in independent expenditures through Oct. 28, compared with only $14.5 million for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

So far, according to the CFI, the DCCC has spent more than $1 million in 34 Congressional districts — and more than $2 million in nine — while the NRCC has spent more than $1 million on just one GOP candidate, Florida Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. Democratic fears that “outside groups” would make up for the NRCC’s disadvantage proved to be completely unfounded.

In Minnesota’s 3rd district, where each party has nominated a strong candidate, the DCCC has spent more than $2.2 million on its nominee, Ashwin Madia, while the NRCC spent $500,000 on GOP nominee Erik Paulsen – a massive $1.7 million IE advantage for Madia in the race. Without that advantage, it’s difficult to believe that the contest would still be so competitive in a district that tilts slightly Republican.

In North Carolina’s 8th district, the DCCC has so far spent $2.3 million on behalf of Democratic nominee Larry Kissell, who lost narrowly two years ago to Rep. Robin Hayes (R). The NRCC, in contrast, hasn’t spent a nickel on an IE effort on Hayes’ behalf. Hayes likely will lose next week. He’d likely win without the DCCC’s IE for Kissell.

In western New York, the DCCC has spent almost $1.8 million to elect Alice Kryzan, an upset primary winner, in a Republican-leaning open seat, while the NRCC spent only $354,000 to elect Republican Chris Lee. Lee may still win, but Kryzan surely wouldn’t without the DCCC’s spending.

In seat after seat, the Democrats’ spending advantage is having a significant impact. While it is impossible to know exactly how the spending will translate into seats, it seems reasonable that the DCCC’s advantage will add at least a dozen seats, and perhaps many more, to the Democrats’ election night haul, depending on the size of the party’s net gain and which seats flip.

Over on the Senate side, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had “only” a 2-1 advantage in IE spending over the National Republican Senatorial Committee through Oct. 24, $53.2 million to $27.4 million.

The DSCC’s IE advantage has changed the political equation in at least two states — North Carolina and Oregon. Without outspending the NRSC by more than $5 million in each of those races, the DSCC almost certainly would not be able to defeat Republican Sens. Gordon Smith (Ore.) and Elizabeth Dole (N.C.). Now, both are likely to lose.

Late DSCC spending in Georgia and Kentucky could produce victories in those races, and Democratic prospects in Mississippi would be significantly worse without the DSCC’s IE of $5.8 million there (compared with the NRSC’s spending of $3 million for Roger Wicker). It’s not yet clear whether DSCC IE spending will help turn any of those contests to the Democrats. Still, Democrats will win at least two additional Senate seats this cycle because of the party’s financial advantage.

But at least Republican strategists and neutral observers have known for months about the GOP’s financial disadvantage and the Democratic IEs. Few expected McCain to be a liability rather than an asset to many Republican candidates in downballot races.

McCain was widely regarded as the one Republican candidate in the GOP presidential race who could appeal to swing voters, keep the presidential contest competitive and minimize the damage that moderate Republican nominees would suffer in an anti-Bush environment.

But polling in dozens of normally Republican districts shows McCain running well behind Bush’s 2004 showings, and far behind where many of us thought he might be at this point.

According to GOP polling, McCain is trailing Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) in reliably Republican districts such as Colorado’s 4th and Virginia’s 5th. He’s essentially running even in Kansas’ 2nd district and Nebraska’s 2nd, two more Republican districts. Currently, Republican Members represent three of these four districts, yet Democrats could sweep all four next week.

Of course, if Republican Congressional candidates lose in all of those races, it’s not McCain’s fault. But Republican strategists had expected McCain to run far stronger in those districts than he is, and they believe that would have helped the party’s House candidates.

If McCain is doing poorly in those districts, it’s not hard to see the kind of a drag he has become in districts likely to go for Obama even in the best of circumstances.

Connecticut moderate Rep. Christopher Shays was able to squeeze out a 52 percent win in 2004 even as Bush was losing the district with 46 percent of the vote. But this time, with McCain running 20 points behind Obama in the district in two media polls, it is unclear whether Shays can run far enough ahead of McCain to survive.

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) face similar problems, because McCain is running stunningly poorly among their constituents. Of course, Sununu, who is expected to lose to Jeanne Shaheen (D), might have lost anyway, and Kirk, who probably would win if McCain were running even a little stronger in the district, may win anyway.

This column first appeared on on October 30, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.