Wednesday, September 06, 2006

NRCC Spin Goes Into Overdrive

By Stuart Rothenberg

It’s an old strategy: If you don’t like the news, shoot the messenger.

In this case, the strategy has been employed by National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Carl Forti, who chose to try to discredit me (and Charlie Cook) in a September 5 press release. Why? Because I have concluded that Democrats are likely to make significant House gains, including potentially winning at least the 15 seats that they need to win a majority.

Forti selectively picked out quotes from my September 9, 2002 Roll Call column in his effort to discredit me. Of course, he didn’t reproduce that entire column (linked here), because it would not have had the effect he sought, since it referred to two different scenarios (a “heavy damage” one and a “minimal damage” one for the GOP). And, it noted that – unlike this cycle – district-level polling was not showing that Republican incumbents were in serious trouble. In fact, the column ended by suggesting that voters might ultimately “not blame Bush before November.”

Nor did Forti say that the September 13, 2002 issue of the Rothenberg Political Report stated, “…we are unable to identify additional compelling evidence…that voters are turning or inevitably will turn against Republican House candidates.” And he didn’t cite that issue’s assessment of “a small net change, with anything from a GOP gain of a couple of seats to a Democratic gain of a seat most likely.”

Nor did Forti refer to my newsletters of October 4, 2002, October 11, 2002 and October 31, 2002, in which I rejected talk of a Democratic surge and continued to predict only minor changes in the House, with a slight bias toward minimal Republican gains.

My point here is not that I’m always right. In fact, I’m usually off by a couple of seats, because it is so hard to predict exactly what will happen when there are even a handful of toss-ups. But – and here’s a problem for Forti this cycle – when I err, I usually err by slightly underestimating the size of the change.

So, in 1994, I projected GOP gains of 36-40 seats, when Republicans won 52. In 2002, I projected small House Republican gains, when they actually gained five seats.

Carl, here’s a bulletin for you. I’m not the enemy. I’m not running against your candidates. I’m simply trying to handicap individual races and the overall fight for the House. You are wasting your time and energy attacking me the way you attack one of your opponents. Interestingly, you didn’t attack me during previous cycles, when I argued that you would hold the House.

Barring a dramatic reversal of national public opinion, Republicans have two months to localize enough races to retain control of the House. The Democrats don’t yet have a lock on control of the House after November, but they now are well positioned to net the 15 seats that they need to do so.

Forti knows that control of the House is in jeopardy just as well as I do. He has the polling right in front of him. If I’m wrong in my general portrayal of the cycle or in my handicapping of individual contests, I’d certainly like to know about it. Obviously, it would affect my ratings and projections. But the differences between 2006 and 2002 are many, and bashing the messenger is a petty way to deny the facts.