Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Connecticut 4: Democrats Eye Richter

Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell (D), who drew an impressive 48% against Rep. Christopher Shays in 2004, finished with 48% again last year, demonstrating the depth of Shays's appeal and his improved campaign. Democrats apparently will need an even stronger challenger next year, and while there are plenty of Democratic officeholders in the area, defeating Shays won't be easy.

Farrell apparently won't try again, and unsuccessful Senate nominee Ned Lamont also isn't interested. But a number of Democratic names are mentioned, including state Sen. Andrew McDonald, state Rep. Jim Shapiro and state Sen. Bob Duff.

Possibly the most intriguing name for Democrats is Mike Richter, the former New York Rangers goalie whose name was tested in a recent telephone poll in Connecticut. But Richter, who just received his undergraduate degree from Yale and campaigned for John Hall (D) in NY 19, apparently is looking at a number of districts in more than one state before he makes a final decision.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on February 23, 2007.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Are Democrats Kidding that Iraq Vote Was 'Bipartisan?'

By Stuart Rothenberg

Moments after the House voted against President Bush's additional deployment of troops to Iraq - the so-called surge, if you are for it or trying to be neutral, or the so-called escalation, if you are opposed to it - House Democrats sent out a flurry of e-mails crowing about the "bipartisan" support for it.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel's release was titled, "Emanuel Statement on Bipartisan Approval of Iraq Resolution," while House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's was headlined an only slightly different, "Bipartisan Majority in U.S. House Votes Against the President's Plan to Escalate the War in Iraq."

On the House floor, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, staying true to her party's talking points, also referred to the resolution as "bipartisan."

In fact, support for the Iraq resolution was bipartisan only in the technical sense that the vote on the resolution was not completely along party lines. But it was awfully close to that, and referring to the final vote as bipartisan has more to do with Democratic strategy and nervousness than reality.

Only 17 Republicans - or 8.4% of GOP House members - joined 225 Democrats in voting for the resolution, while over 90% of Republicans opposed passage of the resolution. Republicans constituted just 7% of the 242 House members who supported the resolution. Only two House Democrats voted with 185 Republicans against the resolution.

Democrats had enough votes to pass the resolution without any GOP support, and given national polls showing widespread dissatisfaction with the Bush policy, just 17 Republican votes for the resolution is stunningly small, and little or no indication of a bipartisan consensus.

Clearly, the vote on the resolution was very much partisan, though with a handful of defections. We can argue over what would constitute a truly bipartisan vote, but 92% of Republicans voting against something and 99% of Democrats voting for it surely doesn't come close to passing the threshold. By insisting, whether in a press release, in statements on the floor or in interviews after the fact, that the vote was bipartisan, Democratic leaders look silly.

But if the vote was overwhelmingly partisan, why don't Democrats just say so? What's the big deal?

The likely answer is that Democrats are trying so hard to avoid allowing Republicans to label their criticism as merely partisan that they won't even acknowledge the obvious. Instead, they are looking for any opportunity to portray their opposition to the President's policies as part of the nation's dissatisfaction with the administration's Iraq policy.

While that's understandable - one of the few ways Democrats could screw up during the next year and a half would be to appear to be basing their opposition on possible political gain and a petty desire to punish Bush politically - there is no indication that Democrats have been too aggressive in criticizing the President or his policies so far.

In fact, a partisan division over the war probably would help Democrats by further damaging the Republicans between now and next year's Presidential election. After all, if it isn't merely President Bush, but also his entire party, that supports the war and ignores public opinion, Democrats would seem to benefit.

Obviously there are a handful of high profile Republicans who have opposed the Bush policy in Iraq for a considerable time - most notably Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska in the Senate and Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina in the House - and a number of GOP members of Congress have over the past couple of months sounded increasingly critical of Bush policies.

But the House vote demonstrates that Republicans still have not left the President's ship, even though it clearly seems to be sinking, and Democrats ought not be so wedded to their talking points' emphasis on bipartisan opposition to the war that they refer to a "bipartisan resolution" that clearly was nothing of the sort.

This article first appeared on RealClearPolitics on February 20, 2007.

Friday, February 23, 2007

New Print Edition: 2008 House Outlook

The new February 23, 2007 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. This edition includes our quarterly House Outlook for 2008. It includes state-by-state analysis of the most competitive races including which candidates are in the mix for potential bids this cycle. To subscribe, simply go to our website and pay by credit card (using Google Checkout) or by check.

Here is a sample from the 10 page issue:

House Outlook For 2008
Stuart Rothenberg

Democrats made big gains last year by riding a huge partisan wave for change. The question is whether the war in Iraq and President Bush's unpopularity will continue to provide Democrats with a great environment for '08, or whether the political landscape will return to "normal," giving Republicans a chance to regain some of the GOP-leaning districts they lost.

In spite of their gains last time, the DCCC has plenty of opportunities again next year, including almost a dozen districts they narrowly lost and a handful of districts where they unwisely failed to field a strong challenger.

Money could be an issue.....but subscribers get the rest of this Report.

2008 House Ratings

Here are our first House ratings of the year. Any seats not listed are currently considered to be at limited risk for the incumbent party. Democrats currently hold a 233-202 majority in the House.

  • FL 16 (Mahoney, D)
  • TX 22 (Lampson, D)
  • FL 13 (Buchanan, R)
  • CA 11 (McNerney, D)
  • GA 8 (Marshall, D)
  • KS 2 (Boyda, D)
  • NH 2 (Shea-Porter, D)
  • PA 10 (Carney, D)
  • CT 4 (Shays, R)
  • NV 3 (Porter, R)
  • NM 1 (Wilson, R)
  • NY 25 (Walsh, R)
  • NY 29 (Kuhl, R)
  • OH 1 (Chabot, R)
  • OH 2 (Schmidt, R)
  • OH 15 (Pryce, R)
  • PA 6 (Gerlach, R)
  • VA 2 (Drake, R)
  • WA 8 (Reichert, R)
  • AZ 5 (Mitchell, D)
  • CT 2 (Courtney, D)
  • GA 12 (Barrow, D)
  • IL 8 (Bean, D)
  • IN 9 (Hill, D)
  • KY 3 (Yarmuth, D)
  • NY 20 (Gillibrand, D)
  • OH 18 (Space, D)
  • PA 8 (Murphy, D)
  • WI 8 (Kagen, D)
  • AZ 1 (Renzi, R)
  • CA 4 (Doolittle, R)
  • CO 4 (Musgrave, R)
  • IL 6 (Roskam, R)
  • MI 7 (Walberg, R)
  • MN 6 (Bachmann, R)
  • NJ 7 (Ferguson, R)
  • NY 3 (King, R)
  • NC 8 (Hayes, R)
  • WY AL (Cubin, R)
  • CO 7 (Perlmutter, D)
  • IN 2 (Donnelly, D)
  • ME 1 (Allen, D) * Expected open seat
  • MN 1 (Walz, D)
  • NY 19 (Hall, D)
  • PA 7 (Sestak, D)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Let’s Not Lower the Bar for Candidates’ Campaign Bloggers

By Stuart Rothenberg

"In an interview, Mr. Hynes said that the Internet was a place where overheated language and vicious personal attacks were often tolerated, even encouraged,” wrote New York Times reporter John Broder in a Feb. 14 article about the blogging controversy that hit Democratic presidential hopeful and former Sen. John Edwards’ (N.C.) campaign.

Mr. Hynes is Patrick Hynes, whom the Times described as “a conservative blogger and political consultant” hired by another presidential hopeful, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), to be his campaign’s “blog liaison.”

Former Edwards blogger Amanda Marcotte offered a similar view when she wrote in a Feb. 16 Salon.com article that blogs allow “everyday citizens to engage in politics in the language and manner that is comfortable for us, if not for the establishment.”

“To my mind, however, it would be a terrible thing if bloggers did heed the advice to mind our manners and ape our betters if we want in,” she continued, “since this is supposed to be a democratic system that respects the right of everyday, common people to participate in politics.”

If the medium is the message, then too often the message of blogging is anger and a lack of civility. And you can be pretty certain that discourtesy isn’t going to produce thoughtful political discourse, comity and reasonableness.

I’m not talking about columnists, reporters and other serious observers and writers of politics and policy (and, yes, even some bloggers) who happen to write on the Web. They use the Internet to distribute their writings just as they use newspapers and magazines, and while they may write with a more informal, conversational style on the Web, they observe certain standards of writing, decorum and civility no matter the medium for which they write.

For people like two of my former Roll Call colleagues who now write for Washingtonpost.com, Chris Cillizza and Paul Kane, the Web is merely a distribution vehicle and an opportunity to report on and react to events as they happen, rather than waiting for their next print deadline. They may write blogs, because their editors think that’s cutting edge, but they really are reporters who are reporting in real-time on the Internet. (I write on the Web, too, but I certainly don’t consider myself a blogger.)

The problem is those “bloggers” who see themselves as populist bomb-throwers whose job it is to smash all conventions, including those standards of decorum that most mainstream journalists not only follow but believe are necessary for a reasoned discussion. If Marcotte’s comment is any indication, they believe that all “everyday, common people” eschew civility and reason. Sorry, but that’s not the case. Not by a long shot.

People like Hynes and Marcotte can, of course, write whatever they want. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held responsible for their comments or that mainstream reporters should pay much attention to them.

Hynes, commenting on the controversy involving the Edwards bloggers who offended some people with some of their previous postings, then said, “I would caution against holding candidates responsible for what their bloggers and blog consultants have said in the past.”

It sure sounds as if Hynes believes that bloggers should be treated differently than other campaign staffers, apparently because the nature of their work requires them to engage in vicious personal attacks and otherwise ignore conventions of reasonableness.

I’ve seen plenty of campaigns that have been attacked for hiring consultants who produced a particular ad, made an impolitic statement or engaged in a dirty trick that was eventually discovered. Most bloggers seem to think that it’s OK to rake those folks across the coals — even when their ads aren’t blatantly inappropriate to some of us — but let’s not look at what bloggers have written to see if any of their past comments are inappropriate.

In the case of Hynes and the two former Edwards bloggers, Marcotte and Melissa McEwan, we are talking about staffers whose job it is to write on campaign blogs, which is nothing more than campaign press releases, often aimed at the net roots, as well as some in the media.

Essentially, Marcotte’s and McEwan’s jobs were to puff up their candidate and tear down his adversaries. What’s new about that wasn’t their job, it was the medium in which they were doing it.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with that. Campaigns have been hiring people to generate enthusiasm and manipulate the media for years. But since campaign bloggers are no less campaign staffers than press secretaries, a campaign ought to take responsibility for hiring those people, including any embarrassing past behavior.

Marcotte and McEwan’s writings — including references to President Bush’s “wingnut Christofascist base” and a far more offensive reference to the virgin birth — probably would have gotten them fired immediately by Edwards if they had been in a traditional staff position. But candidates are so nervous about upsetting the net roots that they apply a different standard to bloggers.

Broder quotes Simon Rosenberg of the New Democratic Network as saying, “It is difficult to apply the old ways campaigns were run in the late 20th century to this wide-open, citizen-led politics.” In some ways, of course, that’s true. But it’s also true that people still need to take responsibility for things that they say and do, and that civility is a precondition for the serious discussion of politics and policy.

Some rules of the game certainly have to evolve as new technologies change the way people communicate. It’s also true that political activists and campaign operatives broke rules well before the Internet developed. But that doesn’t mean campaigns and journalists should throw their hands up and say there are no rules.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on February 20, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, February 19, 2007

For Republicans, Bush Bashing Is Not an Appealing Option

By Stuart Rothenberg

For months now, President Bush’s poll ratings have been in the toilet. His performance is the single most important reason why Republicans lost the House and Senate, and the president’s standing shows no sign of turning around between now and Election Day 2008.

So shouldn’t Republican officeholders simply do whatever they have to in order to distance themselves from the president? And shouldn’t they go even further in establishing their independence by piling on Bush to show how much they disagree with him, as much as Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) has been doing for months on Iraq?

Well, as the November elections demonstrated, it isn’t that simple.

Bush defines what his party stands for as long as he is in office, and efforts by individual Republican Members of Congress to separate themselves from their party weren’t very effective in 2006.

I still remember something that a Democratic consultant told me more than a half-dozen years ago, during then-President Bill Clinton’s problems: The lower the president’s poll numbers fall, the worse things are for Democrats, including those Democrats who were intent on distancing themselves from the occupant of the Oval Office.

In beating up on Clinton, the astute student of politics said back then, Democrats only would be adding to their own headaches by highlighting his problems, conveying a sense of chaos within the Democratic Party and diminishing the leader of their party. The same holds true for Republicans who would like to criticize Bush now.

Bush remains in office for another two years, and unfortunately for him and his party, the public appears to have permanently soured on him.

A mid-January CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey found that a mere 32 percent of those polled said policies proposed by Bush would move the country in the right direction, while 61 percent said those policies would move the country in the “wrong direction.”

Those numbers mirrored the president’s job performance numbers, which will need to improve if he is going to help his party and his party’s candidates in 2008. But if the Republicans beat up on Bush to distance themselves from him, they guarantee that his ratings will remain low. (They may remain low in any case, of course.)

The problem for Republicans is that, while they would like to act as if the president is now largely irrelevant, there simply is no way that they can move past him. He is still the president, and he’s still making policy. And that means that he’s still an easy target for Democrats.

The Iraq War remains the top issue of the day, and it is inextricably linked to Bush. It is almost impossible for GOP Members of Congress to talk about Iraq — about what is happening on the ground and about what to do about it — without being drawn into a discussion of the president and his policies.

Even more than that, Republicans will have to figure out what they’ll do about — and with — the president when their national convention rolls around 18 months from now.

Does anybody really believe that Republicans will be able to put together a convention that ignores the president of the United States? And no matter what kind of role Bush gets at the 2008 GOP convention in Minnesota, unless the public’s perception of the president changes between now and August 2008, can his presence do anything but aid a Democratic argument for change?

Clinton, who had his share of problems during his second term in the White House, but who had much better job approval numbers than Bush now does, spoke to the 2000 Democratic convention on Monday night, Aug. 14, the first day of the convention. Bush likely will do the same thing, but he won’t be able to avoid the elephant in the room.

“Mr. Clinton made no allusions to the personal scandals he has weathered,” wrote Rick Berke of The New York Times about the president’s 3,888-word speech on that opening night. Can anyone imagine Bush not mentioning his albatross, the Iraq War, during his speech to the GOP convention?

Obviously, a lot can happen over the next year and a half. But unless things change dramatically, Republicans will find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they criticize their president, they add to their own party’s woes. And if they try to defend him, they also add to their party’s woes.

No wonder many Democrats think they’ll have an edge in the 2008 race, even against a Republican nominee who tries to separate himself from Bush and the current administration’s policies. “Time for a change” may not work as well in 2008 as it did in 2006, but it still figures to be an effective message for the next Democratic presidential nominee.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on February 15, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Ever-'Present' Obama

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Finally and officially, Barack Obama is running for president. His symbolic announcement, in the Land of Lincoln, called for a new era in politics. Obama downplayed his thin federal experience while championing his record on the state and local level, and he talked about the need to change Washington, set priorities, and "make hard choices."

"What's stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics - the ease with which we're distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions," Obama said in his announcement speech. But a closer look at the presidential candidate's record in the Illinois Legislature reveals something seemingly contradictory: a number of occasions when Obama avoided making hard choices.

While some conservatives and Republicans surely will harp on what they call his "liberal record," highlighting applicable votes to support their case, it's Obama's history of voting "present" in Springfield - even on some of the most controversial and politically explosive issues of the day - that raises questions that he will need to answer. Voting "present" is one of three options in the Illinois Legislature (along with "yes" and "no"), but it's almost never an option for the occupant of the Oval Office.

We aren't talking about a "present" vote on whether to name a state office building after a deceased state official, but rather about votes that reflect an officeholder's core values.

For example, in 1997, Obama voted "present" on two bills (HB 382 and SB 230) that would have prohibited a procedure often referred to as partial birth abortion. He also voted "present" on SB 71, which lowered the first offense of carrying a concealed weapon from a felony to a misdemeanor and raised the penalty of subsequent offenses.

In 1999, Obama voted "present" on SB 759, a bill that required mandatory adult prosecution for firing a gun on or near school grounds. The bill passed the state Senate 52-1. Also in 1999, Obama voted "present" on HB 854 that protected the privacy of sex-abuse victims by allowing petitions to have the trial records sealed. He was the only member to not support the bill.

In 2001, Obama voted "present" on two parental notification abortion bills (HB 1900 and SB 562), and he voted "present" on a series of bills (SB 1093, 1094, 1095) that sought to protect a child if it survived a failed abortion. In his book, the Audacity of Hope, on page 132, Obama explained his problems with the "born alive" bills, specifically arguing that they would overturn Roe v. Wade. But he failed to mention that he only felt strongly enough to vote "present" on the bills instead of "no."

And finally in 2001, Obama voted "present" on SB 609, a bill prohibiting strip clubs and other adult establishments from being within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, and daycares.

If Obama had taken a position for or against these bills, he would have pleased some constituents and alienated others. Instead, the Illinois legislator-turned-U.S. senator and, now, Democratic presidential hopeful essentially took a pass.

Some of these bills may have been "bad." They may have included poison pills or been poorly written, making it impossible for Obama to support them. They may have even been unconstitutional. When I asked the Obama campaign about those votes, they explained that in some cases, the Senator was uncomfortable with only certain parts of the bill, while in other cases, the bills were attempts by Republicans simply to score points.

But even if that were the case, it doesn't explain his votes. The state legislator had an easy solution if the bills were unacceptable to him: he could have voted against them and explained his reasoning.

Because it takes affirmative votes to pass legislation in the Illinois Senate, a "present" vote is tantamount to a "no" vote. A "present" vote is generally used to provide political cover for legislators who don't want to be on the record against a bill that they oppose. Of course, Obama isn't the first or only Illinois state senator to vote "present," but he is the only one running for President of the United States.

While these votes occurred while Obama and the Democrats were in the minority in the Illinois Senate, in the Audacity of Hope (page 130), Obama explained that even as a legislator in the minority, "You must vote yes or no on whatever bill comes up, with the knowledge that it's unlikely to be a compromise that either you or your supporters consider fair and or just."

Obama's "present" record could hurt him in two very different ways in his bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination and, ultimately, the White House. On one hand, those votes could anger some Democrats, even liberals, because he did not take a strong enough stand on their issues. On the other hand, his votes could simply be portrayed by adversaries as a failure of leadership for not being willing to make a tough decision and stick by it.

Obama is one of the most dynamic and captivating figures in American politics at this time, and he has put together an excellent campaign team. He clearly is a factor in the race for the Democratic nomination in 2008.

But as Democrats - and Americans - are searching for their next leader, the Illinois senator's record, and not just his rhetoric, will be examined under a microscope. As president, Obama will be faced with countless difficult decisions on numerous gray issues, and voting "present" will not be an option. He will need to explain those "present" votes as a member of the Illinois Legislature if he hopes to become America's commander-in-chief.

This article first appeared on RealClearPolitics on February 13, 2007 and later on the Wall Street Journal.com Editorial Page on February 14, 2007.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

For Democrats, Time to Pad Senate Majority and Think 60 Seats

By Stuart Rothenberg

Democrats probably don’t have to worry about losing their Senate majority in 2008, but that doesn’t mean next year’s elections aren’t crucial for them.

A strong ’08 could put the party in sight of a 60-seat majority in 2010, and that filibuster-proof majority would change the rules of the game on Capitol Hill.

Last year, Democrats won a stunning 24 of 33 races, which means over the next two Senate cycles they will need to win another 36 seats, out of the 67 that will be up, to give them the magic number of 60. Given the small Democratic classes next year (12) and in 2010 (15), and the fact that Republicans will be defending a total of 40 seats over the two cycles, it’s certainly possible that Democrats can net nine seats to get to 60.

Sixty-seat majorities are possible only when a party has a mega-year that produces a huge class. The Republicans did that in 2002 and put themselves in reach of 60 seats with a good 2004. But last year was a disaster, and now it is the Democrats who have a mathematical chance to hit the all-important 60-seat mark. But first, they must build on their numbers next year.

Five or six of the GOP’s 21 Senate seats up next year already look to be at some risk, and that number could grow if there are key retirements and if President Bush’s problems continue to drag down Republican Party numbers.

Colorado topped the list of vulnerable ’08 Senate seats even before Sen. Wayne Allard (R) announced that he would not seek re-election. Democratic Rep. Mark Udall already had signaled he would run for the Senate, and it is far from clear whether Republican chances of holding the Colorado seat have been hurt or improved by Allard’s decision.

Udall’s appeal, combined with Colorado’s recent Democratic drift and the GOP’s current national dilemma, certainly improves Democrats’ chances of picking up the Senate seat.

Another Democratic Representative, Maine’s Tom Allen, also is heading for a Senate race, and his challenge of incumbent Republican Sen. Susan Collins immediately makes the race a top-tier contest. Collins is always underestimated, and she begins her reelection bid well-liked, but the state’s Democratic bent, Allen’s assets and the Republican Party’s current standing mean that Collins will have a tough race.

At least three GOP Senators in competitive or Democratic-leaning states also could have tough races, depending on Democratic recruitment efforts.

Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman seems certain to draw a serious challenger, while Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith can’t take his re-election for granted. Both Republicans have started to criticize Bush’s Iraq policy, but they represent states that went for Democratic Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) in the 2004 presidential race and that could well go Democratic again in 2008.

New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu (R) also could have a very tough fight for a second term. He won narrowly in 2002, and his party took an absolute bath in the state in 2006, losing two House seats and getting swept out of both chambers of the state Legislature.

Other Republicans look to be in relatively good shape for re-election — if they seek it. And that could be the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s problem.

At least a few Republican Senators up next year will remain on everyone’s retirement watch list, and while all of them eventually may seek (and win) re-election, for now NRSC Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) has to be worrying at least a bit about their decisions.

The names on this list include Sens. John Warner (Va.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Pete Domenici (N.M.), Thad Cochran (Miss.) and Elizabeth Dole (N.C.).

Savvy Republican observers agree that this cycle is a “very challenging” one for the GOP, given the numbers of Republican and Democratic seats up and the current national political environment, which would slow GOP candidate recruitment and hurt committee fundraising.

But they also know that election cycles have a way of changing dramatically over two years, and it’s possible that the picture could be brighter for the GOP 18 months from now when it comes to the 2008 elections.

Right now, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu is the most vulnerable Democratic Senator up next year, but other Democratic Senate seats could become competitive depending on retirements and Republican recruiting.

Still, given the recent electoral performance of states with Democratic-held seats up in 2008 — including Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Michigan and Rhode Island — it is hard to see Republicans seriously contesting more than a few of those seats. So the most likely Republican scenario for winning back the Senate is to retain all of the GOP seats, knock off Landrieu and win the White House again, giving them a tie in the Senate and control with the vice president breaking the tie.

Talking about a Democratic super-majority in the Senate in 2010 may seem odd and premature, and it is. The 2008 presidential results and unknowable events over the next few years could change the political equation completely, denying Democrats an opportunity to keep their majority, let alone grow it to 60. But given the makeup of the three Senate classes, party strategists would be foolish not to be thinking about the arithmetic even now.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on February 12, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Will the NRCC Really Sit Out Primaries, as Cole Is Promising?

By Stuart Rothenberg

“We’re not going to be in primary situations. Our membership has made it pretty clear that they don’t want us to do that,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) told Roll Call recently, adding that his committee is not “in the game of picking winners and losers.”

Cole’s comments may not seem controversial, but they constitute a rather significant reversal of policy from the way both the NRCC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have acted as of late.

Both the NRCC under former Chairmen Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) and Tom Davis (Va.) and the DCCC under former Chairmen Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) and the late Robert Matsui (Calif.) regularly were involved in recruiting candidates, clearing fields in some potential primaries and helping preferred candidates in primaries.

But Cole insists that while his NRCC is encouraging interested Republicans to run for Congress, it won’t clear primary fields for candidates or pick preferred candidates in contested primaries. That goes even for former Members who are running to win back their seats.

“If you can’t win the primary on your own [and you need the NRCC’s help], then you aren’t that strong of a general election candidate,” Cole told me earlier this week.

He is right, but only to a point. Sometimes, a campaign committee needs to get involved in a primary, or in heading one off, while other times committees should let a primary play out, taking a hands-off approach. There is no iron law on this.

Swearing off primary involvement except in the most extreme cases (such as if a racist or anti-Semite is involved) limits what the NRCC can do to help elect Members to Congress.

Remember, we aren’t talking about a formal endorsement here. Committees rarely do that, and NRCC rules set a very, very high bar for an endorsement. But campaign committees traditionally have guided political action committee money to and generally promoted preferred candidates, even without a formal endorsement.

Obviously, there are plenty of examples when a campaign committee’s effort to assist a candidate in a contested primary has created a backlash, hurting the candidate that the committee favored. Grass-roots Democratic activists went ballistic last year when the DCCC backed Steve Filson over now-Rep. Jerry McNerney in California’s 11th district primary. McNerney complained about the DCCC’s heavy-handed tactics, and he upset Filson.

The DCCC also picked the eventual loser in the New Hampshire 1st district Democratic primary, though like McNerney, the Democratic nominee in the Granite State won in November because of the Democratic wave. In Virginia’s 2nd district last year, the DCCC helped clear the field for Phil Kellam, who ended up losing narrowly.

In Ohio’s 6th district, the DCCC spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to help state Sen. Charlie Wilson win a write-in campaign in the Democratic primary after he failed to file the 50 signatures necessary to make the ballot. Had Wilson lost the primary, Republicans might well have won the seat.

And elsewhere, DCCC efforts to recruit candidates, help a particular campaign or work to dissuade primary opposition obviously helped produce strong general election candidates, including now-Reps. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania’s 7th, Brad Ellsworth in Indiana’s 8th, Nick Lampson in Texas’ 22nd, Heath Shuler in North Carolina’s 11th, Kirsten Gillibrand in New York’s 20th and Christopher Murphy in Connecticut’s 5th.

So why is Cole publicly insisting that both he and the committee will be neutral? Undoubtedly, part of it is the complaining that anyone in earshot has heard for months about some of the NRCC’s past decisions. A handful of Republican Members have been particularly vocal about the committee’s decision last year to back moderate state Rep. Steve Huffman in Arizona’s 8th against conservative Randy Graf.

But some observers think that Cole’s stance actually gives him more freedom by tying his hands. Instead of being forced to support a former Member who is trying to return to Congress and who may not merit support, the NRCC can now say that it must remain neutral.

Republicans who support the NRCC’s new stance term the approach “tough love.” Essentially, the committee is telling Congressional candidates, even those with great credentials and potential, that it is up to them to put together an organization, raise the money and connect with voters. If they do, they’ll win their primary and be ready for a competitive general election, earning the NRCC’s support at the same time.

That’s a reasonable view, and in most cases the best general election candidate will win the primary. But when there is a well-funded but deeply flawed candidate in a crowded primary, the best general election candidate won’t always win. In those cases, a hands-off policy does its Members no favor.

I certainly am not suggesting that the NRCC or any committee throw its weight around clumsily. A committee doesn’t need to endorse primary hopefuls or publicly brag of its involvement to have an effect on a race. A wink and a nod to PACs, or the placement of a good campaign manager, is enough.

Operatives who have worked at other campaign committees express doubts that Cole will be able to keep his hands-off policy. They think there are exceptions to every rule, and that sooner or later he’ll start playing favorites, however quietly. I’m betting they are right.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on February 8, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Say What? VoteVets Ad

By Stuart Rothenberg

If supporters of President George W. Bush's policy of sending another 20,000 troops to Iraq had aired a television ad that argued that opposing the new Bush policy means "you don't support the troops," opponents of the President would have rightly gone bananas.

It's not the troops that they oppose, they would insist indignantly, it's the Bush policy, which so far has failed to accomplish its objectives and will result in additional casualties and costs with too little assurance of victory.

And yet, those same folks don't seem to mind paying for a VoteVets.org TV spot that says people who support Bush's policy "don't support the troops."

Oh well, given the high emotion on both sides and the general tendency of political activists of both liberal and conservative stripe to shun civility and reason, it's no wonder that opponents of the President's policy didn't merely cross the line; they obliterated it.

Let's be entirely clear: You can support the troops in the field and at the same time either support the President's policy or oppose the President's policy. Don't take my word for it. It's what Democratic politicians who oppose the Bush Iraq policy have been saying for months. Someone needs to tell the folks over at VoteVets.org that their ad is just plain wrong and that spending a lot of money to put it on TV doesn't change that.

I just did.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

New Print Edition: Maine Senate & Kansas 2

The new February 8, 2007 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. We've posted the first few paragraphs of each story, but for both articles and the complete breakdown of each race, you must subscribe. At RothenbergPoliticalReport.com you can subscribe by either check or credit card.

Here's a peak into this issue:

Maine Senate: Another Bush Casualty?
By Nathan L. Gonzales

If races took place in a vacuum, Sen. Susan Collins (R) would be in great shape for reelection. But as we learned in 2006, sometimes national dynamics (the President's unpopularity) and international situations (the war in Iraq) can overshadow the candidates and cause incumbents who would normally be safe to fight for their electoral lives.

Susan Collins is no stranger to the Democratic target list. She was an early target during the 2002 cycle, in part because she garnered less than 50% in her initial 1996 election. Collins faced a highly-touted and well-funded state legislator, Chellie Pingree, in '02 but disposed of her handily 58%-42%.

But that was a much different environment. President Bush is very unpopular, as is the war in Iraq, and Republicans are still trying to recover from significant losses last cycle. And even though it's hard to imagine the political environment worsening for Republicans, it's also hard to see it getting significantly better.

In the July 29, 2001 edition of the Report, we wrote, "The question is now whether Collins will have to worry about the sliding popularity of President George W. Bush (R), which could undermine her case for reelection with Maine voters." Almost six years later, the question - and senator's task - remains the same.

Collins will likely face 1st District Cong. Tom Allen (D). He has all but announced his candidacy and represents half the state. Republicans argue it's the wrong half since the most recent statewide office-holders, of both parties, have come out of the 2nd District. Either way, Allen's candidacy is serious, and he is a credible threat to Collins in an environment that remains toxic for Republicans.

Kansas 2: Final Lap?
By Nathan L. Gonzales

Jim Ryun isn't use to losing. From high school track star to the Olympics to Congress, Ryun has achieved success on multiple levels. But in 2006, inattentiveness to his district and unawareness of the political atmosphere contributed to the Republican congressman's defeat. Now, just a couple months later, Ryun is running to reclaim his old seat.

Democrat Nancy Boyda didn't let a significant 2004 loss stop her as she kept running and knocked off Ryun in the Democratic wave last year. She ran a conventional race the first time but opted to shun Washington, D.C.-based consultants in favor of a more local effort.

According to one GOP insider, Ryun's problem was a classic one: he lost touch. He moved to D.C., bought a house, and didn't return to the district as often as many of his colleagues. "[Ryun] got to the point where he didn't think he could lose," one Kansas Republican told the Report.

Ryun is just one of many Republicans who lost last cycle and are running again. But there is no guarantee he will have a free shot at the nomination. Moderates in the fractured Kansas Republican Party could very well put up a challenger for the seat, with state Treasurer Lynn Jenkins getting the most attention.

Even though Boyda and Ryun have faced each other twice before, this race will likely be very different. Incumbency is switched, and Ryun is now forced to run a challenger race. For the sprinter, this will be more like a marathon, and the longest race of his life.

To get the rest of this issue and future issues, including our 2008 House Overview next time, subscribe now.

Can Republicans Count on a House Snapback?

By Stuart Rothenberg

Most surge elections, during which one party makes sweeping gains in the House of Representatives at the expense of the opposition, have been followed by a surge back toward the other party two years later.

Will the 2006 elections produce the same snapback, with substantial Republican gains, or can Democrats minimize their losses, securing their control of the House after next year’s presidential election?

The history of recent surges and snapbacks is pretty clear. In 1964, during the Democrats’ anti-Goldwater surge, Democrats knocked off 39 GOP incumbents and won eight Republican open seats. Two years later, the Republicans snapped back, defeating 39 Democratic incumbents.

The wave that accompanied Ronald Reagan’s presidential victory in 1980, which ousted 27 Democratic officeholders and secured 10 Democratic open seats for the GOP, beget 1982, when 22 GOP incumbents were bounced from office. And the wave against President Bill Clinton in 1994, which took down 34 Democratic House Members and turned a stunning 22 Democratic open seats red, produced 1996, when 18 GOP incumbents lost bids for re-election.

Snapbacks are not inevitable, of course. In the Watergate year of 1974, Democrats knocked off 36 Republican House Members seeking re-election and seized 13 GOP open seats, and two years later the parties lost almost equal numbers of incumbents (seven Democrats and five Republicans). Republican seats that went Democratic because of Watergate generally stayed that way for at least a couple of elections.

In November, Democrats knocked off 22 GOP incumbents and added eight Republican open seats. That means that the number of Republican incumbents defeated in their bids for re-election in 2006, while substantial, was below (and in some cases well below) the number of incumbents defeated in earlier waves.

In the three snapback elections mentioned above, the party that lost a large number of incumbents one year knocked off at least half as many of the opposition’s incumbents two years later. Sometimes the snapback was even stronger, as in 1964 and 1966, when equal numbers of incumbents lost in consecutive elections.

But none of the examples noted above is exactly replicated in the scenario for 2006 and 2008. Both the 1964 and 1980 waves occurred in presidential years, which meant that the snapbacks occurred during a midterm election. The 2006 wave occurred in a midterm year, and any snapback, if there is one, would take place in a presidential year.

One wave/snapback sequence — 1994 and 1996 — did occur in a midterm election, followed by a presidential year. But 1994 was Clinton’s first midterm election, while 2006 was President Bush’s second, and that’s a significant difference for many reasons. For instance, Clinton was able to run again and remake himself after only two years in office.

Moreover, the Iraq War was crucial in contributing to the formation of a Democratic wave in 2006, creating an environment that is unique in the recent history of surges.

The war could continue to pose problems for the Republicans in 2008, and if so, that would minimize the chances of a snapback. Even though Bush will not be on the ballot in 2008, he still could be a factor that undercuts the appeal of his party and enhances Democratic prospects up and down the ballot. If independents continue to reject the GOP, Republican candidates will have a hard time reclaiming districts that they lost last year.

The possibility of a GOP snapback also is minimized by the nature of the ’06 wave. Almost half of the districts that turned from Republican to Democratic are either competitive or Democratic-leaning, and as long as the freshman Democrats in those districts don’t stumble badly, history suggests that they will be difficult to dislodge.

Former Republican Congressmen Charles Bass (N.H.), Jeb Bradley (N.H.), Michael Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Gil Gutknecht (Minn.), Nancy Johnson (Conn.), Sue Kelly (N.Y.), Jim Leach (Iowa), Anne Northup (Ky.), Rob Simmons (Conn.) and Clay Shaw (Fla.) didn’t lose because they were terrible candidates. They lost because they were in marginal seats or in districts carried by Al Gore in 2000 and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004. It will be very difficult (though obviously not impossible) for the GOP to retake those districts, even if former Members run again for their former seats.

It also seems unlikely that GOP open seats that went Democratic in November in Iowa, Colorado, New York and Arizona suddenly will snapback to the Republicans.

So where are snapbacks most likely?

Republican chances of reclaiming seats lost in 2006 undoubtedly are strongest in fundamentally Republican and conservative districts. That means that Democratic House freshmen such as Nancy Boyda (Kan.), Nick Lampson (Texas), Tim Mahoney (Fla.) and possibly Jerry McNerney (Calif.) are at greatest risk.

In addition, a couple of Democratic incumbents who almost lost despite the strong wind at their backs — Georgia Reps. John Barrow and Jim Marshall — surely have to consider themselves at considerable risk.

Obviously, the presidential contest will have a strong impact on the election year, as will the Democratic Congress’ performance, party fundraising, candidate recruitment and retirements. We won’t know for months which party will have the edge in House races in 2008, but it’s likely that divided government will make it difficult to oust incumbents — and that should improve Democrats’ chances of maintaining their House majority in next year’s elections.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on February 5, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Can Sen. Clinton Be Elected to the White House in 2008?

By Stuart Rothenberg

If activists, political insiders and journalists are asking whether former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani can win the Republican nomination for president, they are equally consumed with the question of whether Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) can win the White House.

Let’s skip the suspense and cut right to the answer: Yes.

While some of my colleagues doubt that the New York Senator can overcome her high negative ratings and attract a majority of the electorate in her bid for the White House, I’ve come to the conclusion that she can, as long as she runs the high-quality campaign I think she can.

Let me be very clear: I am not predicting that Clinton will win in 2008. I’m not even predicting that she will be the Democratic nominee. What I am saying is that I don’t agree with those who have concluded that her negatives are so great that she cannot beat a strong Republican nominee next year.

Every White House hopeful in history — and I am not exaggerating when I say “every” — has begun the race with a number of question marks. For some, the question was experience. For others, ideology. For still others, it was a question of style or substance or ability to connect with real people.

Clinton is not without such questions. Is she “warm” enough to make voters feel comfortable voting for her? Is a majority of the electorate ready to elect a woman? How will she deal with the double-edged sword of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who simultaneously is an asset and a liability in her White House bid? Did she alienate so many people as first lady that a majority of voters in key states simply will not cast their votes for her?

There is no debate about this: The Senator’s campaign will need to address these questions — and others, including the aforementioned electability question — and deal with them successfully if she is going to have a chance of winning the White House. There’s no doubt that she has political baggage.

But Sen. Clinton isn’t the only hopeful with weaknesses to strengthen and questions to answer. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will have to answer questions about his age and health, as well as his Iraq position and his wooing of conservatives. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) will have to deal with his multiple positions on abortion and, yes, his religion. And Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) will have to deal with his inexperience, just as former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) will have to address his lack of foreign policy experience.

Polling released over the past few weeks doesn’t support the argument that Clinton is unelectable.

A Jan. 18-21 CBS News poll of adults showed that Clinton’s favorable and unfavorable ratings are identical at 36 percent. A Jan. 16-19 ABC News/Washington Post survey of adults found that her personal ratings were 54 percent favorable and 44 percent unfavorable. While the Senator’s negatives are high, they certainly don’t appear high enough to prevent her from wining a presidential election.

A Jan. 5-7 Gallup/USA Today poll of adults found that only 34 percent of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic said they “definitely” would support Clinton for president, while 52 percent said they would “consider” supporting her, and 14 percent said they “definitely” would not support her.

If Clinton had to start a general election having to write off one out of every seven Democrats, she would be in a serious general election hole. But I’m very skeptical about people knowing how they’ll feel and how they’ll behave a year or two from now. And I expect that some of those who insist they will never vote for her will in fact vote for Clinton if she is the Democratic nominee.

In the meantime, the CBS survey offered some very good news for Clinton. More than two out of three respondents — and 84 percent of Democrats — said Clinton “has strong leadership qualities,” and 59 percent said she has “the right kind of experience to be a good president.” Finally, a majority of those questioned, 53 percent, said Clinton could win the presidential election if nominated by her party.

When ABC News/Washington Post pollsters asked respondents about hypothetical White House matchups, Clinton beat McCain, 50 percent to 45 percent, and she beat Giuliani, 49 percent to 47 percent. While these ballot tests don’t guarantee that Clinton would win those races, they do strongly suggest that it’s a mistake to dismiss her as unelectable.

Finally, assertions that Clinton’s polarizing reputation and name make her unelectable ignore history. I remember some New York political observers questioning the then-first lady’s electability in New York when she announced for the Senate. But she went to the most Republican part of the state — upstate — and won over her skeptics. There is no reason to believe that she couldn’t do that in Ohio, Iowa, New Mexico and the handful of other competitive states that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) lost in 2004. Remember, it’s irrelevant that Clinton can’t carry Mississippi or Utah. She won’t need them.

Moreover, elections involve choices, and often those choices involve the lesser of two evils. No matter what personal baggage she carries, the Senator surely would have targets of opportunity in 2008, including the GOP nominee, the outgoing president and the now-damaged Republican Party brand. Her job would be to make the election about Bush and to position herself as a force for change, competence and accomplishment.

Then-Vice President Al Gore and Kerry, Democratic presidential nominees with considerable weaknesses, narrowly lost presidential elections in 2000 and 2004, respectively. Gore even carried the popular vote. Whatever her liabilities, it’s hard to see Clinton losing large numbers of voters who were willing to pull the lever for Gore and Kerry. She would lose some, but not many. In my book, that’s reason enough for believing that she would have a reasonable chance of wining the White House in 2008.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on February 1, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Biden: How to Be Wrong and Right at the Same Time

By Stuart Rothenberg

When Delaware Senator and Presidential hopeful Joe Biden (D) described Illinois Senator Barack Obama as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," he created the ultimate sin: He used inelegant and politically incorrect language to make a perfectly correct point.

While I'm not entirely sure what the Delaware Democrat meant by "clean," and one could argue whether all previous black Presidential hopefuls have been bright or articulate, I think it was pretty clear that Biden was trying to say that Obama is the first African American who is a serious contender for the Democratic Presidential nomination and for the Presidency.

In a written statement responding to the flap, Obama said that Biden’s comments were "historically inaccurate." "Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate," continued the Illinois Senator.

It's interesting that Obama singled out "articulate" in responding to Biden. He did not address the other qualities Biden mentioned, except to say that Jackson, Sharpton, Chisholm and Braun "gave voice" to important issues. And, most notably, he did not address the question of whether previous candidates were "mainstream." That omission was striking, since it goes to the heart of the electability question, which is what Biden really was talking about.

In fact, Biden’s general point was right. None of the previous African American candidates had a chance of winning. Some had checkered pasts and had uttered their own controversial comments (possibly making them not "clean," in Biden’s use of the term). Others simply lacked the national stature and leadership style that credible contenders need. Obama is a different kind of candidate. And that's all Biden meant. But when you are in the national limelight, you better choose your words more carefully.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on February 1, 2007.

Musical Chairs in Georgia in 2010?

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Don't be surprised in four years if a couple significant Georgia Republicans attempt to switch roles. In 2010, Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) will be term-limited and could very well seek an open U.S. Senate seat, vacated by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R), who would run for governor, according to one GOP insider familiar with the situation.

The scenario certainly isn't far-fetched. Even though Isakson is only in his first term in the Senate, the governorship has been in his sights for years, going back to 1990 when he lost to Zell Miller (D) 53%-46%. And Perdue has a decade's worth of experience as a legislator in the Georgia state senate, including a stint as president pro tempore. According to the GOP source, both men would likely endorse the other in the maneuver as well.

Four years is probably two eternities in politics, but for any Democrats looking past an uphill battle against Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) this cycle, 2010 may not provide any better opportunities.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on January 31, 2007.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

KY Governor: Northup Poll Shows Dead Heat in Primary

A new poll for former Cong. Anne Northup has her running even with incumbent Gov. Ernie Fletcher in the Republican primary. The January 28-29 Public Opinion Strategies survey showed Northup and Fletcher at 39% each, wealthy businessman Billy Harper at 10%, and 12% undecided. The candidates are shooting for 40% in the May 22 race in order to avoid a June 26 runoff.

Northup's supporters are also encouraged by the polling results despite having 33% less name identification than the governor. Also of note, of the 500 likely Republican primary voters surveyed, 40% said Fletcher deserves reelection, while 54% said it is time for a new Republican candidate. While a clear majority of primary voters don't support Fletcher, the survey shows that the governor is benefiting from multiple candidates dividing his detractors.

The filing deadline just passed on Tuesday, so the race is just getting started.

Are Democrats Surging Out West? Numbers Say No

By Stuart Rothenberg

More than a few journalists and political pontificators have noted recent Democratic gains in the Mountain West, which includes Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Some see those gains in 2004 and 2006 as shattering a reliable Republican region, while others argue recent wins are only the beginning of a Democratic rally that will continue in 2008 and beyond.

After one of the best newspapers on the planet screamed “West Is Going Democrats’ Direction” and “Political Shift in Mountain States” in headlines, I figured I’d look at the numbers myself to see how much of an opportunity Democrats have to turn the Mountain West blue, or at least purple.

After dissecting the historical data over the past 25 years and comparing it to election results from the past few cycles, it’s very clear that not much is going on. I’m certainly not ruling out changes in 2008 or 2010, and I’m not saying that there have been no changes. But so far, the hype about a shift has overwhelmed the reality.

First, a bit of history. Democratic candidates have done pretty well in the Mountain West in the past couple of election cycles, but that’s nothing new. Democrats have had significant successes in the region for many years, so portraying recent results as some sort of breakthrough is flat-out wrong.

Election returns since 1980 show that the Mountain West is really two or even three regions, not one. Utah, Wyoming and Idaho are reliably Republican in most cases, while New Mexico and Nevada are politically competitive. Arizona and Colorado definitely lean Republican in presidential politics but are much more competitive in other respects.

Former President Bill Clinton carried four Mountain States — Colorado, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico — in his 1992 election victory over then-President George H.W. Bush, and he won three states four years later: Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. It’s true that in the two elections since Clinton, Democratic presidential candidates have carried only a single state, New Mexico (very narrowly, in 2000), but that’s more a statement about the party and its nominees than about the region’s inherent competitiveness.

New Mexico and Nevada definitely are competitive in presidential contests, but only Idaho, Utah and Wyoming are beyond the Democrats’ reach in those elections.

Much of the hype about Democrats in the Mountain West stems from the party’s victories in gubernatorial races. Democrats retained three governorships last year and added a new one (in Colorado). Democratic governors now sit in Montana, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Wyoming — five of the region’s eight states.

But that’s nothing new in the region. I went back to 1980 and found that Democrats won five of the past seven gubernatorial elections in Colorado and Wyoming (yes, that’s right, Wyoming), four of the past seven in both New Mexico and Nevada and three of the past seven in Montana and Arizona.

In attempting to drive home the point of a realignment, one journalist noted, “In 2000, all eight mountain states had Republican governors; now five governors are Democrats.” But why use 2000 as the baseline? In 1984, seven of the eight states had Democratic governors. Using 1984 as the baseline, you could even say the region is moving toward the GOP!

Anyway, if gubernatorial results reflected fundamental partisan strength and the potential of carrying the state in 2008, then Wyoming would seem to be a reliably Democratic state in 2008. Obviously, it isn’t.

How about Senate races? Democrats won a Senate race in Montana, as well as holding onto a seat in New Mexico. But again, winning Senate races in the region is nothing new for Democrats.

In three of the eight Mountain West states, Democrats have won a majority of all Senate elections since 1980. That’s right, a majority. They’ve won six of nine in Montana, six of 10 in Nevada and five of nine in New Mexico. In Colorado, they have won a considerable four of the past nine. Even Arizona has elected Democrats to the Senate in two of the past nine elections.

Forget about that history. If you think Democrats’ ability to knock off a politically damaged Republican in the worst Republican environment in 30 years tells you something about a state’s or region’s political trend, you are free to. Of course, you would be terribly wrong.

But what about Congress? Didn’t Democrats make gains in the House in the Mountain West? Sure, but what kind of gains?

Democrats netted three House seats in November, one in Colorado and two in Arizona. The Colorado district was drawn to be politically competitive, but it was also referred to as the “Perlmutter district,” after the Democratic legislator who was expected to run — and win — in 2002. Ed Perlmutter passed then, but he won the open seat last year.

One of the Arizona districts already was competitive, but became hard for the GOP when an anti-immigration bomb-thrower won the party’s primary. In other words, if you focus only on the numbers, you will miss the story.

How about state legislatures in the region? Democrats made small gains in the Idaho, Colorado and Arizona state Houses. No chambers in the region switched control, however, except the Montana House, which went from a 50-50 tie to a one-seat GOP majority. Again, if there was a Democratic surge in 2006, you’ll have to look under the rug to find it.

There were, of course, some Democratic gains in 2006. Much of the hype, I suspect, came from stronger than usual (though unsuccessful) Democratic efforts in House races in Idaho, Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming, as well as a lot of buzz about the Idaho gubernatorial race. But those showings occurred in a landslide year for Democrats, making the results more likely to be an aberration rather than a trend.

The Mountain West is not the South. It’s less reliable than Dixie for Republicans, and it’s less conservative on social/religious issues. Moreover, Democrats have had considerable success in the region over the past three decades, and the party’s nominee could carry a few Mountain West states in the ’08 presidential race, particularly if there is a nationwide trend toward their party. But the evidence strongly demonstrates that there has been no Democratic surge in the region, even if the hyperbole makes for a better news story.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on January 29, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.