Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bart Gordon

Fleeing the Scene?

In an e-mail update, the Cook Political Report describes the latest Democratic retirement: “Democratic Rep. Bart Gordon’s decision to retire from a district that is 13 points more Republican than the national average presents House Democrats with their most problematic open seat yet. It is the fourth troublesome retirement for Democrats in as many weeks, bringing the total number of open seats in marginal or GOP-leaning districts to seven.” It’s officially a trend. As Chris Cillizza observes: “Democratic strategists have insisted that the series of retirements are isolated cases not indicative of a broader fear among Members of Congress that the political environment is shaping up badly for their party in 2010. It may be more difficult to make that argument now.”

Or even impossible. It’s pretty hard to make the case that things are going well for the Democrats. Obama has hit a new low in Rasmussen, at 44 percent, creating tweezer-like graphs. And the congressional generic polling looks very red. Things can change, of course. But the danger for the Democrats in the meantime is that the retirements pile up, better GOP candidates enter the race, donors on the Democratic side get depressed, and the polling becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Democratic Public Policy Polling outfit explains the concern:

“Republicans are more and more in position to pick up a lot of Congressional seats next year,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “The tide continues to turn against the Democrats and that’s putting some districts that haven’t been close in quite a while into the competitive category.”

Congress could stop annoying the voters, of course: end the frenzied search for a magic formula to take over health care, work on some common-sense job-creation ideas, dial back on the spending binge, and find popular, bipartisan measures to champion (on education, for example). But it seems that’s not yet the game plan. Maybe some more retirements will do the trick.

In an e-mail update, the Cook Political Report describes the latest Democratic retirement: “Democratic Rep. Bart Gordon’s decision to retire from a district that is 13 points more Republican than the national average presents House Democrats with their most problematic open seat yet. It is the fourth troublesome retirement for Democrats in as many weeks, bringing the total number of open seats in marginal or GOP-leaning districts to seven.” It’s officially a trend. As Chris Cillizza observes: “Democratic strategists have insisted that the series of retirements are isolated cases not indicative of a broader fear among Members of Congress that the political environment is shaping up badly for their party in 2010. It may be more difficult to make that argument now.”

Or even impossible. It’s pretty hard to make the case that things are going well for the Democrats. Obama has hit a new low in Rasmussen, at 44 percent, creating tweezer-like graphs. And the congressional generic polling looks very red. Things can change, of course. But the danger for the Democrats in the meantime is that the retirements pile up, better GOP candidates enter the race, donors on the Democratic side get depressed, and the polling becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Democratic Public Policy Polling outfit explains the concern:

“Republicans are more and more in position to pick up a lot of Congressional seats next year,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “The tide continues to turn against the Democrats and that’s putting some districts that haven’t been close in quite a while into the competitive category.”

Congress could stop annoying the voters, of course: end the frenzied search for a magic formula to take over health care, work on some common-sense job-creation ideas, dial back on the spending binge, and find popular, bipartisan measures to champion (on education, for example). But it seems that’s not yet the game plan. Maybe some more retirements will do the trick.

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Recruitment Is a Leading Indicator

The weekend before the Virginia gubernatorial election, I spoke with former Rep. Tom Davis. Sensing a victory in the offing, he told me that an immediate effect of a big GOP win would be recruiting for 2010. In 1994, a majority of the GOP’s successful recruiting, which enabled the Republicans to regain the House, took place after gubernatorial wins that year in New Jersey and Virginia.

It seems that Davis is right. The GOP victories in Virginia and New Jersey are accelerating a trend that was already well under way. As this report notes:

Several Democratic candidates have decided to drop out of tough races, while Democratic members of Congress who rarely face serious challenges are finding themselves with their toughest re-elections in years. … But in 2010, defense is the name of the game for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is defending several dozens vulnerable freshmen and second-term members, while also protecting veteran members who could find themselves in newfound trouble. It will be a lot more challenging for a first-time candidate running in a tough district to get financial support from the DCCC when the party is worried about defending its own.

Meanwhile, Republican recruiting is turning up challengers to Democrats who haven’t had significant challenges in the past. David Wasserman at Cook Report explains:

This is not to say that highly influential and venerated fixtures such as Reps. Ike Skelton (MO-04), John Spratt (SC-05), Bart Gordon (TN-06), John Tanner (TN-08) and Rick Boucher (VA-09) are goners next year. Their eventual vulnerability is highly dependent on the quality of GOP nominees and the discipline of their “time for change” messages. But if these party elders decide to seek reelection rather than retire, the underlying dynamics of their districts suggest at least several will need to fight to survive.

All this suggests that 2010 is shaping up to be a potential “wave” year in which there are more opportunities for pickups than in a run-of-the-mill year. If we learned anything in the past year, it’s that political prognostication is a dicey business. The GOP is now challenging in places it was considered dead (e.g. New England) and has recaptured momentum on key issues. But much can change, and the Democrats — if they can figure out what to do with it — have the power of incumbency.

The weekend before the Virginia gubernatorial election, I spoke with former Rep. Tom Davis. Sensing a victory in the offing, he told me that an immediate effect of a big GOP win would be recruiting for 2010. In 1994, a majority of the GOP’s successful recruiting, which enabled the Republicans to regain the House, took place after gubernatorial wins that year in New Jersey and Virginia.

It seems that Davis is right. The GOP victories in Virginia and New Jersey are accelerating a trend that was already well under way. As this report notes:

Several Democratic candidates have decided to drop out of tough races, while Democratic members of Congress who rarely face serious challenges are finding themselves with their toughest re-elections in years. … But in 2010, defense is the name of the game for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is defending several dozens vulnerable freshmen and second-term members, while also protecting veteran members who could find themselves in newfound trouble. It will be a lot more challenging for a first-time candidate running in a tough district to get financial support from the DCCC when the party is worried about defending its own.

Meanwhile, Republican recruiting is turning up challengers to Democrats who haven’t had significant challenges in the past. David Wasserman at Cook Report explains:

This is not to say that highly influential and venerated fixtures such as Reps. Ike Skelton (MO-04), John Spratt (SC-05), Bart Gordon (TN-06), John Tanner (TN-08) and Rick Boucher (VA-09) are goners next year. Their eventual vulnerability is highly dependent on the quality of GOP nominees and the discipline of their “time for change” messages. But if these party elders decide to seek reelection rather than retire, the underlying dynamics of their districts suggest at least several will need to fight to survive.

All this suggests that 2010 is shaping up to be a potential “wave” year in which there are more opportunities for pickups than in a run-of-the-mill year. If we learned anything in the past year, it’s that political prognostication is a dicey business. The GOP is now challenging in places it was considered dead (e.g. New England) and has recaptured momentum on key issues. But much can change, and the Democrats — if they can figure out what to do with it — have the power of incumbency.

Read Less




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