Sunday, September 03, 2006

Write-off Democrat Gains In California

Two separate articles in today's Los Angeles Times tell us that Democrats have no chance to pick up any House seats currently occupied by Republicans. This is certainly not the kind of news that Democrats want to hear, particularly those taking on the poster children for the Republican culture of corruption.

According to the Times, Richard Simon, ethics issues and corruption just aren't playing with the electorate.

Ethics scandals cast a shadow over the last session of Congress, and the "culture of corruption" under the Republican majority was expected to be a major Democratic theme in the midterm campaign.

But it hasn't turned out that way.


Rep. John T. Doolittle, a California Republican, has called disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff a friend.

Doolittle used Abramoff's skybox at a Washington sports arena for fundraising and has refused to return political donations from Abramoff. Now the congressman is the target of attack ads. One features an argument over whether Doolittle is "corrupt or ineffective."

Even so, Doolittle is favored to win re-election.


Rep. Jerry Lewis, a California Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee who is under investigation over ties to lobbyists, faces such a little-known, underfunded opponent that he hasn't even hired a campaign manager or opened a campaign office.

Rep. Richard W. Pombo, a California Republican under attack for his conduct as well as for his record on the environment, is favored to win because of his Republican-leaning district and ability to raise campaign funds as House Resources Committee chairman.


Democrats were dealt another blow when they tried to make ethics a major theme in the race to replace imprisoned former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a California Republican who pleaded guilty to corruption charges last year.

Republican Brian Bilbray won that seat despite Democrats' efforts to highlight his work as a lobbyist.

In his column in the Times today, Jonathan Chait, compares the upcoming mid-term election to World War I (WWII having already been co-opted by the Republicans for their "war on terror").

Despite being called a "world" war, the vast majority of fighting from 1914-1918 took place in a relatively limited space. The same is true of the 2006 elections. Collectively, they are a national election, but for most Americans, the fight will take place "over there."


The battle for control of the Senate will take place mostly within five states where Republicans, who hold a five-seat advantage, look vulnerable: Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Missouri.

In the House, the terrain is even more concentrated than in the Senate. Democrats need to pick up just 15 seats out of 435 to win control. That may sound easy, but no more than a few dozen seats — less than a tenth of the total — appear remotely competitive. There are two reasons that more than nine-tenths of the House is out of play. One is that Republicans increasingly live near other Republicans and Democrats increasingly live among other Democrats, which reduces the number of districts with a close enough partisan balance to field a competitive election. The second is that members of both parties have drawn up districts in order to cement their incumbents in place. Gerrymandering is an ancient art, but the technology used to create districts has grown so sophisticated that both parties — but especially Republicans — have learned to use it with less shame and more sophistication.

California Democrats and Republicans are especially notorious practitioners, having drawn a map that safeguards the state's House incumbents from virtually all challenges. As a result, none of the expected competitive races lie within the Golden State.

Although, Chait goes on to express his hope that Democrats retake Congress, his pessimism regarding California's congressional races mirrors that of Simon. Both Chait and Simon point to the disfunctional leadership of the Democrats as part of the party's national problem in retaking any part of the government from one of the most unpopular presidents in American history.


As was the case in World War I, the limited terrain has spurred a strategic quarrel about widening the war. During the Great War, generals on both sides, but especially the Allies, debated whether to concentrate their resources in France, where the heaviest fighting took place, or to open fronts elsewhere, such as Turkey or Mesopotamia. Democrats are having the same debate today. Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is committing resources in all 50 states, with the long-term goal of making his party viable everywhere. This strategy has drawn bitter criticism from Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois and Charles E. Schumer of New York — the Democrats in charge of directing their party's electoral campaign — who insist that the 50-state goal has diverted resources from battleground states where control of Congress will be won.


Both parties agree that a strong get-out-the-vote effort would play a key role in who wins. That poses a potential problem for Democrats. Infighting at the top -- between Emmanuel and Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee -- over voter-turnout tactics has become a public battle.

Unsatisfied with Dean's strategy of spreading money in all 50 states, Emmanuel has decided to implement and pay for a separate turnout operation for House seats. Their philosophical differences have them not speaking to one another, and Dean on the defensive.

So with the survival of American Constitutional government on the line, the leaders of the Democratic Party aren't speaking to each other. God help us.