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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Weekly Western Roundup - Dems Eager to Oust GOP Incumbents

The Democratic Party's historic 2006 midterm election win in which the Dems achieved control of both the House and Senate was built primarily on victories in the Northeast and Midwest. Only 9 of the 30 House seats and 3 of the 6 Senate seats won were west of the Mississippi.

The Democratic wave that swept out of the Atlantic across New England and the Midwest ran out of steam as it lapped up against the foothills of the Front Range, with the Dems only scoring one Senate (Tester in Montana) and four House (AZ-05, AZ-08, CA-11, CO-07) pickups on the Pacific side of the Continental Divide. (The four seat total requires me to move the Divide a couple of hundred miles east, as CO-07 technically sits on the eastern side of the divide.) Can Democrats score more wins by looking West in 2008? If they aim to expand their House majority, they will need to heed Horace Greeley and "Go West." For the purpose of this Weekly Western Roundup, I'll be looking at developments in House races west of (and including) Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.

Will The West Be Fertile Ground for 2008 Democratic House Wins?

With only one New England GOP representative remaining in the House and a half dozen truly vulnerable GOP targets in the Midwest, the Democrats needs to identify and target vulnerable Western lawmakers if we wish to significantly expand our majorities in Congress. Timothy Egan, in a 6/21/08 NY Times opinion piece titled, "Republicans Losing the West,"(access requires paid subscription) discusses the GOP's loosening grasp on a region long viewed as solidly Red. Egan observes the GOP's harsh rhetoric on immigration has changed the political balance in the region and quotes AZ Dem Chair David Waid, “Arizona is in play like never before. And the Republicans are literally handing it to us.”

Can Democrats take advantage of this opportunity? Where are they best poised to pick-up GOP-held seats in 2008? Fifteen months before election day, the Democrats are fielding strong and diverse candidates in the districts currently held by the most vulnerable GOP incumbents. In 2008, Democrats should be in a position to at least match the four Western seats picked up in 2006. This first weekly roundup reviews the seven races with the most vulnerable GOP incumbents. In future updates, I'll look at races where Democrats are fielding strong challenges to better-entrenched incumbents.

Are Primaries Good for the Party?

In five to the seven races examined here, Democrats are likely to see multiple candidates vying for the nomination. This forces the question - does a primary battle strengthen or weaken a candidate entering a general election? The argument can be made that a bloody and expensive primary battle results in the eventual nominee emerging as wounded and damaged for a general election campaign.

However, there are many who will argue that a primary can increase a candidate's name recognition and provides the opportunity for a candidate to fine-tune their policy positions and anticipate the potential campaign attacks they may face in the general election. Of course, I'm assuming the campaigns refrain from personal attacks and keep the primary campaign's focus on the issues confronting the district and the nation. An issues-driven primary provides the party's progressives, moderates and conservatives to identify the best candidate for the particular district. As such, the candidate that emerges is the one most likely to win and claim a mandate from the people they represent.

I personally hope to see more progressive candidates win in the general. I believe a strong intraparty debate between the various groups within the party during the primary is the way to develop a progressive consensus from which national Democrats can lead.

The Consensus Top Targets - Winning the West

The experts are pretty much in agreement on the 2008 battleground districts. The Rothenberg Political Report House ratings identifies 24 GOP-held seats as potentially in play. Seven of these are in the West. Electoral-vote.com's 2008 Hot House Races roster is similar. Both include districts where Democratic incumbents will likely face strong challenges and where Dems will be playing defense in '08 (AZ-05, CA-11). Future editions of this Weekly Update will include developments in those races as well.

I don't view this list as comprehensive. There are certainly other Western districts that are possible pickups. In coming weeks, as we get Q2 fundraising results and see where the DCCC's recruiting efforts have been targeted, this list will likely grow. In my opinion, there should be 12-20 Western seats the Dems make a strong run at during this cycle. As the field expands, I'll update the target list.

The Seven Western Targets (ranked in order of most-to-least vulnerable):

#1) ARIZONA 01 - Renzi
#2) NEW MEXICO 01 - Wilson
#3) WASHINGTON 08 - Reichert
#4) CALIFORNIA 04 - Doolittle
#5) NEVADA 03 - Porter
#6) COLORADO 04 - Musgrave
#7) WYOMING AL - Cubin

#1) AZ-01: Renzi [wiki] (PVI R+2)* (RR = Lean GOP)**

  • Democratic Line-Up: THREE declared challengers with SEVEN more rumored to be considering entering the race
  • POSSIBLE resignation, due to ethics/legal probes

For more see "AZ-01: Dems Lining Up to Take on Renzi"

#2) NM-01: Wilson [wiki] (PVI D+2) (RR = Lean GOP)*

  • Democratic Line-Up: ONE declared challenger (for more info about Martin Heinrich's campaign is here) with at least TWO more rumored to be considering making a run at unseating Wilson
  • Incumbent Running? Probable (Wilson does not have a 2008 campaign website)

For more details on NM-01 see: "NM-01: New USAGate Testimony Likely to Hurt Wilson"

#3) WA-08: Reichert [wiki] (PVI D+2) (RR = Lean GOP)*

  • Democratic Line-Up: '06 nominee Darcy Burner is running again, and may face a primary challenge from 1-2 other Democrats
  • Incumbent Running? Yes


For more details see "WA-08: Burner Likely to Get Primaried in 2008"

#4) CA-04: Doolittle [wiki] (PVI R+11) (RR = GOP Favored)*

  • Democratic Line-Up: '06 nominee Charlie Brown is full-speed ahead on fundraising and building a strong campaign team to steal this seat from the GOP
  • POSSIBLE retirement due to ongoing FBI probe into Doolittle's close ties to Jack Abramoff


For more details see "CA-04: GOPers Want to Dump Doolittle, Too"

#5) NV-03: Porter [wiki] (PVI D+1) (RR = Lean GOP)*

  • Democratic Line-Up: TWO declared challengers, FOUR considering entering, 2006 Dem Gov Nominee Dina Titus has declined to run


For more details on NV-03 race see "NV-o3: What's Happening in Vegas?"

#6) CO-04: Musgrave [wiki] (PVI R+9) (RR = GOP Favored)*

  • Democratic Line-Up: '06 nominee Angie Paccione is running again and is likely to face a primary challenge from 2-3 potential candidates.


For more details on the CO-04 race see "CO-04: Paccione Seeks Netroots Support - She Deserves It" and "CO-04: Angie & Eidsness Visit the Blogosphere"

#7) WY-AL: Cubin [wiki] (RR = GOP Favored)*

  • Democratic Line-Up:

For more details on the WY-AL race see "WY-AL: Does the New Sen. Barrasso Affect the Dynamics of the House Race?" (to be posted 6/25)

Are there additional House pick-up opportunities west of the Continental Divide? Certainly. In addition to Doolittle, there are three more CA GOP incumbents (as well as Alaska Rep Don Young) with ethical clouds hanging over their heads. But, picking off these, or other firmly entrenched incumbents across the West will require well-financed candidates with a strong message. The time to lay the foundation for victory in November 2008 is now.

*What's "PVI"? It's the Cook Partisan Voting Index, developed by Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report. A full explanation can be found here.

**A note about the Rothenberg Ratings - Rothenberg rates on the following spectrum: Safe Dem, Favored Dem, Lean Dem, Toss-Up/Tilt Dem, Pure Toss-Up, Toss-Up/Tilt GOP, Lean GOP, Favored GOP, Safe GOP. The current ratings list 24 GOP held seats are currently not rated as "Safe GOP." Each race discussed above includes an "RR" rating based on these categories.

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