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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

GOP Ethics Mess Lifts Dems’ House Prospects

In today’s edition of the Washington Post, Mike Allen has good news for Dems hoping to win back a controlling majority in the House of Representatives. In his article, “GOP Worries Ethics Issue May Hurt Party in ’06,” Allen cites four GOP House members, whose deepening ethics problems have made them vulnerable targets: Robert Ney (OH); Richard Pombo (CA); Tom Feeney (FL) and Charles Taylor (FL). Add to this list the seven Republican House Members Alan Abramowitz has identified as also vulnerable in his April 17 post, plus Tom Delay (see John Judis’s New Republic article on DeLay’s ’06 vulnerability), and it appears that Dems are rapidly closing in on the 15 seats needed to win back a House Majority.
Allen quotes GOP strategist Rick Davis, the former manager of John McCain’s presidential campaign:

The combination of gridlock and ethics charges indicate that the system’s busted, and the system is the majority party…The contest for us in the bi-election is to explain what we’ve gotten accomplished in the last two years, and right now, it’s not looking so hot. The focus is on the problems, because there isn’t that much happening.

Gerrymandering has made it more difficult to unseat incumbents in recent elections. Yet, ethics and corruption issues alone could give Dems new leverage in the quest to regain majority control of the House. Slowly, the outlines of a winning Democratic strategy for ’06 are beginning to take form. As Christopher Hayes, noted in “Corruption — A Proven Winner” in The Nation (flagged in EDM’s April 21 post “Cookie-Jar Republicans Give Dems Edge”):

Congressional Democrats should take a page out of Gingrich’s and Blagojevich’s books and propose comprehensive ethics reform. They should talk about the “corrupt Republicans” and “restoring transparency and integrity” at every turn. They should use DeLay’s mounting ignominy to tar fellow Republicans who benefit from his fundraising and clout. In short, they should make Republican scandal and Democratic reform one of the central narratives of their opposition over the next two years. “Newt Gingrich came to power because of an ethics scandal,” says Obama’s state political director, Dan Shomon. “Rod Blagojevich got elected partly because of scandal. You can defeat an incumbent if you can catch his or her hand in the cookie jar.”

As noted in EDM’s May 19 post, a Wall St. Journal/NBC News Poll conducted 5/12-16 indicated that 47 percent of Americans chose Democrats when asked “which party they want to control Congress after the 2006 elections,” while only 40 percent chose the GOP. The latest revelations of GOP ethics problems will likely increase that margin to the Democrats’ benefit.
As Abramowitz noted, 15 House seats is close to the average mid-term loss of the Party occupying the white house. Looking at the average loss of the President’s party in the last five “six-year itch” elections (see May 31 post below), the number is considerably more encouraging — 44 seats.