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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Cook: History Favors GOP in 2014, But Dems Have Tech Edge…for Now

At the National Journal Charlie Cook’s “Too Early to Know Whether Democrats Will Fall Prey to Second-Term Jinx” offers an interesting snapshot analysis of the upcoming midterms:

… Recently, we have had three back-to-back wave elections, with 2006 and 2008 in favor of Democrats and 2010 benefiting Republicans. While 2012 cannot really be considered a wave, the election did display certain dynamics that benefited Democrats–at least in national races, although not in gubernatorial ones.
It’s important to remember that wave elections are not the norm–they are actually the exception to the rule…Ronald Reagan unseated President Carter by a 10 percentage-point margin, and Republicans gained 12 seats in the Senate and 34 in the House; this was the first wave election our country had seen since the 1974 Watergate upheaval. The next true wave election after 1980 was in 1994, during the Newt Gingrich-led Republican takeover of the House, which resulted in a 52-seat gain, accompanied by a strong eight-seat gain in the Senate. (Note: Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama switched from the Democratic to the GOP the day after the election, bringing the total Republican gain to nine.) After 1994, there was not another wave for 12 years. Then we saw three consecutive wave elections: 2006, 2008, and the reverse wave in 2010, when Republicans were the beneficiaries and Democrats were the victims.
The safer way to look at congressional elections is to start off assuming that any election will be a normal “all politics is local” situation, while constantly looking closely for signs that it might not be. Keep an eye out for the chance that it turns out to be a wave year, rather than a relatively level battlefield.

However, adds Cook,

… Certain seats gained in a wave election can’t be held in another election where that party isn’t enjoying the strong, beneficial dynamics of the previous election….Often, some of the candidates who win in these cycles aren’t that good–they just had the good fortune of running in a terrific year for their party…These seats are the ones that are often the first to go in an adverse or even normal election year.

But there is some reason for hope for Democrats, Cook believes

Coming out of the 2012 elections, the Republican Party is clearly facing some challenges. Some problems are demographic, specifically the damage to its brand among many minority, female, and younger voters. Others are more ideological: To many voters in the middle, the rhetoric and positioning of the GOP in the past few years has been much more off-putting to these nonideological individuals than that of Democrats. It’s important to note that at other times, the shoe is still on the other foot, and Democrats are the offending party to those middle-of-the-road voters.
Finally, Republicans have fallen behind when it comes to campaign technology. They have gone from a state-of-the-art operation in 2004, with the George W. Bush reelection effort led by Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, to now appearing to be, on a multitude of levels, one, two, or three steps behind their Democratic foes. How long it will take the Republicans to catch up remains to be seen, but campaign-technology experts point out that given the rapid pace of technological change, any advantage by one party is only a temporary edge built on sand. It is not that hard for the other party to catch up or leapfrog ahead.

It’s encouraging that an astute political observer like Charlie Cook can imagine a pro-Democratic wave, thanks to the unprecedented obstruction that the Republican party has come to embody. But Cook is right, that a technology advantage can leapfrog from party to party, and the Republicans certainly have the dough to play catch-up. Clearly Dems should not waste a minute in leveraging their ground game edge. Perhaps even more important, Dems must amplify their message that the economic recovery can only proceed on the heels of a resounding defeat for the GOP in 2014.

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