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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Is Targeting 100 House Seats Realistic for Dems?

Josh Vorhees reviews Democratic strategy to win House of Reps seats in his slate.com post, “Democrats Say They Are Now Targeting 101 House Seats. Wait, Really?: As the title suggests, he has some doubts, including,

Democrats have set their sights on taking 101 House seats from Republicans.
Wait, what now? Via NBC News:

At House Democrats’ annual conference Thursday, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), is expected to tell colleagues the committee is expanding the battleground to include 101 Republicans — the largest in a decade, a Democratic source familiar with the matter told NBC News.

Now, a point of clarification: I checked with the DCCC, the official campaign arm of House Democrats, and they confirmed that their list of battleground targets really does run 101 races long—though three of the 19 open seats on that list are currently held by Democrats. But while that 98 figure doesn’t make for quite as strong of a shock-and-awe more-than-a-hundred PR strategy, in reality, there’s not all that much difference between the two figures. Both can safely be described as a freaking lot.

Vorhees’s concern is understandable. That’s a dramatic increase from the two-dozen seats Trump’s -10 underwater (but recently improved) approval numbers indicate are a realistic goal for Dems, according to some political pundits. Vorhees adds:

On Thursday, the Cook Political Report moved a whopping 21 races in the direction of Democrats. And yet even after that sizable shift, it’s hard to count to 98. Cook currently considers 343 of the 435 House seats either solidly Democrat (175) or solidly Republican (168). And of the remaining 92 races thought to either be competitive or have the potential to become competitive before November, 19 of them are currently held by Democrats. Put another way, Democrats are targeting dozens of seats that Cook and other nonpartisan experts think will stay red—some deep red—come Election Day 2018.

…According to the DCCC, their internal, district-level polling is one reason for the confidence. They say Trump is underwater in more than 60 districts he won in 2016. The DCCC also points to strong fundraising by individual candidates and national Democratic groups, which together they hope will offset some of the GOP’s traditional advantage when it comes to outside money (see: Brothers, Koch).

Despite the encouraging numbers, Vorhees sees “some element of posturing” in the DCCC strategy and he concludes, “Every dollar they spend trying to flip that 60th seat—let alone the 98th one—is a buck that they won’t have to invest in those races far more likely to decide control of the House for the next two years. It may not be Hillary can win Texas! but it feels hauntingly close to It’s cool, Michigan’s in the bag.”

It may be, however, that underinvesting in winnable districts with substantial numbers of white working-class voters who are fed up with Trump is the greater danger. Dems have some useful numbers  to work with in identifying competitive districts and Democratic fund-raising is going well.

Overconfidence and spreading resources too thin can be a problem. But It would also be a shame if excessive caution prevented Democrats from winning an additional ten or more seats. Allocating available resources optimally to numerous campaigns is a tricky challenge in any election, especially the 2018 midterms, which have so far produced a bumper crop of Democratic candidates nation-wide. Better polling in congressional districs would be a big help.

2 comments on “Is Targeting 100 House Seats Realistic for Dems?

  1. Paul Criswell on

    Perhaps it will do good to spread the Democratic message far and wide, even if we do not win a particular race. If we do not contest, the District just becomes deeper red.

    In addition, it is not clear to me that the “nonpartisan pundits” have caught up with some of the demographic changes in party affiliation — including both college educated and non-college educated women (See Ruy’s post from yesterday)

    Finally, if we do manage to achieve some measure of fair redistricting over the next several years, then this campaigning will have been worthwhile, because it may be aimed at voters in newly competitive Districts.


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