January 30, 2014
Will Dems sacrifice the House to keep the Senate?
A growing number of Democratic donors and political operatives are recognizing the painful reality that in order to have a chance of keeping the senate, the party is going to have to abandon hopes of winning back the House.
Their calculation is uncomplicated. With only so much money to go around in an election year that is tilting the GOP's way, Democrats need to concentrate resources on preserving the chamber they have now. Losing the Senate, they know, could doom whatever hopes Barack Obama has of salvaging the final years of his presidency.
The triage idea is taking hold in phone conversations among donors and in strategy sessions between party operatives. Even some of the people who have invested the most to get House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi back into the speaker's chair are moving in that direction.
"There is no question that Democratic donors are shifting towards the Senate in 2014. They will continue to support Nancy, but everyone agrees that the emphasis is going to be on the Senate," said Joe Cotchett, a prominent San Francisco trial attorney and friend of Pelosi's who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic Party candidates and causes. "When you see people like [longtime California Democratic Rep.] George Miller announcing that they are not running again, you know where the money will be going."
"...nless we have a George Washington Bridge fiasco in the House," he added, referring to the traffic scandal that has engulfed Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, "control is not going to change."
It's a delicate decision for Democrats and one they are not taking lightly. None of them wants to surrender the House to Republicans for another two years, leaving Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and a rowdy band of tea party lawmakers in charge. Ceding ground to Republicans this year would make it that much harder for the party to win back the House in 2016, which could be a more favorable year for Democrats.
But with their party weighted down by an unpopular president and his even more unpopular health care law, many Democrats are worried about the election. And their anxiety is most pronounced about the Senate.
One handicapper recently characterized the battle for that chamber -- Republicans need to net six seats to win control -- as a "coin flip." Making up their 17-seat deficit in the House, on the other hand, looks like a nonstarter for Democrats; it would not be surprising, some pundits say, for Republicans to expand their House majority.
AT political correspondent Rich Baehr gives us a reason for the sudden pessimism among Democratic political pros:
In Iowa, a state that seemed likely to remain Democratic (the seat of retiring Senator Tom Harkin) now has various GOP contenders polling surprisingly close to the all-but-certain Democratic nominee, Rep. Bruce Braley.
In New Hampshire, the entrance of Scott Brown into the race would turn a likely easy victory for incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen into a very competitive contest. This is also the case in Alaska, a Republican-leaning state with a vulnerable Democratic incumbent but a wide open GOP primary field.
Larry Sabato, whose ratings change during the year, gives the GOP the edge for four pickups -- South Dakota, Montana, West Virginia and Arkansas -- and a 50% shot in Louisiana, North Carolina, and Alaska. He rates Democrats the favorites in Iowa, Michigan, and New Hampshire (as well as in longer-shot Colorado). Georgia is the most vulnerable Republican-held seat in this analysis.
New Hampshire, Michigan, Iowa, and Colorado weren't even on the board as recently as last summer. Prospects for GOP takeovers in those states have improved tremendously, although they are still considered underdogs. As Baehr points out, much will depend on who the GOP nominates to challenge Democratic incumbents in those states. But the prospect of all those competitive races has Democrats desperate to pour as many resources as possible into those Senate races.
There's still a long way to go, but for Democrats to abandon their dreams of retaking the House this far out from the election shows just how frightened they are of a potential GOP wave in November.