Recent weeks have seen a lot of talk about an unprecedented Democratic takeover of Congress in 2014. (Here, here and here.) This would contradict a well-established pattern of mid-term elections favoring the party not currently in the White House. While the pundits talk about the national mood and the Republican ‘Suicide Caucus’, some of us wanted to play with the data and see what’s possible.
What Joshua Grossman of Progressive Kick has done is look at election districts in 2008 and 2012, looking for Republican incumbents in swing districts – those that leaned R or D by a small margin in the presidential race. Many of those districts didn’t have a strong Democratic challenger (or a weak one). The takeaway: a Republican Congress member’s last margin of victory doesn’t give an accurate estimate of our team’s likelihood of beating them next time.
In many of these districts, changing demographics are working in our favor, as well as a quirk of Republican redistricting strategy. By concentrating Democratic voters in a small number of districts and trying to maintain more House districts with a less decisive Republican majority, they have inadvertently littered the landscape with newly competitive districts. We might not win all of them – but to the extent we take their seats away, these are the districts where it will happen.
(Side note: I’m summarizing a 90-minute PowerPoint presentation that compresses a ton of data points. The takeaway here is that number crunching Democratic political strategists are not all alike. Using different methods they arrive at different conclusions, and some are more useful than others.)
Why Is This Important?
Two questions that come to mind are why does this matter and isn’t it obvious? In recent election cycles, Democratic shot-callers overspent on races that were either hopeless or are already in the bag while staying clear of winnable races. While this is a waste of tens of millions of dollars, the bigger point is that it costs us victories. We live in a world where the politically safe choices aren’t always the right ones even with an eye towards narrow self-interest.
Which is why none of this is obvious. Very few people are ever going to go deep into the data and compare methodologies to see which one makes more sense. That’s just not how decisions are usually made in political environments. Which is why spreading the word about this project can’t be just about throwing PowerPoints and data around. We also need a messaging campaign aimed at persuading decision makers that we can win, but we need this new playbook.
Explaining how Democrats and progressives can take Republican seats away is nice and all, but it’s not the end of the story, or even the first part. It’s part of a strategic plan for victory comprising a few discrete steps:
- Find great candidates in the 44 potentially winnable districts currently held by Republicans + other seats being vacated by incumbent Dems
- Support the best candidates with training, funding and networking at the national level, even in the face of more mainstream forces backing a terrible (but wealthy) candidate
- Repeat every two years
We’re asking progressive allies to help us in the short term to locate and recruit great candidates. (Look here to be part of that!) But in the longer term, we need to advance the basic project of using data and progressive principles to take back Congress in 2014.
The list of 44 House districts on Progressive Kick’s list is after the jump.
(Bolded districts have announced Dem candidates yet to be vetted by us):