The midterms are headed into the final two weeks of the campaigns, and the candidates are beginning their sprint for the finish line. In Texas Congressional District 17 that means we are going to see a blitz of television advertisements, and next week Democratic Congressman Chet Edwards will debate Republican challenger Bill Flores twice. The Bryan-College Station Eagle reported this week that both candidates are making their final pitch to the voters, and they are both going to be campaigning quite heavily in the district. The campaign for District 17 exemplifies the overall campaign during the midterms, as Democrats like Edwards have chosen to focus on local issues, while the Republicans like Flores have focused on making the election about national issues. Both parties have decided to follow the conventional wisdom. In stead of campaign on actually policy ideas the Republicans have campaigned as the opposition party, and have provided no real alternative. The Democrats have campaigned on their disagreements with the Obama Administration instead of campaigning on their legislative achievements.
Many of the major political observers are projecting the edge to Flores in the campaign, and Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight projects that Flores has a 95% chance of defeating Edwards. Real Clear Politics, CQ Politics, and the Cook Political Report all have the race leaning Republican, but I wouldn’t call this race for Flores just yet. First of all there has been no real public opinion polling in this campaign, with the exception of internal polling which generally favor the campaign conducting the poll. Edwards also has history on his side. He has defeated three straight Republican challengers, and actually fairs better in midterm elections than he does in Presidential election years. That being said, this is a seriously tough year for Democrats in any district. Let alone a district in which President Obama only received about 35% of the vote in during the 2008 election. In many ways this is Flores’ campaign to lose.
How might Flores lose this campaign? Well, he might get a headache. Last week Flores said that he was “not philosophically opposed” to raising the Social Security retirement age for future recipients, and the Dallas Morning News reported on Flores’ attempt to walk back that comment while saying that he had a “headache during the interview and the remarks did not properly characterize his position.” Political reported on Edwards’ response saying that “after Bill Flores blamed his position on raising the Social Security age to 70 on a 'headache,' what is next?" Is Mr. Flores going to blame his plan to privatize VA health care on a Dairy Queen Hunger-Buster and blame his company’s having stuck taxpayers with $7.5 million in unpaid government loans to a case of indigestion?” Of the two campaigns Edwards has been fair more disciplined and less prone to gaffs than the Flores’ campaign. However, in a political year when you can say as many outlandish things as Sharon Angle has said in Nevada and still be tied with Democratic Majority Lead Harry Reid, mistakes are not as much as a political liability that they would be in other years.
On of the measures being used to judge campaigns is the involvement of the national parties, and how much money the Democrat and Republican Senatorial and Congressional campaign committees are putting in place in different districts and states. There has been a buzz on the conservative blogs and Twitter that the DCCC was going to pull money from District 17 and send it to other places. Newsweek reported that Edwards would get few add buys, characterizing it as “bad news for Edwards, who's been one of the highest-profile Democrats to run away from the president and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, actively denouncing them in campaign ads.” However, the Texas Tribune reported today that the DCCC released a new ad attacking Flores for the bailout that a oil company he managed during bankruptcy received from the federal government costing the taxpayers $7.5 million.
To all of those Republicans working on the math to try and figure out what size seat majority you will have in the House of Representatives, and to all those Democrats feeling a bit demoralized by the way this election season has gone: just remember that nothing is as certain as it seems. What people tend to forget about is that midterm elections are decided in a district by district basis, and polling for the vast majority of even competitive campaigns is scarce at best. While it does appear that the Republicans will gain control of the majority in the House, they will probably not be able to gain control of the majority in the Senate. One more thing. While Democrats have become famous for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the Republicans nominated a candidate that was the first person to have to campaign on not being a witch since the 1600’s. Anything can happen this year.
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