Smart Strategy Led Dems to Victory
Democrats won big in the election of 2006, recapturing the House by a
comfortable margin and coming within striking distance in the Senate as
well. History will look at the ’06 race as a referendum on Iraq, Bush
administration incompetence and numerous Republican scandals.
All of that
is true, of course. But Election ’06 was not only about Republican
failure. The Democrats, who did just about nothing right in the last two
national elections, handled the campaign brilliantly from start to
finish, avoiding all of the major mistakes they had made in 2002 and
2004. Namely, they picked excellent candidates, they appealed to a broad
constituency (the old “big tent”) and most of all, they got out of their
been written about the campaign-long feud between the chairman of the
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.)
and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean. Emanuel favored
targeting of specific districts, while Dean backed a “50-state
strategy,” which would build up the party, long-term, all throughout the
point during the campaign the two men settled their feud; as it turns
out, both were right. Dean, Emanuel and Senatorial Campaign Committee
Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) targeted Senate and House seats that
looked winnable, and as their year looked better and better they
targeted more and more. In the meantime, the Democrats set themselves up
to compete in areas in which they were not even a factor as recently as
2004 – most notably Indiana, Ohio and various western states.
demographic trends helped the Democrats as well. Just as the
transformation of the South into pure Republican territory was completed
during the early Bush wins, the Democrats picked off numerous House
seats in the blue Northeast and upper Midwest.)
among those on the party’s activist left that the Dems would have to
emulate Karl Rove in order to defeat him turned out to be wrong as well.
Sure, much of the campaigning the Democrats did was negative. But it was
nothing compared to the hateful, scaremongering advertising missives put
out by the GOP, most of which were personal in nature, and based on the
idea that Democrats will let your children fall victim to terrorists,
pedophiles, immigrants or other minorities.
the Democrats borrowed one highly effective move from the Rove playbook:
they hand-picked candidates for races who they knew would be strong,
effective and electable. Several of their key wins – including that of
my new Congressman, Joseph Sestak of Pennsylvania – came from candidates
handpicked by the DSCC and DCCC.
battle within the Democratic Party, one that has gone back as far as
World War I, is the feud between moderate liberals and far leftists. And
once again, the Democrats won by having it both ways. A midterm
election, of course, does not require a party to coalesce around a
single candidate. Therefore, the Democrats put candidates forward
running the gamut from Keith Ellison in Minnesota on the left to James
Webb in Virginia on the right.
tent strategy also served to pull the Democrats toward the middle, and
away from the leftward tilt that tempted the party following the 2004
defeat. Ned Lamont’s defeat in Connecticut was huge in this regard,
keeping the DailyKos.com clowns away from claiming credit for the
even more apparent when John Kerry made his gaffe the week before the
election, appearing to insult the intelligence of American troops in
Iraq, Republicans predictably attempted to make it appear as though
every Democrat in America shared widespread contempt for the soldiers.
But Democrats failed to fall into the trap. Almost to a man, they
denounced Kerry themselves, both defusing the situation for the short
term, and (mercifully) most likely preventing a quixotic 2008
presidential run for the disgraced senator.
finally, it also helped that at various times, from Abramoff to Mark
Foley to different Iraq stories, the Democrats campaigned best by not
campaigning at all, and by merely getting out of the way just long
enough for the GOP to hang themselves.
election was Democratic victory, but not necessarily a left-wing
victory. The Democrats did not scream their way to victory, nor were
they driven by any type of Rove/Gingrich cult of personality. Instead,
they merely followed the underrated leadership of Dean, Schumer, Emanuel
and Nancy Pelosi – all of which was, to put it mildly, unproven.
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