A ‘borrowed’ majority against a radicalized minority

A ‘BORROWED’ MAJORITY AGAINST A RADICALIZED MINORITY…. It’s sometimes easy to forget that the Democratic House majority, by contemporary standards, is quite sizable. Between the 2006 midterms, the 2008 cycle, and the eight House special elections since President Obama’s inauguration, Democrats have gained 55 seats in five years. The result is the largest majority either party has enjoyed in two decades.

In a sense, though, it’s a “borrowed” majority — Dems rode a wave that was generated by the spectacular failures of Republicans of the Bush/Cheney era, picking up seats in GOP districts. By one recent count, Dems hold 80 House seats in districts George W. Bush carried in 2004, and 48 seats John McCain’s presidential campaign won in 2008. What’s more, we now know that 8 of those 48 Democratic incumbents representing “red” districts are retiring this year.

Needless to say, the NRCC’s target list for the midterms largely writes itself.

But in an interesting campaign analysis today, Jeff Zeleny notes one of the year’s most important developments.

There are multiple combinations for how Republicans can reach the gain needed to win control of the House, but neither side disputes the notion that for Republicans to be successful, some of their victories must come from these split districts.

They are by no means all easy targets for Republicans. For a variety of factors, including fund-raising strength and the quality and ideological positioning of the Republican candidates, only 15 of the 40 districts are considered top targets by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Several others are rated competitive by nonpartisan analysts.

At least a handful of Democrats in the 40 districts are no longer considered to be as vulnerable as Republicans had hoped, largely because their preferred candidates were defeated by more conservative candidates in primaries. [emphasis added]

In general, when we talk about GOP nominees being too radical to win key elections, we think of Senate campaigns. Nevada looked like an easy pick-up for Republicans, for example, until they nominated the certifiable Sharron Angle. Kentucky wasn’t even supposed to be competitive, until the party tapped extremist ophthalmologist Rand Paul. Radical Senate candidates, not even close to the American mainstream, will be on the ballot in Wisconsin, Florida, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, undermining (though not eliminating) the GOP’s chances in winnable races.

But it’s worth remembering that this same dynamic is evident in House races, too. In many instances, the party establishment rallied behind an electable far-right conservative, only to find the party base nominating a less electable, very-far-right conservative.

The GOP leadership’s deliberate efforts to gin up excitement among hysterical right-wing activists has given Republicans an edge when it comes to partisan enthusiasm, but the strategy is not without negative consequences for the party.