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December 22, 2014

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November 17, 2014

Lessons for Democratic Strategists From 2014

 Lessons for Democratic Strategists From 2014

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

You could feel it from Day One of this cycle. Senate Democratic strategists knew they were smarter than their Republican adversaries. They’d out-think them and out-work them.

Incumbent Democratic senators who run good campaigns rarely lose, I was reminded. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who had been appointed to his seat, won a tough race in 2010. So did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. And Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill did the same in 2012.

This cycle, vulnerable Democratic incumbents in red states such as Alaska, Arkansas and Louisiana had great political names and deep connections to the voters. They knew how to win, just like Democrats Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana did two years ago. (Of course, Heitkamp and Donnelly won in a presidential year, with its different dynamic.)

How many times did I hear or read that Sen. Mark Pryor was no Blanche Lincoln? That comment was meant to highlight Pryor’s political strengths, but also to throw Lincoln (who lost re-election in 2010) under the bus so party strategists didn’t have to look at why she lost and how hostile the Arkansas terrain has become for any Democrat.

“They have their own brands,” I heard repeatedly about Pryor and Sens. Mark Begich in Alaska and Mary L. Landrieu in Louisiana from Democratic operatives and journalists.

But, Bennet, Reid and McCaskill were victorious because the GOP nominated horrible candidates against them, not because the Democratic candidates had such untouchable brands, Democratic strategists had unique insights or party operatives knew how to win tough races. Full story

October 6, 2014

What If I’m Wrong About GOP Flipping at Least 7 Seats?

 What If I’m Wrong About GOP Flipping at Least 7 Seats?

Landrieu (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A few weeks ago I wrote Senate Republicans would gain at least seven seats, even though the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call race ratings showed a likely Republican gain of five to eight seats.

That expectation was based on national survey results that showed the president extremely is unpopular and voters are unhappy with the direction of the country, as well as state polling that showed Democratic incumbents well below the critical 50 percent threshold in ballot tests against their GOP opponents.

My prediction shouldn’t have been all that startling. After all, Mitt Romney carried seven states where Democrats are defending Senate seats, and in this era of declining ticket-splitting, it wouldn’t be surprising for anti-President Barack Obama voters to vote against the Senate nominees of the president’s party.

Indeed, midterm electoral history would suggest Democrats have an uphill battle to hold onto the Senate.

But, as I pointed out in the column, with only three Democratic Senate seats in the bag for the GOP — South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana — Republicans can’t yet be certain they will net the six seats they need for a majority in the next Congress.

So what could/would cause me to change my expectations over the next month? How could Democrats alter the election’s trajectory? Full story

September 23, 2014

Fight for Senate Control Down to Five States

With six weeks to go, the fight for control of the Senate is down to five states, four of them currently held by Democrats.

Republicans must win only two of those contests to guarantee the 51 seats they need to control the Senate for the last two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. And they need to win only one of the Democratic states if they hold the only GOP seat at serious risk.

While things could still change — and national polls continue to show an environment that may produce a substantial GOP wave in the House and Senate — the Senate battle has boiled down to two reliably red states and three swing states.

Full story

August 19, 2014

Not Your Typical Southern Democrat in South Carolina

 Not Your Typical Southern Democrat in South Carolina

(John Rieger/CQ Roll Call)

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s Democratic opponent, state Sen. Brad Hutto, wants you to know two things: He has a path to victory against the two-term Republican, and it doesn’t require him to run from traditional Democratic positions.

“I’m not a Blue Dog,” Hutto said proudly during a recent interview with me and my colleague Nathan Gonzales. “I’m a Democrat.”

Hutto doesn’t hide his views, which are right in sync with those of Democrats nationally. He figures that the four-way race for the Senate this year — against Graham, Libertarian Victor Kocher and independent Thomas Ravenel, a former Republican state treasurer of South Carolina — gives him a chance to win the contest with far less than half the total votes cast. Full story

August 11, 2014

Democratic Retirements Put the Senate in Play

baucus008 061714 Democratic Retirements Put the Senate in Play

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Barack Obama’s slumping job approval rating isn’t doing Democrats any favors in the party’s quest to hold a majority in the Senate. But without a handful of Democratic retirements, the Senate likely wouldn’t be in play at all.

Republicans need a net gain of six Senate seats to get to 51 and control the Senate in the 114th Congress. To make that happen, Republicans will likely need to defeat at least two incumbents, if not three or four. That’s a difficult — but not insurmountable — task, considering Republicans defeated just two Democratic incumbents (both in 2010) in the past four election cycles combined.

But if a handful of Democratic senators had not chosen to retire this cycle, Republicans would have had a significantly more difficult path to a majority. The retirements of Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Carl Levin of Michigan created good — some even great — GOP opportunities.

Full story

July 15, 2014

Fight for the Senate Still Very Much Up in the Air

hagan 271 042914 1 445x328 Fight for the Senate Still Very Much Up in the Air

Hagan is a Democrat from North Carolina. ( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The bottom line looks about the same in the fight for control of the Senate in November — but some of the pieces of the puzzle have moved around dramatically over the past few months.

Republicans need a 6-seat gain to take over the Senate next year. Three Democratic-held Senate seats continue to be headed to the GOP: Montana and open seats in South Dakota and West Virginia.

Most Democrats are pessimistic about all three, though some party insiders continue to hold out hope that appointed Montana Sen. John Walsh can close his early deficit against his Republican challenger, Rep. Steve Daines. If that should happen, of course, national Democratic money could flow into the race. But for now, Daines appears to have a clear advantage.

From that point on, things get a bit dicier for Republicans. Full story

June 18, 2014

In Campaign Ads, ‘Week One’ Is Still Months Away

It can feel like the 2014 congressional races have been going on forever, so when a campaign strategist talks about “Week One,” it can be confusing that Week One is still actually four months away.

Obtaining and understanding television ad buys is becoming an increasingly important part of analyzing House and Senate races. And deciphering the language, from gross rating points to designated media areas, is critical as well.

The National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic House Majority PAC recently released another round of television ad reservations for the fall. And the timing of the ads can matter almost as much as the amount of money behind the spots. Full story

April 21, 2014

Why TV Airtime Reservations Are More Important Than Ever

Israel031513 445x295 Why TV Airtime Reservations Are More Important Than Ever

Steve Israel of New York is the DCCC’s chairman. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

It’s time to pay more attention to television ad reservations; they have become another critical way party strategists communicate without coordinating under campaign finance laws.

Not too many cycles ago, political reporters rightly handled television ad reservations loosely and delicately as strategists from both parties used them to play games. Strategists would make some reservations with little or no intent to fulfill them in order to fake out the other party, the media or both.

But that was also a time when the party campaign committees (through their independent expenditure arms) dominated outside spending in races. Now, outside spending from non-party groups has increased, and party strategists can’t afford to pull in and out of competitive races or abruptly shift advertising plans because television spending strategies are more integrated.

“You can’t over-reserve anymore because once you’ve laid down that time, people are counting on you,” explained one Democratic strategist. Full story

April 14, 2014

The War of Obamacare Anecdotes in the 2014 Elections

A couple months ago on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, I said that I thought the 2014 elections would be driven by anecdotes related to the Affordable Care Act. I think a pair of ads in two of the most competitive Senate races in the country could be a pretty accurate roadmap for the debate that is coming over the next six months.

Last week in Alaska, an outside group called Put Alaska First went on the air with a new, 30-second television ad, “Beat,” featuring cancer survivor Lisa Keller talking about her struggle to gain insurance coverage and thanking  Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, for his fight against the insurance companies.

Full story

February 10, 2014

DCCC Is 2013 Fundraising Winner, but DNC Drops the Ball

A look at the end-of-the-year financial reports of the two House campaign committees, two Senate campaign committees and two national party committees makes it pretty clear which ones have something to crow about and which have some explaining to do.

The big winner is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The DCCC, chaired by New York Rep. Steve Israel, brought in almost $76 million last year, ending December with more than $29 million in the bank.

It was a remarkable showing, given that Democrats are in the minority and there was only a brief chance, in October, that they could regain control of the House in 2014.

Full story

November 26, 2013

Open Your Mind to the Possibility of Another Midterm Mess for Democrats

Democrats might want to consider opening their minds to the potential of another midterm nightmare.

I remember dozens of conversations with GOP candidates and strategists prior to the 2012 elections. Republicans simply couldn’t wrap their minds around the possibility that 2008 could ever be repeated. That failure in comprehension contributed to inaccurate polling and wrong assumptions as the two electorates ended up being remarkably similar.

Now, I’m starting to feel a sense of deja vu when talking with Democrats. Anytime 2010 comes up in a conversation, it is quickly dismissed as an aberration. Most Democrats can’t even imagine another election cycle where President Barack Obama is as unpopular and as much of a drag on Democrats as he was in his first midterm.

But I’m not sure we can rule out the possibility that next November will be a very bad year for Democrats. Full story

September 26, 2013

Tennant Not a Game Changer Yet for West Virginia Democrats

A few weeks ago, Democrats didn’t even have a warm body in the West Virginia Senate race. So getting Secretary of State Natalie Tennant to run for the Senate was quite a catch.

But even though Tennant is a credible statewide elected official, she starts as a significant underdog in the open-seat contest.

Convincing her to run must have been quite a challenge. After coming up short in her gubernatorial bid in 2011, Tennant had her sights set on running for governor again in 2015. Like Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky, Tennant must have believed that switching course was her best next move.

There were some nuggets of information that may have encouraged Tennant to make the jump.

Before Tennant’s announcement, an Aug. 15-22 poll conducted by R.L. Repass and Partners for the Charleston Daily Mail showed her trailing Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito narrowly 45 percent to 40 percent. And Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III’s ability to win 60 percent in 2012 while President Barack Obama received 36 percent was also probably an encouragement.

But that understates her challenge. Full story

September 24, 2013

5 Things Winning Candidates Say

After the overwhelming response to “6 Things Losing Candidates Say” and its successor, “4 More Things Losing Candidates Say (Readers’ Edition),” I decided to try to turn it around and point out some common themes from winning candidates.

Of course these phrases don’t guarantee success — a candidate’s party and the partisanship of the state or district will be a larger determining factor. But these sayings reflect an attitude and approach that will often set up a candidate for success.

1. “I like to ask people for money on the phone six hours a day.” Everyone wants to give a stump speech. But fundraising is a cold, hard reality for the vast majority of congressional candidates. Unless a candidate is personally wealthy and can ask, “How much should I make the check out for?” he or she will spend hours on the phone every day, asking people for money. And after they finish their call time, they’ll go to a fundraising event that night. Raising a million dollars is the bare minimum for a competitive congressional race these days, and that won’t happen by just shaking hands at the county fair. Full story

August 16, 2013

3 Key Factors Each Party Is Banking On for a Senate Majority

The Senate playing field is starting to solidify, and the fight for the majority looks like it will be decided in about a dozen states. But even though the fields of candidates are still taking shape in some of those contests, both Republicans and Democrats are banking on some macro-factors that will affect races at the micro-level.

Democrats are counting on three trends to boost their effort next year:

1. History will repeat itself in GOP primaries. This isn’t all that big of a stretch considering Republicans handed five Senate seats to the Democrats over the past two election cycles because weak GOP nominees have thrown races away. This cycle, GOP primaries in Kentucky, Alaska, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina could affect the party’s prospects next November.

Of course, just because it has happened in the past, doesn’t mean it will happen again. And some of this cycle’s GOP primaries are in states that Republicans probably won’t need to win to get to the majority, including Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota.

2. Democrats will be able to boost turnout to presidential levels or beyond. This is a big question mark. Democrats are looking to mobilize young voters and minority voters next year to lessen the impact of a traditional midterm electorate that is older and white and usually benefits Republicans. Full story

August 13, 2013

RATINGS CHANGE: Montana Senate

daines 011 030513 445x285 RATINGS CHANGE: Montana Senate

Daines is seriously considering a bid for Senate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A month ago, Stuart Rothenberg made the case for why the Montana Senate seat remained a pure tossup. But now that former Gov. Brian Schweitzer is not running on the Democratic side, and Rep. Steve Daines is likely to run on the GOP side, Republicans should start this open seat race with a very narrow advantage.

First, a quick look back at Rothenberg’s description of the political landscape in Big Sky Country: Full story

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