Ever since McCain clinched the GOP presidential nomination and marched right into Denny Hastert's congressional district to campaign vigorously with Jim Oberweis for the seat Hastert was giving up, a shudder went up the spine of Republican incumbents. An unknown Democratic challenger, Bill Foster, straight from a bitterly fought primary that he only won by a few votes, should have been an easy target for McCain and Oberweis. The district is overwhelmingly Republican (R+5) and exactly the kind of district Republicans have to win if they are going to stay nationally relevant and not just fade away into the party of the old slave holding states and the Mormons. But instead of McCain's first victory, early March saw the beginning of a nightmare vision for the GOP about what kind of a disaster McCain's coattails were going to be for them. And it just got worse from there.
McCain's coattails were also toxic in Baton Rouge, in another very red district's special election, and then in a Mississippi district where Democrats normally don't even bother to run (R+10). It seems like every single day the rearview mirror, Inside the Beltway prognosticators are-- as usual-- trying to catch up with reality in the "real America" (everything to the west, north and south of the Beltway) by changing their ratings, which generally started out as 2 or 3 Democratic gains in the Senate and 8 or 9 net wins for the Dems in the House. Cook and Schnook and Rothengeek and the rest of them seem to be willing to declare a seat leaning to the Democrats when the Republican gives a concession speech. They're a joke and I expect that on Wednesday they will make fairly accurate predictions for a Democratic landslide in both houses.
Today's Washington Post deals with the delicate subject-- in a one industry company town-- of John McCain's coattails, by claiming that his struggle in traditionally Republican states is "complicating the already tenuous reelection prospects of some congressional Republicans." Moderate suburban districts are breaking for Obama and vacated Republican seats plus embattled GOP incumbents are looking mighty blue 6 days before the election.
The apparent McCain drag on congressional races comes as voters increasingly cast blame on Bush and Republicans for the crumbling economy and at a time when the GOP's national party committees have little financial resources to defend an increasing number of House and Senate seats that are in jeopardy.
"McCain is just running so poorly now. He's collapsed in some districts. It's brutal out there for Republicans," said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the independent Rothenberg Political Report.
The environment has created the potential for gains by the Democrats that could leave them in control of the Capitol for years.
Democrats hold a 51 to 49 edge in the Senate when the two independents who caucus with them are factored in, and a 236 to 199 House majority. Rothenberg predicted that Democrats will pick up 27 to 33 House seats, and make gains of six to nine seats in the Senate. The Cook Political Report, another independent political forecaster, suggests that Democrats will net 23 to 28 House seats, and pick up seven to nine Republican-held Senate seats.
That would have been an astute observation in late August. If Cook were on the ball he would have said "Democrats will net 30 to 40 House seats."
Does anyone pay attention to these blinkered forecasters? The DCCC and NRCC consider them the holy grail, media frames the coverage of races through the prism they offer, and their impact on big donors is immense. Otherwise, they're inconsequential.
Many political observers are talking about the career-ending balloting coming up for John Sununu (R-NH), Steve Pearce (R-NM), Robin Hayes (R-NC) and Ric Keller (R-FL) but I want to talk about two races that none of the pollsters or pundits ever mention and that have been largely flying under the radar. This morning the most influential newspaper in Iowa, the Des Moines Register shocked the political establishment by rejecting 7-term incumbent rubber stamp Tom Latham and endorsed a grassroots Democrat for his seat, Becky Greenwald. Cook and Schnook must be scratching their head and scurrying around for a map that shows where Iowa's 4th CD is.
Iowa's 4th District has a chance to make history. This state has never sent a woman to Congress, but should do so this election.
Becky Greenwald, a Democrat from Perry, has not made that point the main emphasis of her campaign. She calls herself a candidate who "happens to be female." But she also happens to be a woman with potential to be a leader in Washington.
[The Register also endorsed progressive Democrat Rob Hubler in the 5th district and urged Iowa voters to retire hysterical extremist goon Steve King.]
The other race I want to bring up, though, is even further under the radar than either of the Iowa races. Southwest Pennsylvania's 18th CD was gerrymandered to find every potential Republican voter south of Pittsburgh and put them into a safe district for Tim Murphy. But the district (R+2) isn't safe enough for someone with as terrible a rubber stamp record as Murphy has amassed since first taking office in 2002. Just look at this Iraq voting record; it could have been accrued by Dick Cheney! But I bet no one outside the district-- especially no one Inside the Beltway-- knows that there might be an upset brewing inside.
Steve O'Donnell is a progressive Democrat with a shot-- albeit a longshot-- to be Tuesday night's jaw dropper. Murphy has tried to stay under the radar himself and he's tried, despite his record, to sound like a moderate and keep his distance, at least publicly, from Bush and McCain. But his approval rating is only 34%, something that would have him on the critical list if the DCCC was paying attention. Registration has changed so drastically in Pennsylvania that there are now 60,000 more registered Democrats in PA-18 than registered Republicans! And it's an economically hard-hit part of the country with very strong anti-Republican sentiment.
Labor is behind O'Donnell in a big way and his pro-choice, single payer healthcare, out-of-Iraq positions are in sync with what voters actually want. Meanwhile the FBI is investigating Murphy as another dirty Republican Culture of Corruption crook:
Murphy was named one of the 20 most corrupt members of Congress by CREW and he's continued taking immense sums of money from the special interests he serves in Congress, like Big Oil, Halliburton, Wal-Mart and many of the worst players in the mortgage crisis and Wall Street meltdown.
If O'Donnell comes close, the DCCC will be weeping to activists next year for screwing up-- like they're doing this year for screwing up Larry Kissell's race in 2006. But he can win, especially if McCain and Palin keep campaigning in Pennsylvania.