The Democratic Path to Victory in the House
Most of the punditry continues to assume that the die is cast - that Republicans will win control of the House this fall. Certainly that outcome is entirely possible. But there is a Democratic path to victory next Tuesday.
Fivethirtyeight.com currently portends that there are 152 solid Democratic seats, 174 solid Republican seats, 29 seats that are leaning Democratic, 42 seats that are leaning Republican and 42 toss-ups. Fivethirtyeight.com's Nate Silver gives Democrats only 17% odds of winning 218 votes.
MSNBC and Pollster.com give Democrats only a 21% chance to maintain control of the House. They rate 193 seats as Democratic, 212 Republican and 30 as toss-ups.
If you believe these and other handicappers, Democrats face long odds on Tuesday. But let's remember that even if your odds of success are one in five - they are not zero in five. People line up to play casino games with worse odds every day. Some walk away winners.
But to beat the odds and win, Democrats must be successful at four key tasks over the next five days.
1). Democrats and their allies must be successful at turning out larger than expected numbers of Latino voters. Polls show Latino voters breaking 65% to 70% Democratic, but their turnout in most Mid-terms falls well below both non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black voters.
Democrats have made a major effort this year to increase Latino turnout, especially in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois and Florida. Republicans have done everything they can to suppress the Latino vote, going so far as to set up a front group to run ads to actually discourage Latinos from going to the polls.
But so far it appears the mobilization resulting from the Arizona "papers please" law and Republican talk of repealing the 14th Amendment may couple with on-the-ground GOTV efforts to increase levels of participation well in excess of 2006 turnout.
That increase would be critical in a number of key races. It is especially necessary in swing seats occupied by incumbents Raul Grajalva, Solomon Ortiz, Ciro Rodriguez, John Salazar, Dina Titus, Jerry McNerney, Bill Foster, Debbie Halvorson, Suzanne Kosmas, Alan Grayson and Allen Boyd.
2). Democrats need to successfully assure that two key issues are on the minds of the voters at the close of the race: Social Security, and outsourcing jobs.
The Republicans plan to revive the failed Bush proposal to privatize Social Security. The "Road Map" plan by would-be GOP Budget Chair Paul Ryan would also eliminate Medicare and replace it with vouchers for private insurance companies. These positions are radioactive to older voters. No wonder, the Social Security Administration's own actuarial study confirms the Ryan proposal would cut benefits by up to 58%.
Polls show that this issue has enormous traction to move swing voters and it has taken center stage especially in the many swing districts that have an abundance of older voters.
Swing voters - especially in districts in the industrial heartland like Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania and upstate New York have a deeply ingrained understanding that major corporations have been systematically outsourcing their jobs to countries where they can pay their workers less than a living wage. And it makes them positively furious that Republicans oppose cutting tax breaks that actually encourage these companies to export their jobs.
Both the Social Security and outsourcing issues put the Republicans on the defense and go directly to the concerns of everyday voters about their economic futures. Both also frame the debate correctly. They both define the antagonists in the narrative as Democrats and everyday Americans versus Republicans and big corporations and insurance companies.
To win next Tuesday, Democrats need to keep these two issues front of mind for swing voters as they go to the polls. That is especially true in districts defended by incumbents such as Mike Ross, Gabrielle Giffords, Jim Himes, Debbie Halvorson, Baron Hill, Mark Schauer, Tim Walz, Carol Shea-Porter, Dina Titus, Bill Owens, Kurt Schraeder, Steve Kagen, Earl Pomeroy, Chris Murphy, Pat Murphy, Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin, Kathy Dahlkemper, Charlie Wilson, Zack Space, Steve Driehaus, Tom Periello, Rick Boucher, Health Schuler, Bruce Braley, Mary Jo Kilroy, Dave Loebsack, Mike Arcuri, Chris Carney and John Hall.
In each of these seats the issue on the minds of the voters can move points on Election Day. Social Security and outsourcing must be front and center.
3). In many districts it is especially important that Democrats are successful in emphasizing the strong personal relationship of voters - especially older voters - with their Member of Congress. And they must also be successful at disqualifying the alternative.
Democrats must make the election a choice - not a referendum on Democratic performance. In the end, people vote for people. When they get down to making their choice on the ballot, it is critical that they remember the personal qualities that they like in Democratic incumbents and feel that the alternative is risky. There are many districts where this factor can make a decisive difference.
In some districts occupied by long-time incumbents, the constituent service operation has directly helped tens of thousands of district residents. That builds loyalty.
In others, Members have developed deep networks of personal relationships with leaders of key constituencies.
To win next week, Democrats need to engage all of those relationships and all of that personal loyalty, and contrast it with the risky Republican alternative.
Districts where these factors can be especially important are defended by colorful incumbents with strong personalities such as John Spratt, Ike Skelton, Lincoln Davis, Nick Rahall, Rick Boucher, Paul Kanjorski, Baron Hill, and Barney Frank (whose seat is really not in play).
Democrat Joe Garcia has an excellent chance of winning in Florida's predominantly Cuban American 25th District on the strength of his strong relationships in the community, a flawed Republican alternative and also a robust get out the vote operation. Which gets us to the fourth point.
4). First and foremost, for Democrats to beat the odds next Tuesday, our get out the vote operations must function flawlessly. Basically, these operations must defy the "likely voter" models that have dictated the gloomy scenario in most polls.
There is little question that between the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the DNC's Organize for America (OFA), the individual campaigns, and Democratic allies like AFSCME, AFL-CIO, SEIU, MoveOn.org, USAction, NEA, Center for Community Change, et al, Progressives are conducting the most effective Get Out the Vote (GOTV) effort of any Mid-term in history. Many Latino, African American and women's organizations are also conducting special programs targeting their communities.
Many of the veterans of the Obama campaign - which ran the most effective GOTV program in American history - are deeply involved. The culture and systems developed by the Obama field structure will go a long way to creating well oiled, efficient GOTV organizations. Well organized coordinated campaigns are functioning in key states, focusing heavily on early voting and mail vote in many, and this accounts for a robust showing by Democratic-registered voters in many states. And they all plan massive 72-hour voter contact drills and Election Day operations to run votes.
Democrats are relying heavily on door-to-door contact, while Republicans use paid phone calls and mail. But studies show conclusively that door-to-door contacts are far superior to phones and mail.
Over the next five days, Democrats have to deliver in the field if they intend to upset the odds. We must make millions of door-to-door and phone contacts. We must repeatedly contact voters who would vote Democratic, but our unlikely to vote. We need to explain to these voters how critical it is that they vote. And we need to deliver that very effective Election Day message: "I won't get off your porch until you vote!"
Everyone, no matter where you live can increase Democratic effectiveness in getting out the vote. Pick up the phone and call your local campaign, Democratic Party, your union, or MoveOn.org. Volunteer to go door to door or get on the phones.
We know from research that the more we contact mobilizable voters, the more likely they are to vote. You don't have to "persuade" them, you just have to contact them. You just have to get their attention, and the likelihood they'll vote goes way up.
And if you don't live where there is a critical campaign, you can still get involved. OFA and MoveOn both have programs that allow you to call voters in swing states from the comfort of your own home.
To volunteer, go to OFA.BO/GOTV
To call swing districts: Call.BarackObama.com. That will automatically give you a targeted list of voters in a swing district.
To volunteer with MoveON with a campaign near your home, go here: www.moveon.org/2010
If you want to call from home, go here: pol.moveon.org/2010
If you want to go to a MoveOn campaign event, go here: pol.moveon.org/event/lastchance
So there is no excuse. YOU can personally affect the outcome of these elections.
Still don't believe you can make a difference?
In 2000, our consulting firm was doing the field program for Democrat Elaine Blum for Congress in South Florida. We had an excellent operation. But we lost the race by 500 votes. That was roughly one vote per precinct.
That was the same 500 votes that cost Al Gore the Presidency - and gave us the nightmare of George Bush's presidency - the Iraq War - massive deficits - and the 2008 economic disaster.
If our field program had gotten out one extra vote per precinct, none of that would have happened. Frankly, that keeps me up nights.
Wednesday morning, don't say to yourself, "wow, we only lost the House by one seat - and only by a few votes - and I could have changed that."
There is a pathway for Democratic victory, but it requires we hit on all four of these key cylinders. Too much is at stake to allow any stone to remain unturned. Pick up the phone as soon as you finish reading this. We have five days to change history.