Republicans will not finish the night on November 2 with quite as much success as the political fabulists of the moment imagine. And there is a reason for that. In much of the United States, the Grand Old Party isn’t even bothering to compete.
The reason is that, while most Republican contenders for House and Senate seats take different stands from the Democrats they are challenging, they do not take different stands from one another. While there are exceptions, by and large a Republican contender in Louisiana says pretty much the same thing as a Republican contender in Los Angeles, a Republican in Minnesota says pretty much the same thing as a Republican in Miami.
The sameness has allowed Republicans to develop a coherent national "brand," and that will work this year—just as the same process helped Barack Obama in 2008. But the Republicans are not "cracking" urban and college-town Congressional districts because, for the most part, they aren’t trying. They’re just parroting the positions of the Washington Republicans whose politics have proven to be so unappealing to voters in those communities. As such, they fail to offer an alternative that will attract crossover votes in Congressional districts that voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in 2008 and that have also backed liberal Democrats in state and local races.
Redistricting, which is done every ten years after the census has been completed, groups like-minded voters together, creating Congressional districts that are likely to re-elect incumbents. There are urban and college-town districts that are liberal—either socially or economically or both—just as there are suburban and rural districts that are conservative.
The point of redistricting is to make the challenger’s job virtually impossible.
But could Republicans do better in urban and college-town districts? Could they pose a more serious challenge to entrenched Democrats?
I think so.
Instead of aping the line of right-wing Republicans in Alabama and Mississippi, a Republican running in an urban or college-town district—to present a real alternative to Baldwin—has to respect his or her district’s history and values.
To do that, I would argue, a credible Republican would have to borrow more from Republicans like Texas Congressman Ron Paul than from boiler-plate partisans like House minority leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Is there a model for such a candidate?
Consider John Dennis, the San Francisco entrepreneur who is mounting a Republican challenge to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California.
Dennis made some news with a modestly controversial Wizard of Oz–themed Internet ad in which he casts Pelosi as the Wicked Witch of the West. "I will save you from those evil Republicans," the Pelosi character cackles in the ad, which mocks the fears so many liberals have of DC Republicans.
Dennis’s libertarian economic stances might inspire fear on the part of liberals. But he presents a credible alternative to Pelosi when it comes to issues of war and peace. In the tradition of old-right Republicans like Ohio Sen. Robert Taft and Nebraska Congressman Howard Buffett—and their heirs, Paul and a handful of others, such as Tennessee Rep. John Duncan Jr. and North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones Jr.—Dennis calls for "ending both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and withdrawing our troops as safely and quickly as possible." And he says: "I do not believe that our troops should be forced to be policemen of the world. Our troops, first and foremost, should protect Americans where they live—in America."