The Mark Foley scandal has given Democrats a huge edge in the midterm elections–almost twenty points in recent national polls–but can they turn it into a Congressional majority? Several long-shot House challengers are now viable, but they are in the very districts that have been neglected by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which focuses on a short list of races with better odds. The committee's targeted strategy could lead to a missed opportunity for Democrats–a fate that progressive bloggers have been warning against for years.
Since the 2004 election, top bloggers have been urging the House Democrats' re-election committee to go on the offense in places traditionally deserted by the national party, to fund more long-shot challengers and to recruit candidates in every district. (In 2004 Democrats fielded candidates in 92 percent of House races, roughly equal to the GOP's 93 percent.) Democratic leaders counter that their priority must be the few races most likely to tip control of the House, suggesting that the burden of long-term party-building should rest with local activists and organizations that have the luxury of working beyond the next election. Bloggers respond that an aggressive national Congressional approach has both immediate and long-term benefits. These include forcing Republican incumbents to play defense, developing support and infrastructure in parts of the country Democrats had surrendered and insuring there are always candidates ready to exploit political developments.
The suggestions are not falling on deaf ears. Unlike in 2004 Democratic Party leaders now say they listen to the netroots. Bloggers have a seat at the table–including the table in Bill Clinton's Harlem office, where bloggers from MyDD, Firedoglake, AmericaBlog and Daily Kos gathered last month to talk politics with the former President. And now the Foley scandal can test the payoff–or limitations–of their strategy.
Last week the DCCC finally jumped in to help one of the netroots' favorite candidates, Jay Fawcett, in his long-shot bid to seize a House seat from a retiring Republican in a bright-red patch of Southern Colorado. Fawcett was added to the committee's official Emerging Races list, providing financial and strategic support in the homestretch. (Neither the DCCC nor the campaign publicized the specific amount.)
Colorado's 5th Congressional District is filled with the kind of conservative religious and military voters that the GOP covets. The district is home to five military bases and the national headquarters of Focus on the Family, the influential evangelical organization headed by Dr. James Dobson, a radio host and activist with close ties to the GOP. The district re-elected President Bush by 66 percent, and it has not elected a Democrat since it was created in 1972. Yet once the Foley news sunk in this month, a Denver Post poll found Fawcett had pulled even in the race against Republican Doug Lamborn.
Fawcett has spent months campaigning on the ground as an "independent fighter" who will buck Nancy Pelosi to "build consensus" across party lines. His campaign promotes his Republican endorsements in a dedicated website, and last week it touted full-page newspaper ads listing Republicans who refuse to endorse his opponent, including the district's retiring Congressman, Joel Hefley.