Tuesday, May 13, 2008

House seat lost by GOP in Mississippi leaves 199.

The Republicans lost another special election for a previously Republican open seat tonight, as Democrat Travis Childers defeated Republican Greg Davis by a solid margin to win an open seat in Mississippi.

They may spin this as just a loss of a single seat, but it was damaging for the GOP on so many more levels than that.

This is the third such race for seats that were previously held by Republicans for decades, and like the former Speaker Dennis Hastert's seat in Illinois and another in Louisiana it went Democratic, so Republicans are now 0-for-3 in these strongly contested special elections.

But this is arguably far more damaging to the GOP than the other two. In both of those cases one could argue that the Republicans had flawed candidates. But Davis was the candidate they wanted in this race, so that excuse won't fly. Further, this is probably the most heavily Republican of the three districts. Though all are Republican, in the Mississippi first district, President Bush won by a landslide, just four years ago, with 62 percent of the vote.

Further the Republican Congressional Committee, despite having been outraised by the Democrats 6-to-1 and burned by an embezzlement scandal so that they had only $7.2 million cash on hand at the end of March according to FEC reports (vs. $44 million for the Democratic congressional committee), invested heavily in this race. So did the Democrats, but a battle of attrition ultimately favors the side better prepared to accept the costs, which is the Democrats. And then the result was the same for Republicans as if they had spent nothing.

The reason they invested so heavily is that they recognize that if Republicans can even lose this district, then there is essentially no such thing this year as a 'safe' Republican district. And you know what? They're right about that.

The Bush administration also invested a measure of what little prestige they have left, sending Vice President Cheney to bolster Davis (after all, if supporting the Bush administration was seen as a positive anywhere you'd expect it to be here.) The loss means that the Bush administration has no prestige left.

The GOP attack machine was in full gear, running ads against Childers that tied him to Sen. Obama and to Rev. Wright. Clearly they miscalculated. The voters apparently don't dislike Sen. Obama in the way that they have been trained to hate previous Democratic candidates. As to Rev. Wright, most voters know that Childers has nothing to do with Rev. Wright, and recognized the attack ads as a symptom of the shortage of anything of substance to discuss on the GOP side. Their well-oiled smear machine-- failed. And if they try to run these ads nationally and/or demonize local Democrats it likely the result will be the same. For at least the past couple of decades the Republicans have been masters of the personal smear, but that plan fell flat tonight so they will have to come up with another way to run a campaign. People have gotten wise to their game.

The loss of this seat is likely to unlock a flood of endangered Republican held seats.

And just to put the cherry on top-- a number that will compound the GOP's psychological barriers this year: This seat means that the number of GOP Congressmembers now numbers 199. Nothing screams 'minority party' louder than being back below 200.

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