November 1, 2017
In 2006, the Democratic Party took advantage of Bush’s unpopularity in the wake of the Iraq War and his administration’s mishandling of Hurricane Katrina disaster relief to take 30 seats from Republicans, plus a seat from an Independent, in the House of Representatives. This majority was short-lived as Republicans took it back in 2010. Out of the 30 seats won in 2006, 20 of those elected no longer serve in congress at all, a stark contrast from the re-election percentage rates for incumbents in the House of Representatives in subsequent election years. These losses should serve as a signal the Democratic Party should support grassroots oriented candidates in the 2018 midterm elections rather than push candidates whose policies resemble those of Republicans.
Instead, the Democratic Party has continued to embrace the center, even as nonpartisan organization FairVote projects the House and Senate will remain in Republican control after the 2018 midterm elections. This strategy in running Republican-lite candidates failed earlier this year in the Georgia congressional special election, where Jon Ossoff lost to Karen Handel despite a record amount of money poured into his campaign. In 1952, President Harry S. Truman explained the dynamic that Democrats lose when they shift to the center: “When the Democratic candidate allows himself to be put on the defensive and starts apologizing for the New Deal and the fair Deal, and says he really doesn’t believe in them, he is sure to lose. The people don’t want a phony Democrat. If it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat, and I don’t want any phony Democratic candidates.”
Many of the “phony Democratic candidates” backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006 and 2008 focused on running as anti-Bush over fighting for their voters and issues that impact their districts. Several congressional districts ceded to Republicans over the Obama Administration mirror the same regions Democrats lost in state legislatures and in the 2016 Presidential Election, especially in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
An analysis conducted by the Real News Network found that Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-FL), Rep. Nancy Boyda (D-KS), Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX) won their seats in 2006, but lost the next election in 2008. Rep. James Marshall (D-GA), Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ), Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN), Rep. John Hall (D-NY), Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-NY), Rep. Paul Hodes (D-NH), Rep. Zack Space (D-OH), Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), Rep. Chris Carney (D-PA), Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX), Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI) won their congressional seats in 2006, but lost them in 2010. Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-IN) vacated his seat for an unsuccessful senate bid in 2010.
Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA) won in 2006, then lost his seat in 2012. Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) won in 2006, but retired rather than run for re-election in 2012. Republican Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) took Rep. Gabby Giffords’ seat after she resigned in 2011 following an assassination attempt. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IO) was elected in 2006, but vacated his seat in 2014 for an unsuccessful senate bid.
Several 2006 Democrat Congressional Candidates championed the title of blue dog Democrats. These moderates resembled Republicans on several issues, and stifled several policy pushes that Obama and Democrats attempted to push forward when he first entered the White House. The Blue Dog PAC’s most prolific donor was the health insurance industry, which gave money to these Democrats to obstruct any Obamacare plan that didn’t center the interests of their industry. In those few years, Democrats sold out their values for a short-lived majority that wound up sinking the grassroots enthusiasm inspired by Obama’s election, yet still repelled Republican voters.
In 2010, Ari Berman foreshadowed these losses in the New York Times. “Just two years later, Democrats face a bad economy, a skeptical public, a re-energized Republican Party and a coming avalanche of losses in the midterm elections,” he wrote. “What happened? One important explanation is that divisions inside the Democratic coalition, which held together during the 2008 campaign, have come spilling out into the open.”
Berman cited that the Democratic Party’s agenda was hijacked by the blue dog coalition, who sided with Republicans to shift any policy victories toward the center. Rahm Emanuel, who presided over the DCCC in 2006, is consulting current DCCC leaders on how to preserve the party’s status quo in the 2018 midterm elections by ignoring progressive populist candidates like they did earlier this year in Kansas and Montana special elections in favor of establishment ones.
In 2008, Democrats gained 26 seats from Republicans in the House of Representatives, for a net gain of 21 seats. But 21 of those newly elected Democrats in the House suffered similar fates as those in 2006. Rep. John Adler (D-NJ), Rep. Harry Teague (D-NM), Rep. Michael McMahon (D-NY), Rep. Glenn Nye (D-VA), Rep. Walt Minnick (D-ID), Rep. Mark Schauer (D-MI), Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-MD), Rep. Betsy Markey (D-CO), Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL), Rep. John Boccieri (D-OH), Rep. Bobby Bright (D-AL), Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), Rep. Debbie Havlorson (D-IL), Rep. Larry Kissell (D-NC), Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH), Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH), Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA), Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA) won their seats in 2008, but lost them in 2010 and 2012. Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) won his seat in 2008, only to resign during his first term in congress due to an ethics probe. Rep. Dan Maffei (D-NY) won in 2008, but lost his 2014 re-election.
Other new congressional candidates who won special elections or replaced retiring Democrats lost their seats as well. Rep. Scott Murphy (D-NY) won a 2009 special election to replace Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), but lost re-election in 2010. Rep. Travis Childers (D-MS) won a 2008 special election, but lost his first re-election bid in 2010. Rep. Parker Griffith (D-AL) replaced a retiring Democrat in 2008, but lost his seat in 2010, after which he switched to the Republican Party.
The same election year, Democrats picked up 8 seats in the U.S. Senate. Three of those Democrats lost their first re-election bids in 2014; Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC), and Senator Mark Udall (D-CO). These losses contributed to handing the majority in the Senate over to Republicans.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee isn’t focusing on winning elections in the 2018, as the unpopularity of Trump and Republicans are likely to ensure a fair amount of victories in their favor. “Based on the Kansas results, there’s likely to be a wave. The DCCC’s job is to shape that wave, make sure we don’t get any leaders,” Matthew Stoller, fellow at the Open Markets Program at New America, pointed out in April 2017 after a close special election in Kansas. He added the DCCC “really exists as a means of helping the existing Democratic House members govern through threats and candidate recruitment,” rather than winning elections. “This is ideological. These are 1980s Reagan Dems in these seats. They don’t see corporate power. They just don’t see it,” he said.