November 5, 2012

Politico’s Isenstadt: ‘Democrats’ Drive to Retake House Falters’: Translation: They’re on Track to Lose Seats

Though it occupies four web pages, it’s hard to avoid thinking that Alex Isenstadt at Politico is hoping news consumers only look at his story’s headline (“Democrats’ drive to retake House falters”) and not its damning yet still woefully incomplete content.

The headline would make you think that Dems will gain seats, but not enough to achieve a majority. Isenstadt bravely concludes early on that “Democrats are expected to pick up five seats at best … (and) might even lose ground and drop one or two seats to the Republican majority. But the rest of his writeup virtually screams “double-digit losses,” and fails in several respects to properly assign blame for what appears to be an impending Democratic Party debacle (bolds are mine):

The inability of House Democrats to pick off a good number of seats from one of the most unpopular House majorities in modern history will cause a lot of soul-searching in the party come Wednesday.

So Democrats are already doing their postmortems on a House election cycle gone awry. What they’ll find in the political autopsy is Republican dominance in redistricting that created a GOP friendly map, a Medicare argument that didn’t totally pan out and an incumbent president who just wasn’t as popular as when he ran four years ago. They’ll also have to come to terms with the fact that they still can’t overcome the Republican advantage in campaign spending.

Gosh, this is weak.

Isenstadt clearly assumes that the American people in their evaluations of “Congress” are only considering the House, which is not true, and that their negativity is only directed at the House’s GOP majority, which is also not true. Beyond that, a lot of the negativity towards “Congress” is that it’s not conservative enough, while the Politico reporter seems to believe that all of the dissatisfaction stems from supposedly excessive conservatism.

Though the first three causes of the Dems’ apparent underperformance cited are valid, the whining about money ignores two factors. The first is that Democrats receive free help from union officials and organizers which at least equalizes the hard-dollar advantage supposedly held by Republicans. The second and more critical factor this time around is that, unlike in 2008, when he was willing to share the campaign contribution wealth and stump for down-ticket candidates, President Obama basically told every candidate this year that they’re on their own. For Isenstadt’s information, his colleague Alexander Burns relayed that information in early September.

Now let’s get to the math elements of Isenstadt’s effort:

That wide-ranging power allowed Republicans to strengthen districts for their majority. When the redistricting dust settled, 109 Republican seats were made safer, compared with 67 Democratic seats. Once-vulnerable Republicans like Pennsylvania Reps. Jim Gerlach and Patrick Meehan found themselves in easier districts.

“Structurally, they had a lot of places where they could reinforce incumbents,” said Dave Beattie, a Democratic pollster.

And when Democrats did control the map, they didn’t always use it to their advantage. Some party strategists, for example, are fuming at Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for not signing off on a plan that would have ensured greater gains in the state. Party operatives now say they will be lucky if they break even in the Empire State on Tuesday.

Republicans also used line-drawing to weaken Democrats. One hundred and nine Democrats — including Georgia Rep. John Barrow and North Carolina Rep. Larry Kissell — found themselves in more competitive seats, compared with 96 Republicans.

Throughout 2011, and into the opening months of 2012, Democrats watched in horror as 27 incumbents announced they were calling it quits.

The makeup of the retirees was even more concerning — many of them were from conservative districts Obama would almost certainly lose.

Democrats now expect at least five of these vacated seats to turn Republican.

Every one of the elements just noted points to lost Democratic seats. Add them all up, and one sees the strong possibility that Dems could lose ten or more seats — but you’d never guess that if you took Isenstadt at his word.

Cross-posted at



  1. In regards to redistricting, it annoys me that he assumes and implies that the map was drawn sorely and unfairly to benefit the GOP, when it’s just as likely it was redrawn back to a fairer and purer state after the Dems manhandled the maps when they were in control.

    Comment by zf — November 5, 2012 @ 8:28 am

  2. #1, you’re probably right about some states, but OH’s GOP map redraw was a disgrace.

    Comment by Tom — November 5, 2012 @ 9:51 am

  3. I wish the Republicans could pick off my House seat here in Toledo. I know it won’t happen, though. She has too many union buddies voting for her.

    Comment by toledojim — November 5, 2012 @ 1:19 pm

  4. #2, In what way?

    Comment by zf — November 5, 2012 @ 3:22 pm

  5. #2, Well, I mean, you have a point in regards to the redistribution being disgraceful in the sense that it was too convoluted, but I don’t feel it unfairly or disproportionally harms Dems, if anything in some ways it hurts the GOP.

    Comment by zf — November 5, 2012 @ 3:39 pm

  6. #5, I just think that fairly drawn districts, given the Tea Party wave, would yield larger Congressional majorities for the GOP in Ohio and elsewhere. They just don’t have the self-confidence to try, b/c they still don’t believe the Tea Party is for real.

    Comment by Tom — November 5, 2012 @ 4:46 pm

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