Is it time to focus on down-ticket races?

On Thursday at Open Left, Chris Bowers had this advice for the opposition in his very upbeat presidential forecast:

When it comes to offering concern troll advice to McCain and Republicans, I would recommend shutting down all paid media, and firing all campaign staff. McCain should take his remaining money, and distribute it to the RNC, NRCC and NRSC. Target a few close House and Senate seats to try and limit the damage, but otherwise save money for 2010 and 2012. When you are beaten, it is probably better to  withdraw, save what troops and resources you can, but live to fight another day.

Crooked Timber reported yesterday on the latest from the rumor mill:

So I hear (via a prominent member of the sane Republican faction) that the word on the right side of the street is that the Republican National Committee is about to pull the plug on its joint ads with the McCain campaign, and devote its resources instead to trying to save a couple of the senators who are at serious risk of losing their seats.

On one level, this strategy makes the most sense for the RNC. McCain is looking more and more unlikely to win 270 electoral votes, so helping him is probably not the best use of resources. I am told that the Republicans did this in September/October 1996 once it became clear that Bob Dole would lose to Bill Clinton.

Furthermore, Senate Republicans may well be leaning on the RNC to do more for their incumbents. There is real concern now that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell could lose in Kentucky. That would be a terrible blow to the GOP caucus in the Senate (click the link to read why), and McConnell is more popular with his colleagues than McCain.

Sarah Palin’s recent travel schedule also suggests a focus on Congressional races. Last week she was in California (not a battleground state in the presidential race, but a place with several contested House seats) and in Omaha (where Nebraska’s second district is up for grabs). This weekend she is headed to West Virginia, where Shelley Moore Capito could lose in the second Congressional district. Capito is not only the sole Republican in the West Virginia delegation to Congress, she is the most likely Republican to win Robert Byrd’s Senate seat after he leaves the scene.

On the other hand, it would be devastating to Republican morale for the media to start reporting that the RNC had given up on McCain. I suspect that would depress GOP turnout in a lot of states, perhaps putting more House seats in play even as the RNC blankets the airwaves in behalf of a few vulnerable senators.

Here in Iowa, Republican incumbent Tom Latham is running lots of tv and radio ads in the fourth district (D+0), while 10 worst list honoree Steve King is not up on tv or radio and is barely campaigning in the fifth district (R+8). We could pick up both of these seats if expectations of an Obama landslide depress Republican turnout.

However the RNC resolves the competing demands for its resources, Sam Wang, a neurologist and political analyst who writes for the Princeton Election Consortium, thinks activists in both parties should forget about the presidential race. He argues that a “hard look at reality” suggests that Obama is going to win big, and further donations to his campaign will not affect the outcome. According to Wang, it makes more sense for activists to focus their energy and donations on the close Senate races right now.

I mostly agree, except that I think activists in battleground states (which Iowa is not) have to follow through to make sure Obama’s supporters turn out for him.

In all the states, we need to keep directing money and volunteer time to the state legislative races, which are important for many reasons.

What do you think?

UPDATE: A commenter at the Princeton Election Consortium site makes a good point:

I agree that supporting close Senate races should be primary, but continuing to contribute to the Presidential campaign isn’t useless. The margin of electoral-college victory, and even more of the popular vote, is important in defining the national sense of mandate for the victor. Politicians take notice too-as when Democrats voted for Reagan’s tax cuts (unfortunately) because of his victory margin. With a major economic rescue and reform needed, a sense of mandate is essential.

  • I agree that focusing on down ticket races is important

    However, I believe that in many places in Iowa the best way to do that is to work with the Obama campaign–rather than try to compete with them for volunteers.

    I started working with them because they said that they were interested in helping Becky Greenwald as well as Obama. I’ve been working with them for a couple of months and I’ve seen some benefits to coordinating with them. The Obama campaign has attracted some “fired up” volunteers who began volunteering to help Barack, but have been willing to also talk about and of course vote for Becky. We also talk about Marcie Frevert and Jack Kibbie when we canvass as well.

    When canvassing, I found that sometimes it is a good thing to lead with Obama. Generally, I’ll do that if the person is under 40. If I find out that they are a supporter then I start telling them about all the issues that Becky agrees with Barack about. However, sometimes–particularly if I know that the person is a former Hillary supporter I’ll start out with Becky or Marcie and then work my way over to Obama. I’ve gotten some people convinced that way to vote for all of them.

    Some caveats about working with the Obama staff though:

    1) They don’t live here. Their first priority is getting Obama elected. I sometimes have to remind them that I want to get Becky elected just as much as I want to get Barack elected.

    2) You have to set limits with them. I can work 20-30 hours a week on the campaign as I often do, and my field organizer will still push me to do more.

    • wow, 20 to 30 hours a week

      That is a phenomenal commitment, especially considering Obama wasn’t your first choice.

      No wonder your field organizer keeps coming back to you. Probably very few volunteers in your county are putting in as much time as you are.

  • Bowers is so wrong...

    Bowers is so wrong it’s scary.

    The Republicans shouldn’t be turning out the lights on their Presidential campaign and neither should we.

    I’m not sure if bold, italics, three exclamation points and all caps will properly convey the strength of what I’m about to say, but:


    Each candidate has a strong area and a weak area. Obama’s strength is in economics and his weakness is in foreign affairs/national security/terrorism. McCain’s strengths and weaknesses are just the opposite.

    Look at how completely the map has shifted in the last two weeks since the breakout of the Financial Crisis. Now imagine how far the race could swing the other way if a major terrorist attack occurs, or Osama Bin Laden drops a new tape, or Russia decides to invade another neighbor, or North Korea throws some missiles at Japan. We know Obama would be the candidate best suited to handle these situations, but the public at large–not necessarily so.

    Not to mention that McCain has Mr. October Surprise, Karl Rove working for him. Not to say that I think we won’t win, but to quit the game with time still on the clock is foolhardy for either side.

    • Bowers was half-joking

      and I take your point.

      However, I am no longer convinced that a major foreign-policy crisis or terrorist attack would work to McCain’s benefit.

      Remember, he’s the one who has been acting erratically, and he seems like a big risk-taker. Also, he’s 72 and his running mate has no foreign policy experience.

      Obama has been steady, and he’s got a very level-headed running mate. Unless Obama makes a big gaffe in Wednesday’s debate, I struggle to think of a game-changer that McCain and/or Rove can conjure up.

      Picking Palin was a big mistake.

  • I have actually heard

    A bit about this lately too.

    We here in Iowa are safe, In fact I would say it would be 1. California, 2. New York, 3. Illinois, and 4. Iowa as far as safety for Blue states goes.

    I no longer get fundraising letters from Obama, but I do get emails from HRC, Bill Clinton, Gore, etc etc about the Senate majority fund and things like that.

    If the election was held today we would have 59 Dems and 41 Republicans. But that is a little decieving.

    Chambliss (GA), McConnell (KY) and Wicker (MS) are leading by 4 points or less, which is within the margin of error.

    There are two indepedent Senators. That guy from Vermont, who I dont really hear much about and Liebermann, who you can bet your bottom dollar that if we get to 61, his ass will be out on his own.

    The next years are going to be a special thing. We will have a 60 percent majority in the senate, a progressive democrat in the white house for the first time since JFK and  a 57% majority in the congress, and honestly if you want to send a thank you card to anyone, I would suggest writing one to the GW.

    • Senator Bernie Sanders of VT

      is “independent” because he’s to the left of the Democratic Party. Totally different from Lieberman.

      He is a reliable vote on most of the issues Democrats would care about.

      I have donated to Ronnie Musgrove in Mississippi and Jim Martin in Georgia, because we’ll need one of those seats (or Kentucky) to have any hope of getting 60 senators.

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