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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

Chris Bowers is feeling kind of “meh” about the prospect of large-scale Democratic losses in the 2010 midterms:

The current National House Ballot shows Democrats ahead by 2.80%. However, most of those polls focus on registered voters or even “all adults,” not on likely voters. Current polling among likely voters by Rasmussen shows Republicans with a comfortable advantage. Lest you think that Rasmussen is to be dismissed, Daily Kos recently published information showing that 81% of Republicans will either definitely or probably vote in 2010, compared to only 56% of Democrats. Even Democracy Corps shows Democrats only ahead by 2% among likely voters. This means Rasmussen is not really much of an outlier, and Republicans are well positioned to make major gains. Retaking the House is even a possibility for the GOP.

My current feeling on this is a strong: “meh.” Why should I care about Democrats facing such electoral difficulties? It is hard to figure out how this is much of a negative for progressives.

Chris is one of my favorite bloggers and one of my first reads every morning. In those instances where I disagree with him, I almost always find his points to be well-taken. But I just do not understand his argument here, and I think it’s rather misguided.

I’ve compiled a list of the 39 Democratic-held House seats that are rated as “lean Democratic” or more vulnerable by the Cook Political Report; these include 35 seats held by incumbents and 4 where the Democratic incumbent is expected to retire. This echoes an analysis that Chris himself conducted — it’s just that I read the data very differently. Rather than worry about whether or not these Democrats label themselves as capital-P Progressive, I’ve instead compiled their votes on three key issues: the stimulus package, which passed the House 244-188 (with 11 Democrats in opposition); the health care bill, which passed 220-215 (39 Democratic nays), and the climate bill, which passed 219-212 (with 44 Democrats against).

On all three issues, the vulnerable Democrats were more likely than average ones to have voted against their party. Nevertheless, solid majorities were in support of each of these agenda items. The Most Vulnerable Democrats (MVDs) voted for the health care bill 22-17, the climate bill 24-14, and the stimulus package 34-4. Only 12 of the 39 voted against at least two out of the three initiatives, and only three of the 39 (Bobby Bright and Parker Griffith of Alabama, and Walt Minnick of Idaho) completely struck out.

Now, I would agree that Democrats have no use — I mean, almost literally none — for Representatives like Bright, Griffith or Minnick. Health care, the climate bill and the stimulus package are at the very core of the mainstream Democratic agenda. I don’t care how conservative their districts are — the only time Democrats like these are voting with the majority is on slam-dunk bills when Democrats already have more than enough votes in hand; they could be exchanged for Republicans with no tangible consequence. Likewise, the Democrats who voted against two of the three bills have some ‘splaning to do, and should probably not receive the benefit of the doubt.

But these Democrats do not, by a long shot, represent the majority of those under threat. Nor, for that matter, are most of the Democrats who did vote this way as vulnerable as you might think; just 14 of the 53 Blue Dogs, for example, appear on the list above.

Unless there’s some 11-dimensional chess angle that I’m not seeing, it seems to me that randomly wiping out, I don’t know, two-thirds of the members listed above and replacing them with Republicans would be extremely injurious to the progressive agenda. The fact is that Nancy Pelosi has managed to cobble together a majority on these core priorities — but by about the slimmest possible margins on health care and cap-and-trade (and if the stimulus bill were being voted on today, it would probably be equally close). She’s been able to do so precisely because the Blue Dogs do not in fact vote as a block bloc; most are pliable to one degree or another on at least some progressive priorities, if unreliable on others. Are the bills that emerged from the House as strong as progressives were hoping for? Certainly not. But I fail to see how Peolsi compromised any more than she basically needed to, or how the bills would have become stronger if you’d replaced these Democrats with Republicans.

Sure, the ConservaDems are annoying. But they represent only a minority of those under electoral pressure. And this approach to getting rid of them is a bit like solving your termite problem by burning your house down.

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