One question has relentlessly plagued campaign consultants since November 8th 2006.
Have Republicans reached the bottom yet?
This question was asked to a few prominent lawmakers on a trip I took back to DC a month ago(that’s right, I’m a big deal). Their answers were intriguing, though not surprising. One Republican Senator thought it was just a bad year for the good guys and we could only move up. Two Republican Congressmen thought we had not reached the bottom yet and only when we learned to “act” like Republicans again would the electorate see the true differences between Republicans and Democrats and start the shift of the pendulum back our way. The one Dem Congressman I met with thought that we had not reached the bottom and only when we learned to disagree with our President would Republicans start the trek up that mountain we call polling.
The different answers to this question also represent three very different strategies in the '08 elections.
The Senator’s response was that it was a freak year and that there was very little we could have done to prevent it. He thought the same campaign strategies, that brought the worst year to Republicans since 1974, would be much more successful in 2008. History would tend to agree with him. The average loss of seats for the sitting Presidents party in an off year election is around 30 seats, however the 6th year (or later if term limits had not yet been imposed) for a sitting President is far worse. The infamous 6th year has brought debacles such as 71 Dem seats in 1938 for FDR’s 6th year, another 55 seats for FDR’s 10th year in 1942, 49 Republican seats in 1958 which was Eisenhower’s 6th year, 47 Dem seats in Kennedy’s 6th year in 1966 and finally the 49 seats we lost in Nixon’s 6th year in 1974. In the 6th year elections where you see a huge loss of seats for either party, you see a slight pickup of those same seats the following election. Republicans stayed status quo in the 1976 election’s losing one seat to the Democrats. If '08 holds true to history, then yes Republicans have reached the bottom and will be able to stay firm to the same campaign strategies we had in '06 and not lose more seats.
The two Republican Congressmen thought we had not reached the bottom yet and only when we learn to act like Republicans would we gain our seats back. It sounds simple enough. Given the option of less government, lower taxes and an emphasis placed on the American family it is hard for anyone to find fault in the Republican platform. When you contrast this with the jumbled and mired Democrat platform, the decision is made even easier. However, if we as Republicans refuse to hold these values paramount then it is hard for voters to see a real contrast with the Democrats. If you have heard Dick Wadhams on the stump these past few months you would know that his strategy is to make clear the distinctions between Republican and Democrat candidates. Make these differences simple and clear in the mind of the voter and we win. To me this is the strategy that makes the most sense, however Karl Rove I am not(I just like to pretend).
The last response came from the one Democrat Congressmen that I met with and that was the key to Republicans winning back some seats is to turn their backs on a President whose approval ratings are in the mid 30’s. Though it guilts me to take campaign advice from a Democrat Congressman, it may very well work. The strategy for the Dems in '06 was to simply say that the Republican candidate was in league with an unpopular President and leave it at that. Remember the DCCC ad against Rick O’Donnell? It was a picture of him getting off the plane with President Bush, and that was pretty much it(I would cut off my pinkie toe to see before and after poll #’s for ROD once that ad came out). Yes, the election strategy that saw us losing so badly in 2006 was simply that old taunt from elementary school “Rick and Georgy sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G…..” Will distancing a candidate from Bush in '08 help us win back some seats remains to be seen.
I think we can expect the three different strategies (stay the course, tell people what you stand for, and tell people you don’t like W) to all be seen in the '08 election. In my opinion it will be a combination of the last two that will see the best results (I still love our President, just saying what will work).
(Editors note: We will have a glimpse of what will work in the '07 Gubernatorial elections. There are only three seats up for grabs, and from what I can gather thus far, each of these strategies will be put in motion by the three different Republican candidates. I’ll write more on this next week.)
(John Galt is a pragmatic Conservative who, when not fighting liberal policies, enjoys spending time with friends and family. John is currently reading a book on regression analysis, needless to say the guy is a rock star.)