Van Hollen’s possible ace in the hole

Dems argue the 2010 election cycle may not be as bad for them as some suspect — and if the economy shows signs of improvement next year, they could be right.

Economists are beginning to predict an end to the recession, and most believe the economy will show some notable signs of a recovery by the second quarter of next year. And that, farsighted Democrats say, will be a powerful political tool.

“No one is expecting a rapid and dramatic turnaround, but clearly, things are beginning to stabilize,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), who runs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The economic stimulus measure, which every House Republican voted against, he said, “is the ruler voters will use to measure members of Congress by.”

Republicans crow about their successful August, during which they essentially pulled even with Democrats in the generic congressional ballot. But Van Hollen argues that, contrary to conventional wisdom, a difficult August 2009 will work out well for his party in the long run.

“Many of us have said since January that this is going to be a very challenging cycle for congressional Democrats,” Van Hollen said. “Anybody who was complacent about this cycle has had a wake-up call, but, again, we were pretty clear with our members that they needed to prepare for a [tough] cycle given the history of midterm elections.”

A bad August for Democrats, Van Hollen said, “in some ways help[s] reinforce our message.”

Republicans continue to hammer Democrats on disappointing unemployment numbers.

But both sides face a risky dilemma: By staking their reputations on the stimulus package, Democrats will be in serious trouble if the economy takes another hit. By claiming the opposite, Republicans risk looking more like an out-of-touch party if the economy does turn around.

Myopic or farsighted, though, the poll numbers have Republicans happy.

“We’re probably in better position than we have been in half a dozen years,” said Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), the former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman.

— R.W.

Dems still winning

Republicans want you to know: The polls are trending their way. Yes, the generic congressional ballot looks better for the GOP than it has for years, but is the ballot box telling a different story?

Over the past month, Democrats have won four special elections for state legislative seats, a development that suggests Republicans have a ways to go before they claim Election Day supremacy.

Democrats won a heavily Republican state Senate seat in Kentucky on Aug. 25, picking up a seat left vacant when Gov. Steve Beshear (D) appointed the incumbent to the state’s Public Service Commission. President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAfter Dems stood against Pompeo, Senate’s confirmation process needs a revamp ‘Morning Joe’ host: Trump tweeting during Barbara Bush funeral ‘insulting’ to US Trump and Macron: Two loud presidents, in different ways MORE won just over 41 percent of the vote in the district last November.

Meanwhile, Democrats last week defended a state House seat in Iowa, where a vacancy occurred when Obama appointed the incumbent to a position at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Democrat Curt Hanson beat Republican Stephen Burgmeier by 107 votes in the first Hawkeye State election since the state’s Supreme Court allowed same-sex marriage licenses to be issued, which Republicans hoped would be a rallying cry for their base.

And in Louisiana, Democrats won two state House races. Though one of the contests was in a heavily Democratic area outside Lafayette, Democrats won another seat in a Republican area west of New Orleans. In that district, where Obama won just 28 percent of the vote in 2008, the Democratic candidate won by eight points.

“This shows Democrats have plenty of energy at the local level for winning all over the country,” said Matt Compton, a spokesman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

Republicans pooh-pooh the idea that state legislative elections in an off-year will mean anything in the future. (The GOP lost several special elections in 1993, and we know how they did in 1994, for example.)

“Winning local elections in the off-year is a much different endeavor than winning an election to federal office in the on-year. As the political environment continues to cut against the Democrats and their government-power-grab agenda, the better position Republican candidates will be in come Election Day 2010,” said Ken Spain of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

— R.W.

You know you’ve made it when …

Being a regional flack at one of the major parties’ House campaign committees isn’t always the most glamorous job, but it does get your name in the paper.

And, apparently, in the titles of blogs.

You might have heard of Not Larry Sabato, the well-named Virginia blog that aims to be what the ubiquitous University of Virginia political pundit isn’t.

Well, now National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) southeast regional press secretary Andy Sere has his own namesake Virginia politics blog, creatively titled Not Andy Sere (

It’s actually a remarkable accomplishment for Sere, who has been taking shots at Reps. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) and Glenn Nye (D-Va.) from his First Street SE perch for only about three months.

The blog launched in mid-August and has a Twitter feed and a conservative bent.


Lincoln the real winner in Dodd decision

Silla Brush and I have a story in today’s paper about Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and the political and policy ramifications of his decision to remain as Senate Banking Committee chairman.

While that’s up for debate, what’s pretty clear is that Dodd’s stay-put move did Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s (D-Ark.) 2010 reelection hopes more good than he ever could have by giving her his endorsement or throwing her a fundraiser.

With Dodd not taking the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chairmanship, Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinDem Senator open to bid from the left in 2020 Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Trump should require federal contractors to follow the law MORE (D-Iowa) will assume the job, and Lincoln will move into Harkin’s slot.

Lincoln’s been getting a lot of bad news lately, with polling showing her languishing in the low 40s and a solid GOP opponent stepping forward in state Sen. Gilbert Baker (R). Being able to say that she’s a chairwoman should help considerably.

— A.B.