Committee targeting on target

On Monday, The New York Times reported that “Republican leaders” responsible for targeting key races have pulled the plug on Mike DeWine’s senate reelection bid in Ohio. If true, I can only imagine the complex decision-making process that preceded such a move.

On Monday, The New York Times reported that “Republican leaders” responsible for targeting key races have pulled the plug on Mike DeWine’s senate reelection bid in Ohio. If true, I can only imagine the complex decision-making process that preceded such a move.

Committee targeting decisions are heady stuff, combining the bloody gore of emergency room triage with the drama of NFL draft day and a level of technical acumen that might land a probe on the moon. But at the end of the day, seasoned experience and wise judgment are the foundation of good targeting decisions.

For three prior election cycles, I was fortunate to be part of a team that did GOP targeting for Michigan State House races. The team was led by John Llewellyn, a former legislator turned operative. John would start each cycle with a list of targeted races, dividing them into categories according to degree of difficulty and opportunity.

The most important category of races, of course, was for endangered incumbents. The national and state committees that do the targeting and raise the money to fund races are principally devoted to incumbent protection. That’s job one. But identifying endangered incumbents worthy of committee assistance is not as simple and straightforward as it sounds. You can’t be too lenient or incumbents will get lazy and expect the committee to do all their work, especially fundraising. So you have to make your list of protected incumbents shorter than some may like. It’s the only way to save money and personnel resources for contesting swing and targeted takeover seats.

Swing seats are obvious targets, but you have to refine that category further. Llewellyn always wanted a mix of swing seats that lean Republican, Democrat and true toss-ups. He didn’t want us solely to be defending GOP-leaning swing seats, but rather to use the targeting process to go after Democrat-leaning seats, forcing the Democrats to play some defense. In this spirit, John always targeted one to three genuine Democratic seats. He was mainly interested in open-seats that traditionally elect Democrats, but sometimes he’d pick out a Democrat stalwart to go after.

The logic for Michigan’s House Republicans sometimes going on offense with their targeting was to force the Democrats to lavish money on protecting their incumbents, leaving less for them to attack our vulnerables. This was classic cold war spy-versus-spy stuff. They messed with us. We messed with them. I suppose there were few surprises because everyone had access to all the same polling and cash-on-hand financial data. Assuming that everyone was equally armed, there was some sort of mutually-assured d