Dems eye wins in South

Another month gone by, another atrocious fundraising report from the National Republican Campaign Committee.

This week, the NRCC released numbers showing it falling even further behind the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), with $4.2 million raised during the first quarter of 2008, compared to $8.2 million for its Democratic counterpart. The cash-on-hand numbers are even more dire — $7.2 million to $44.3 million, respectively.

These numbers are taking on a heightened relevance, as Republicans face two tough special elections in districts that should, by all rights, be solidly in the GOP corner. Given their recent special-election loss in former Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) conservative-leaning district, Republicans can ill afford to surrender two more supposedly safe seats to their surging opposition.

In Louisiana’s 6th congressional district, Democrat Don Cazayoux appears at least an even bet against Republican Woody Jenkins in a district that Bush won 59-40 over Kerry in 2004. Congressional Quarterly (CQ) rates the district “No Clear Favorite,” while the Cook Political Report rates it “Lean Democratic.” Republicans have been forced to fight an exceptionally strong candidate in Cazayoux, while dealing with a damaged one of their own — Jenkins was fined by the Federal Election Commission over a secret payment to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

As of last week, the DCCC had spent nearly $280,000 in support of Cazayoux — less than 1 percent of its treasury — while the NRCC, constrained by its poor cash position, had spent an anemic $110,000 in its efforts to hold the seat in the May 3 special election. Rumors even abounded that the Republicans were seriously considering cutting the seat loose, rather than wasting precious resources in a losing cause. Cazayoux’s internal polls show him leading 49-42, a margin apparently large enough to cause a weak NRCC to throw in its towel.

Meanwhile, just east of Louisiana, Republicans faced another potential humiliation in an even more conservative congressional district, Mississippi’s 1st. In Tuesday’s special election, Democrat Travis Childers appeared competitive against Republican Greg Davis despite running in a district Bush won 62-37 in 2004. An internal Democratic poll gave Childers a narrow (and statistically insignificant) 41-40 lead, and both CQ and the Cook Political Report downgraded the race from “Safe Republican” to the far more fluid “Lean Republican” status.

The election results came in after the deadline for this column, but Mississippi Democrats were excited to prove their party could still compete in the region. Indeed, more Democrats turned out to vote in their party’s primary and runoff elections than Republicans, while the district — despite favoring Republicans at the federal level — has still elected Democrats to 80 percent of the district’s local elected offices.

The DCCC decided to make mischief in the race, dropping $127,000 into an anti-Davis attack ad last week, forcing the NRCC to respond with a $62,000 expenditure of its own in a district it would’ve rather slotted as an easy victory and moved on.

Louisiana’s 6th and Mississippi’s 1st districts should not be competitive. That they are is testament to the tough odds Republicans face this year. Democrats are targeting at least 50 seats this cycle, and at least 40 of them are less conservative than Hastert’s. These two are more so.

For Republican donors, this is a tough pill to swallow. If their party can’t hold both these seats, expect more of them to bail on the party and bide their time for 2010 when their odds should improve considerably.

They certainly can’t get much worse.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos .