Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Framing the House: Plus NY-13

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There will be 435 seats for voting House members up for grabs this November 4th.

According to “conventional wisdom”, 345 of them will remain in the same party’s hands as in the 110th Congress, that is, 198 Democratic, 147 Republican; while 14 races are complete toss-ups. The others, depending on who you read, are either “favoured” or “leaning”.

House races are not like Presidential races or even Senate races because the districts have populations of approximately 625,000 - 650,000 people. Therefore, they’re relatively SMALL. And the sphere of influence of a Congressperson is limited, compared to that of a Senator or a President. So, unless there is something compelling, they are not as “interesting” as the larger races.

At least, that’s what the conventional wisdom says. I say the reason House races, for the most part, get very little play, is because most people don’t know who their Congressperson is, much less the challenger. If you doubt me, run your own survey, which will be reasonably valid if you do it right. To do so, get the map of your Congressional District, pick two disparate areas, get a clipboard, go to a supermarket or a mall and ask 25 people at each location who their Congressperson is, and who is running against them. Prepare to be shocked.

Most incumbent Congresspeople win most re-elections because their name is familiar. They certainly can lose if they get a lot of airplay for things like $10,000 shoved in a home freezer, an indictment, or a sex scandal; or, if many people vote a straight ticket for the opposite party, as can happen in a transformational year.

House races are more important than most people think, because local elected officials become state-wide officeholders, become members of Congress, become Senators, Governors and Presidents. Certainly, that’s not necessarily a straight path, but you get the idea.

If you read this site, DEMOCRATIC Convention Watch, likely you are a Democrat, and therefore interested in expanding the reach of Democrats across the board. Knowing about your House race may help you affect change in your district, and possibly get more Democrats elected than if you did nothing. This year, nothing is AS safe for any Republican as he/she might like.

So let’s start with my favourite House race of the year. The NY 13th.

Up until a few weeks ago, this was a nice, safe Republican seat. Vito Fossella has represented the only Republican NYC district since 1997. The seat has been Republican-held for decades. He’s a moderate, the district is moderate. He won a bigger majority than Bush in 2004. Safe, safe, safe, right up until that night in May when Vito went drinking in D.C. and got drunk, drove out to Virginia, and ran a red light.

They’re not kind to drunk drivers in Virginia.

Did he have a good excuse for what he was doing in VA? No.

Could he recite ALL 26 letters of the alphabet in order? No.

He blew a .17: WAY over the legal limit. Vito went to jail.

Did he call his chief-of-staff who lived in the neighborhood? No. He called his girlfriend. One thing led to another, and it turned out that in addition to the wife and kids in Staten Island, there was also this girlfriend and another of Vito’s children in VA. After a bunch of refusals and denials, Vito decided not to run for a 6th term this year. Plus, he’s looking at mandatory jail time.

And suddenly, we have a contest. The DCCC endorsed City Councilman Michael McMahon, who will face Steven Harrison in the 9 September Congressional primary. On the Republican side, Francis Powers (who may run self-funded, although I’m still looking into that) is running against cardiologist Jamshad Wyne who said he wouldn’t run, but now is collecting primary signatures anyway.

The incredibly bad news for the Republicans is that this year, there are 165,000 registered Democrats to 102,000 registered Republicans.

And yet, conventional wisdom said the seat was safe...