Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Rematches Amount to Poor Odds

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Ah, the rematch. So much emotion, so much payback. A chance to prove your team was right the first time, or that the first win or loss was just dumb luck.

But an article in Congressional Quarterly notes that there were 18 federal races in 2008 in which the Democratic and Republican candidates faced-off in a rematch from a previous cycle - and most had the same result. In fact, some of the previous losers actually did worse on the second go-round.

Of these 18 rematches - only three were successful in changing the outcome. And it probably won't surprise you that all three of these successful candidates in 2008 were Democrats: Jeanne Shaheen in the New Hampshire Senate race, Larry Kissell in North Carolina's 8th Congressional District and Eric Massa in New York's 29th.

And in keeping with the Democratic tide this year: more than half of the candidates in these rematches were Democrats. And as we know, it was good to be a Democrat in 2008. It should also go without saying that there is also a power of incumbency - and the remaining 15 races all had that advantage.

But there is something else here worth pointing out: sometimes the number of registered voters to a certain party make it nearly impossible to win a seat no matter how good or bad the candidates and incumbents may be. We often have very good candidates running in very bad districts. Can you imagine a Democratic district ousting a Democratic incumbent for a bright, educated and established Republican (or vice versa)? It doesn't happen. It isn't fair, but it is reality.

For example, Nevada's 2nd Congressional District is a rural district covering 16 of the state's 17 counties (and even part of the 17th at that). Democrat Jill Derby put a spirited effort to knock-off Republican Congressman Dean Heller in 2008 - a race she only lost by 2% in 2006. And even though the state went blue for the first time in more than a decade, the registration in this particular district has a 7% advantage for Republicans - nearly 25,000 voters. And that 7-point gap includes the bump in registration from the Obama surge of new voters this year. So as you can see, it still wasn't enough. Derby overperformed while running for an open seat in 2006, but went on to lose by nearly 10% in 2008 when challenging the incumbent.

Old habits die hard.