If you've ever heard Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) speak of her life in politics, chances are you've heard her story about how the Florida Democratic establishment tried to discourage her from running for the state legislature in 1992. They had someone else in mind, she says, to replace her boss, Peter Deutsch, who was running for the U.S. House, and they wanted her to wait her turn. But, her story goes, she began knocking on doors, visiting families in her South Florida district, and through hard work and determination, became the Democratic nominee in a six-way primary, garnering over 50% of the votes.
Now, as the Chair of the Democratic National Committee, she is not only responsible for talking up the accomplishments of President Obama and his administration, she is also focused on returning Democrats to a majority in the House of Representatives, and securing a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. While the presidential race is under the bright lights, it is the Congressional race that will determine just how effective a returning Barack Obama will be in his second term. It will be up to Wasserman Schultz, then, to instill her particular brand of political tenacity into the campaigns of her party's incumbents, and into the races where Democrats are challenging GOP incumbents.
In a recent article about the fundraising challenges those running against incumbents face, the Wall Street Journal reports that even though the president's party only needs "a net gain of 25 seats to regain control of the House...many political forecasters say Republicans are likely to retain their majority."
There are eighty House seats the experts consider to be in play this November, the WSJ says, meaning that even though we will vote for the entire 113th Congress, four out of five of them are in districts that are supposedly safe, because redistricting did not harm their chances for retention by whichever party is there now. Since most state houses are run by Republicans, most 2010 GOP districts remain in their hands.
Still, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is on the offensive. It has chosen 63 seats that it thinks it can change from "Red to Blue," only eight of which they classify as "Majority Makers," meaning they are "in strong Democratic districts." Former Rep. Alan Grayson, the outspoken, progressive Democrat, who was ousted in 2010 by Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL) for example, is considered to be in a great position to take the redrawn Florida 9th seat.
Besides retaking Democratic districts which are either open or currently represented by Republicans, the DCCC has identified twenty "Emerging Races," which it describes as "becoming increasingly competitive." Several of those, including the Ohio 7th, currently represented by Rep. Steve Austria (R-OH), benefit the Democrats because of redistricting, and a well run campaign by challenger Joyce Healy-Abrams.
The goal of most on the left, though, remains to unseat as many of the Tea Party freshmen from 2010 as they can. "The American people have rejected this 18-month tea party Republican experiment in Congress as a failure - after they chose millionaires and billionaires ahead of seniors and the middle class," DCCC press secretary, Jesse Ferguson, told Politico, in April.
But, according to a recent New York Times story, by Jennifer Steinhauer, the group swept into office in that election are "eager to prove that they are more than flukes who rode in on a wave only to paddle back out to the sea of one-termers."
Still, "it is one thing to run as an outsider taking aim at Washington dysfunction," Steinhauer goes on to point out, but "when you are the incumbent, with Congressional license plates and a voting record for all to see, it is a whole new ballgame."
Indeed, recent revelations by Bloomberg show that the same candidates who railed against the TARP bank bailouts during their campaigns in 2010, have received donations from Wall Street PACs:
"The political action committees of [JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.] have distributed $169,499 through March 31 to the campaign coffers of the 10 freshman Tea Party-backed lawmakers on the House Financial Services Committee, according to an analysis of campaign finance disclosure records."
Whether or not the plate is set for the DCCC to take back the House is debatable. But if Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz cannot goad her candidates into the kind of political commitment it takes to win an election, then the predictions of the experts, who say the Democrats will fall short in 2012, will certainly be validated.
If they're wrong, though, and Democrats regain complete control of Congress, will the leadership be more concerned with maintaining control than helping President Obama follow through on some of his bolder initiatives? One of the reasons they lost so resoundingly in 2010 was because they were afraid to take the steps necessary to implement tax policy (like letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans), to raise the debt limit without the GOP drama of last year, and to come up with the Dodd-Frank benchmarks, thinking too much about protecting individual legislators than the constituency they represent.
If the Dems are successful, I hope they take a long look at the leadership, in both Houses, and let them know that the surest way to reelection in 2014 is to do what the people sent them there to do - the people's business, which (almost) never converges with Congress' yen for self enrichment, regardless of who's in charge.