Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Is the DSCC Making a Mistake in Florida?

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL)
Politico as a website is a double-edged sword.  Occasionally, especially with Politico Magazine, they have some of the best political journalism on the web, in-depth studies of past and current presidential races, with insights that could rival a major newspaper.  And yet, their day-to-day sometimes feels like Us Weekly for political enthusiasts, writing articles that feature backroom feuds between high-profile campaign surrogates and potentially even elected officials.  To trade in that sort of gossip occasionally feels a bit tawdry, but when it feels like there's a nugget of truth in there, I can't help myself.  And as a result, I want to talk about a major article from yesterday's edition, about the internal struggle between Democratic Party leaders and Sen. Chuck Schumer over increasing spending in the Florida Senate race.

For those that didn't click over to the link, there's been much debate on social media amongst the political chattering class (including yours truly) about what's going on in the Florida Senate election.  Polling there has been a bit erratic, with everything from a tie to a 10-point blowout in favor of incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio (that Bloomberg poll from yesterday felt badly overstated, though, in my opinion...we'll see in two weeks).  Either way, on-paper it feels competitive, and its RCP average is R+3.5; definitely favoring the Republicans, but not by much, and relatively comparable to the leads enjoyed by Richard Burr and Evan Bayh, both of whom are surely in "tossup" races in terms of political discussion and money.

But as the article has stated, Democrats have pulled out of the race almost entirely.  The DSCC and Senate Majority PAC are not spending anymore money in the race, despite the close polling and the fact that the seat could become critical in 2018 (or perhaps 2016) in getting legislation passed and attaining/holding the majority.  This has left, according to Politico, a schism between Harry Reid, as well as Presidents Obama and Clinton, and incoming Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer.  Reid/Obama/Clinton want to go all-in on Florida, potentially delivering a huge upset against a major rising star in the GOP and giving the Democrats cushion in the 2018 midterms, as well as another supporter for the Clinton administration.  Schumer has stated that there isn't enough money to finance the likely $3 million expenditure to go into Florida at the last minute, and that they can't risk spending there without sacrificing more promising prospects in places like Missouri and North Carolina.

Looking at this objectively, I'm crying bull toward Schumer's excuses here, and there's a few reasons why.  For starters, I cannot believe that the money isn't there, because it most definitely is.  For starters, Schumer is sitting on $20 million in his own personal coffers right now, and it's not like he's in a remotely competitive Senate election (he'll win in a 30-point blowout), so that money is doing no one any good if it's letting a competitive Senate seat pass by.  Secondly, I have sincere doubts that Senate Majority PAC and the DSCC couldn't find $3 million somewhere from some deep-pocketed donors (Citizens United is an ugly, vile thing, but it's still the law of the land so you might as well make lemonade), particularly if it meant taking out a major Republican superstar and winning another Senate seat for the party.

Quite frankly, that may not be the goal of the DSCC, whose true purpose is simply to mathematically look at the Senate specifically and figure out how to maximize the number of Democrats elected each cycle, but only a fool doesn't see that beating Marco Rubio, or at least the opportunity to do so, wouldn't be worth more than defeating Richard Burr or Roy Blunt.  Rubio lost his primary earlier this year in Florida to Donald Trump, a demoralizing loss and a huge hit to his political capital.  However, he still is a sitting US Senator who could use that perch to attack Hillary Clinton and run against her in 2020 or potentially parlay that position into a run in 2024.  The point is, Rubio remains one of the biggest names in the Republican Party.  If Murphy were to beat him this year, even narrowly, Rubio's career would be finished-you can't lose your home state, which also happens to be the most significant swing state on the map, twice in the same year and become president.  It just doesn't work that way.  Therefore, the Clintons (and the DNC) have a vested interest in this race that isn't apparent in other races-it could make it easier for them to reelect Hillary Clinton in four years; they will have few, if possibly no, other chances better than this to improve Clinton's chances at the ballot box.

I wouldn't be saying anything like this if Rubio wasn't also polling close, or if Clinton wasn't already doing well in polling in the Sunshine State, but he is close and she is doing well, so this is gettable, but requires a full force push.  You don't need to sacrifice other corners of the political universe to make this happen.  Schumer, if he wanted to, could send the $3 million to Murphy or get it from donors; it'd be a gamble, but one that could have enormous dividends, and also make his life easier (one more Democrat in the caucus would help in passing legislation and getting judicial nominees through).  That he doesn't makes me question his leadership quite a bit.

Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV)
I keep thinking, quite frankly, of the Nevada Senate race in 2012.  There the margin was similar (though a little bit wider) than the Rubio/Murphy one between an incumbent Republican senator (Dean Heller) and a House challenger (Shelley Berkley).  Like Murphy, Berkley wasn't exactly the shining star of her party-she'd done okay in her campaign, and had been outflanked on that front-she wasn't going to be a shining star in the Senate, more than likely a backbencher.  However, she was also running as a Democrat in a state that President Obama had outperformed in 2008 and seemed likely to do well in again in 2012, and was a vote for Senate Majority Leader Reid and a reliable Democrat.  There was definitely potential there, even if it wasn't as compelling as the DSCC's options in Indiana and Massachusetts that year.

As you might have guessed, the DSCC let Berkley get outspent in Nevada, but Election Day gave them a bit of a jolt-Berkley actually outperformed the polls by a significant margin, losing by 1.2% on election day (or roughly 11,000 votes).  It was quite clear, then, that a more significant GOTV effort, likely in the last two weeks, from the DSCC in hopes of getting people to vote straight-ticket would have made the difference.

This is almost identical to what Florida in 2016 is looking like.  The Democrats have a Senate seat that is close on-paper in a state the Democratic nominee is expected to do well in-it's not a slam-dunk, but they are potentially looking at a candidate that, thanks to coattails, could outperform the polls on Election Day.  To pass that up is foolishness in my opinion-had they worked harder for Berkley in 2012, we'd only need to win three seats this year, and essentially everyone would have declared the Republican majority finished.  The Senate is a long game (thanks to the six-year terms), as well-you don't know if the Murphy win, which may feel like "gravy" at this point could be the difference between a major piece of climate change or a Supreme Court nomination or perhaps even the majority in the future.  Therefore you never want to leave any cards on the table.  That Schumer is willing to let Murphy out-to-dry, rather than fight to get him into the caucus, makes me question whether he'll go to bat for tough issues against Republicans or a Republican administration in the future.  I hate to say it, but if something similar to what happened to Berkley happens to Murphy this year, the Democrats should seriously consider re-looking at Dick Durbin or Patty Murray as their leader.

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