Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Smart Politics; Not So Smart Analysis?

Smart Politics; Not So Smart Analysis?

Smart Politics is one of my occasional stops in the blogosphere. It's focused on the upper midwest, numbers and factiods, thus right up my alley.

But yesterday's analysis of the Iowa legislative battle, which drew the attention of no less than MSNBC's Chuck Todd, focuses far too much on one stat: "The state's Democratic Party has set a record in 2010 for the largest number of districts in which a major political party has failed to field a House candidate since the lower chamber became a 100-seat body 40 years ago."

True enough. Iowa Dems have let 25 seats go without a Democratic candidate. But Eric Ostermeier makes his mistake in drawing a causal link between number of seats contested and number of seats won: "Iowa Democrats have won 55 percent of districts in which they ran a candidate from 1970 through 2008. That would put the Democrats at a 15-seat loss down to 41 districts."

But the 25 seats with no Democrats are not randomly distributed. (One more chance to plug my All 125 Legislative Races Revisited piece.) Sure, we left a few seats on the table that we should have tried for: Tom Sands in Louisa County, Nick Wagner in Marion, and of course the seat we took away from the GOP in 2004, party switcher Dawn Pettingill.

But most of the uncontested races are in deep red territory. Would Iowa Democrats really be in better shape for holding the House if we had a self-starting sacrificial lamb running in Sioux County and losing 82-18, like we did in 2008, just to have one more "contested" race?

Marginally, maybe. That's one of the principles of the Howard Dean 50 State Strategy: it's one more campaign out there stumping for the top of the ticket and building for the future. It was one of my motivations for running, and a few years later the Republican who beat me lost to a Democrat. (I was once told my campaign was like compost, making the soil more fertile for the future. Don't know about that, but a gardening analogy is a nice break from the endless sports comparisons, and losing does feel kind of like a big pile of manure.)

But as far as the immediate battle for control, a marginal effort in your party's 80th or 90th best district will matter little to ultimate control. Indeed, Ostermeier's own (very interesting and detailed) tables undercut his point. Iowa Republicans let 23 seats go uncontested in 2004 - yet held the House.

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