Jonathan Singer has an interesting piece on MyDD, presenting a model for Democrats taking back the House of Representatives in 2006. And what is that model? The overwhelming Republican sweep in WA state back in 1994.
Going into the 1994 midterm elections, Washington state Democrats appeared poised to continue their dominance. In both 1988 and 1992, the Evergreen state had thrown its electoral votes behind the Democratic candidate, and the state had not elected a Republican Governor since 1980. Looking more closely at the 1992 election, the Democrats won eight of the state’s nine House seats, winning the overall House vote by a 56 percent to 41 percent margin, and House Speaker Tom Foley, a Spokane Democrat, was at the peak of his power.
But come November 6, 1994, the Democrats’ fortunes reversed. Republicans won the statewide House vote by a 51 percent to 49 percent margin, defeating the Democrats in seven of the state’s nine districts for a net pick up of six seats, and GOP Senator Slade Gorton was handily reelected with 56 percent of the vote. What happened on election day, and the months leading up to it, should serve as a stark warning to Republicans who believe they are set maintain control of the House in 2006 and should further provide lessons to Democrat hoping to win back the lower chamber.
Singer notes that the GOP picked up seats in four Democratic-leaning districts in WA in 1994, and 16 Democratic-leaning districts nationally. He concludes that Democrats should not shy away from targeting Republican-leaning districts in 2006, particularly in Ohio, which somewhat mirrors WA in 1994.
Personally, I remain hopeful that Democrats will target the three Republican-leaning districts in WA state. Everybody knows that freshman incumbent Rep. Dave Reichert is vulnerable; the 8th District continues to lean Democratic in statewide and Presidential races, and should be within reach of a strong challenger (and I’m not yet convinced that either of the declared candidates, Darcy Burner and Randy Gordon, are up to the task.) But given the right circumstances, the right challenger — and enough money — Democrats could have a shot in Eastern WA too.
Representatives Cathy McMorris and Doc Hastings have voted with the Republican leadership 98% of the time — often against the interests of their Eastern WA constituents — and each has their unique vulnerabilities. While McMorris has done little to distinguish herself during her freshman year, Hastings is finally making a name for himself as the do-nothing chair of the House Ethics Committee at time his own party appears to be collapsing under the weight of its own corruption.
Both deserve strong challengers who can make the 2006 election a referendum on George Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Tom Delay, Bill Frist and the rest of the Republican leadership. If Eastern WA voters are in the mood to throw the bums out next November, Democrats need to be prepared to offer them a viable alternative. There’s a chance McMorris may draw a strong challenger in Peter Goldmark, but Hastings seat has thus far drawn little interest from Democrats.
As Singer points out, the lesson both parties should learn from WA in 1994, is that Republican domination is not safe in any part of the country right now. Democrats have a shot at retaking the House… but only if we mount strong challenges in Republican leaning districts.