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Should Democrats Expand the Playing Field in 2006?

On June 6, we took stock of the number of vulnerable Republican seats in 2006 and argued that Democrats did indeed have a shot at gaining enough seats to take back the House. A reader wrote in to say our argument was fine as far as it went....but it didn't go far enough! I'm inclined to agree. Here's the reader's comment:

I just wanted to pass along a brief comment on your June 6 posting on "GOP Ethics Mess...". I agree with you (and everyone else) that the various scandals swirling around DeLay and the GOP Congress helps the Dems, and that the appropriate response is to think big and try to nationalize the 2006 election (a la Gingrich in 1994). That's why your count of vulnerable Republicans (4 from the Post, 7 from Abramowitz, etc.) struck me as discordant. The point is that ethics (and other failures) makes every Rep more vulnerable, not just 10 or 20 or 30.

There's a practical reason that I'm bothering you with this sort of hair-splitting. Both parties (and their allies) have fallen into the practice of trying to identify their top tier races to focus their attention on them. They see it as a way to magnify their impact rather squander resources on longshots. There are several problems with this approach. No one is that good at forecasting, especially that far out. Diminishing marginal returns means that much of the money lavished on top races is wasted, and would certainly be better spent elsewhere. The relentless focus on the top tier means that other races are ignored, limiting the Dems' potential to win a 1994 (or 1982 or 1974) style sweep. And so on. The bottom line is simple: targeting is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My fear is that, if history is any guide, if the Dems think in terms of winning 15 seats, they'll count to 15 or maybe 25 and pour everything into those races. That puts enormous pressure on winning those contests and lets scores of other potentially vulnerable Reps off the hook. Donkey Rising isn't responsible for that sort of thinking, of course, but as one of the best blogs and certainly the most data-intensive, I wanted to bring this to your attention.

Thanks, reader! Let's hope someone out there involved in 2006 planning for the Democrats is listening.