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DSSC Director Gives Dems Edge in Strategy

As J.P. Green noted yesterday, Senate Democrats face a daunting year in 2014, and Republicans have an edge with fewer vulnerable seats up for re-election. Republicans have seven fewer seats up in 2014, and the "seven most imperiled" U.S. Senate seats up in 2014 are now held by Democrats.

But Democrats do have one significant advantage in the person of Guy Cecil, executive director of Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Calling Cecil "the brains behind the Democrats' improbable Senate showings in 2010 and 2012," Jonathan Weisman reports in the New York Times:

Mr. Cecil's return as executive director of the committee is notable in a city accustomed to political consultants cashing in for big money "downtown" -- at lobbying firms and with influence peddlers off Capitol Hill. In 2010, Mr. Cecil helped engineer Mr. Bennet's successful defense of his seat, one of the unexpected wins that kept Democrats in control of the Senate even as the party suffered a historic defeat in the House. Most assumed Democrats would lose the Senate as the 2012 season began. With Mr. Cecil directing forces, the party gained two seats.

... Mr. Cecil's approach to Senate elections goes back to the vicious 1998 re-election campaign of South Carolina's Ernest Hollings, the last Democratic Senate victory in that state, and 2000, when he helped former Gov. Mel Carnahan of Missouri defeat John Ashcroft, a Republican, despite the fact that Mr. Carnahan had died in a plane crash three weeks before Election Day.

Mr. Cecil tries to resist national political winds and tailor each campaign to the particular candidates and the states they are running in. Republican campaigns tend to ride national waves, running on broad national issues like the size and scope of government, the level of taxation and the defense of the homeland. Mr. Cecil had different ideas for different Democratic candidates.

For instance, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota ran on "North Dakota values," a languishing farm bill and essential air service to rural America. Sherrod Brown, practically buried under an avalanche of Republican advertising, ran as David against Goliath, even if he was the incumbent in Ohio.

... At times last cycle, Mr. Cecil courted controversy. In Wisconsin, he backed the candidacy of Representative Tammy Baldwin, a liberal lesbian from Madison, when many Democrats wanted a more moderate voice from a rural corner of the state. Ms. Baldwin won, beating a four-term governor, Tommy Thompson, the Republicans' candidate of choice.

In Missouri, Mr. Cecil encouraged Senator Claire McCaskill to pull off one of the most clever feats of the campaign cycle, an advertisement just days before the Republican primary that "blasted" Representative Todd Akin as the most conservative, most vehemently anti-Obama candidate in the Republican field. The effort was seen as a boost for Mr. Akin, the opponent she preferred.

"He understood the complicated needle I had to thread, running a disciplined campaign and seeing if we could end up with a general election candidate we could beat," Ms. McCaskill said.

Weisman characterizes Cecil, who comes from a working-class family, as "true believer in the Democratic cause, not a hired gun waiting to cash out." Dems could use a few more like Cecil at the helms of our state Democratic parties.