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Perspective on ‘red to blue’

Democrats in eastern Washington and western Idaho were cheered this week when their candidates, Peter Goldmark and Larry Grant, in the 5th and 1st respectively, were upgraded to the national Democratic “red to blue” list – the party’s list of hot and truly competitive races. Which both, in fact, seem to be.

A moment, please, for what this says in larger-picture perspective, as we look toward the election 10 days off.

The “red-to-blue” list is intended to be relatively exclusive, allowing in only the strong shots at winning – “to provide financial and structural aid to the strongest Democratic candidates across the country.” As that suggests, the main purpose is provision of help over the course of a campaign; coming this late, the designation is closer to a badge of honor. (Not a small thing, really; it’s a mark of legitimacy.)

But the designation can be considered another way too, in the context of Democratic prospects, and how they have changed. Six months ago, Democratic pickups in the House in the range of 12-20 seats – maybe, just maybe, enough to take control – was conventional political wisdom. The first “wave” of “red to blue” candidates was chosen in late April; there were 22 of them, and included one northwesterner, Darcy Burner, running in Washington’s 8th district against incumbent Republican Dave Reichert. At that time she still polled discernibly behind Reichert, but had good momentum; today, the race appears too close to call.

Back in April, polling and analysis indicated that 2006 probably would be a Democratic year, but not drastically so. A Democratic win of the U.S. House, requiring 15 seats, might be doable but was highly uncertain. So the national Democrats’ take was that if the House capture was going to happen, it likely would be done by these 22 candidates, hence the idea of throwing some special help in their direction.

Then a second wave was added in early summer, and then a third – in all, reflecting the sense that more seats were becoming competitive and that Democratic gains might be larger. Few national analysts considered more than about three dozen seats seriously competitive in early summer; now, the list roughly doubles that.

As of mid- the late October, there’s a growing sense that Democratic House seat gains might be in 30-40 seat territory. The new 4th wave, adding 17 campaigns to the list for a total of 61, and including Goldmark and Grant are a part of that assessment – that as the number of apparently realistic Democratic wins has grown, that breadth has grown to encompass these campaigns in these unlikely red-Republican areas. These campaigns are local, too, of course, but much of the special energy and direction they have taken reflects as well the national mood. (In 2004 Republican Cathy McMorris beat a high-quality Democratic candidate who outspent her with 60% of the vote; Goldmark is a quality candidate, but he would have lost that year too.) This is a nationalized election, has been gradually becoming ever more so for months, and Democrats in the Washington 5th and Idaho 1st are benefitting from that.

We won’t make a prediction, at this point anyway, on the outcome of either of those races – they’re very much in flux. But we will suggest this: Watch the national trends on election night, the Northeast and Great Lakes area returns especially, and the size of the Democratic wave on November 7, and you may get an early indication – and the national Democrats’ “red-to-blue” choices may reflect some of that.

If the trend seems just about large enough to bring Democrats to power in the U.S. House, then figure Burner in Washington’s 8th will likely be a part of that, but the other two may not be. If, as CW today suggests, the gain is much larger – really does hit that 30-40 range, or beyond – then Goldmark and Grant may well be lifted over the top.

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