National political groups try to find deep meaning in local elections, so it's not surprising the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wants to spread Tuesday's victory in Arizona over as much of the country as possible.
But they may need a new calculator before they use it as a bellwether for Eastern Washington's 5th Congressional District.
Wednesday afternoon the group dedicated to electing Democrats to the U.S. House sent out a press release with this headline:
Democrats Win Special Election in More Republican District Than Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers’
That, not surprisingly, had us at Spin Control scratching our heads. Didn't the district in question, Arizona's 8th Congressional District, have a Democratic congresswoman, Gabby Giffords, for the last five years? Whereas Eastern Washington's 5th hasn't had a Democratic congressperson since 1994.
How do ya figure “more Republican”? Spin Control asked Steve Carter, the DCCC representative for western states.
There's no one way to rate how partisan a district is, Carter said. “That's one way to look at it,” he said when we brought up the 18-year gap for electing a Dem to the House. The DCCC, however, chose to look at it a different way…
…It decided to look at the congressional district results in the 2008 presidential election. Under that metric, Carter said, Washington's 5th is slightly more Democratic than Arizona's 8th, because Barack Obama only got 47 percent of the vote there, but got 47.5 percent of the vote here.
According to some analysts, it's fair to use the presidential results as the yardstick, he said, while allowing as how folks in Eastern Washington might see it differently.
But even by that standard, Arizona's 8th District is not more Republican than Washington's 5th District. Not if you look closely at the numbers.
If one looks at just the votes for the two main candidates, Carter is right that Obama got 47.1 percent of the vote in Eastern Washington and McCain got 52.9 percent. But there were six other candidates on that ballot, and they all got at least a smattering of votes. Of the total votes cast, Obama got 45.35 percent and McCain got 50.9 percent.
In Arizona, where there were only three other candidates on the race, Obama got 46.4 percent of the vote and McCain got 52 percent. That's McCain's home state, so he might be expected to pick up a few votes on the basis of being a “favorite son” separate from any partisan leaning, but the main thing is, Obama got a smaller percentage of the votes cast in Eastern Washington than he did in that Arizona district.
The press release was the basis for announcements in more than 80 congressional districts where the DCCC wants to suggest that their challenger can beat a Republican incumbent who supports GOP policies like the Republican candidate who lost said he'd support.
“Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ re-election is in deep danger after voters in a more Republican district than hers rejected a Republican candidate who supported the same failed priorities … drastically cutting Medicare and raising costs for seniors while protecting tax breaks for millionaires, Big Oil, and companies shipping jobs overseas,” the press release quotes a DCCC staffer as saying.
The way this works is, after sending out this dire warning about McMorris Rodgers' impending doom, they plug in another GOP representative and ship out a new press release with the same yada-yada-yada.
Cookie cutter press releases aren't a new tactic for either side. But for the Democrats' Rich Cowan to beat McMorris Rodgers, they're going to need more than fuzzy math and a search-and-replace program for their word processor.