Democrats powered through several congressional primaries yesterday, including key districts in Oregon and Washington (the 5th and 8th, respectively). Looking toward November, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is arguing that several districts will benefit from an "up-ticket effect" driven by Obama’s organizing success. The clearest example is Oregon, where Obama-fever drew one of the largest primary campaign rallies in U.S. history, prompting the state’s Republican incumbents to flee the McCain campaign, as TWI’s Matthew DeLong reported.
I asked DCCC operative Doug Thornell about this dynamic, and he enthused about the Obama effect, naturally, while also giving props to local challengers for boosting Obama’s chances. “House Democrats have a strong partner in Sen. Barack Obama and there will be plenty of districts where he will be very helpful to our candidates, just as many of our candidates will be helpful in turning out voters that will support Sen. Obama,” he told TWI. It sounds like a win-win, of course, but I also pressed Thornell on specifically which districts are on track for the Obama effect. Readers can keep score at home with his list:
Even if Obama registers tons of new voters and turns them out on Election Day, however, it may not help congressional candidates in tight races. Infrequent voters who turn out for a presidential candidate often do not complete their ballot, depriving votes to congressional candidates from the same party. Check out Ohio’s First Congressional District this year:
[T]here were a total of 115, 387 votes for Obama, Edwards and Clinton. [House candidate] Steve Dreihaus ran … uncontested and only got 60,454 votes, a 57,840 vote difference. Nearly 1 out of every two voters who cast a vote for the Democratic nominee decided to not cast a vote for their congressman.
Organizers for the 21st Century Democrats are trying to help down-ballot candidates to avoid this fate. It’s a concern even back in Oregon, the epicenter of the up-ticket effect, as the organizers explain:
[I]n Oregon, remember those Obama crowds? All that excitement generated 641,499 total votes in the Democratic presidential primary. One would think that the heated primary for the Democratic senatorial nominee would have little drop off. In spite of intense competition between two well-funded campaigns, less people voted for our senatorial candidates than voted for our presidential candidates. In fact there was an almost 14% or 91,523 vote difference between total votes for Democratic presidential nominees and total votes for Democratic senatorial candidates in Oregon. How will Merkley beat Smith if he has to get 115% of Obama’s take in Oregon?
Max Cleland, the war hero and former senator, says life is 90 percent planning and 10 percent execution. If you can organize people to take the time to go vote — many for the first time ever — you can also get them to plan on completing their ballot. But they have to hear about it a lot from the campaigns to plan on it.
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