A Strategy For Using Social Security To Go After GOP Incumbents In 2006
There will be numerous alternatives for improving Social Security tossed onto the table for discussion in the coming weeks, ranging from the Bush commission's plan for privatization, the Diamond-Orszag plan, to the silliness from some Democrats about doing nothing at all at this time. We will continue to write about these developments so that those who check in here will have a good idea of the range of possibilities for dealing with Social Security. In this post, I want to discuss the familiar Bush practice of turning serious public policy issues into political weapons, and how to turn this practice against Bush for a change.
As Alan Abramowitz noted in Ruy Teixeira’s Donkey Rising blog last week, based on the closeness of the most recent congressional races and the Democratic leanings in those districts, there are 25 vulnerable House Republicans as we head into the 2006 midterms.
These GOP incumbents present some of the best targets Democrats have of getting closer to parity in the House. I propose that using the Social Security issue now in each of those districts is critical for the DCCC (and even the DSCC on a statewide basis where GOP senators are up in 2006) in order to not only make those GOP House members hesitant about voting for the president’s privatization plan, but to also set Democrats in a good position to take some of those seats next year by laying the groundwork now. By using Social Security as a springboard, Democrats can begin making their case in each district for reform, fiscal sanity, and a smart and efficient foreign and national security policy.
How can Democrats and specifically the DCCC and DSCC get started now?
Well, in each of these districts, there are probably local Democratic Central Committees, clubs, and local up-and-coming Democratic officeholders. Again, using Social Security as a springboard, these folks can be contacted now to begin planning events and media opportunities that will call attention to the GOP incumbent’s past votes in support of the Bush agenda and possible future vote on privatization. (The GOP incumbents will notice this immediately.) In several of these states, there are also Democratic governors (hello Ed Rendell) who can be helpful as well in both resources and organization in each of these districts.
By working with the local and state parties and officeholders in each district, and governors where possible, the DSCC and DCCC can lay the groundwork now for media activities and perhaps Truth Squad activities should Bush visit the district to sell his agenda. All of these activities will not only recruit candidates against the GOP incumbents, but more importantly will signal to those GOP incumbents that the Democrats are ready to go after them on Social Security now. That will help peel House GOP votes away from Bush’s privatization plans, and for those who still vote with him, Democrats will get a head start for 2006 in making their case for change. And best yet, the blogosphere proved in 2004 that significant seed money for this effort and these 2006 races can be generated from the Internet.
And why does the Social Security issue work so well as the springboard?
In looking at who these GOP House members are and the Social Security dynamics in each of their districts, you will see a mix of well known and veteran GOP members along with newly-elected freshmen who will be very vulnerable if they make a bad decision on such a hot-button issue as Social Security. But given the differences in tenure amongst this group, the Democratic arguments in each of these cases in each district may be different. For example, it may seem that taking out some of these entrenched GOP members is a long shot, but touching the third rail just to please a lame duck president with low approval ratings can be turned by a good Democratic effort into a recipe for upsets.
Also, Gingrich ran in essence a national election with the Contract with America in the 1994 midterms on the idea that it was time to sweep out many long-time Democrats and replace them with allegedly reform-minded Republicans. Well, it’s been over ten years now. How much reform and term limits have you seen from the GOP and K Street in that time?
Me neither. So let’s turn the tables on Denny Hastert and take a look at some House targets of opportunity for next year, as well as folks who could be pressured to peel away from Bush on Social Security.
Colorado 7-Bob Beauprez; out of the state’s seven congressional districts, his district has the third most Social Security retirees.
Connecticut 2-Bob Simmons, who has already expressed hesitancy about the Bush plan, and who got a competitive race in November from Democrat Jim Sullivan.
Connecticut 4-Chris Shays, who beat his Democratic challenger by only 4%.
Connecticut 5-Nancy Johnson, powerful but needs to go.
Delaware-Mike Castle, who is one of the leaders of the moderate GOP wing along with Shays; there are nearly 93,000 Social Security retirees in the state’s lone congressional district.
Florida 10-Bill Young; has the eighth largest (out of 25 congressional) number of Social Security retirees in the state, over one hundred thousand.
Florida 22-Clay Shaw; has the tenth largest number of Social retirees in the state, nearly one hundred thousand.
Illinois 10-Mark Kirk, who is a GOP moderate who could nonetheless be pressured to vote against Bush’s privatization plan especially if the Democrats recruit another moderate to run against him in this district which is home to affluent North Shore suburbs who can be appealed to on the fiscal sanity arguments. His district has the ninth highest number of Social Security retirees amongst the state’s 19 congressional districts.
Iowa 1-Jim Nussle, who is very strong but may run for Iowa governor in 2006; a strong Democratic push on Social Security now in his district may help him make up his mind. Nussle also has nearly 70,000 Social Security retirees in his district, making his district third out of state’s five districts.
Iowa 2-Jim Leach, who is levelheaded and moderate but nonetheless votes with Bush way too much. Again, at the very least he should be pressured to vote against Bush’s privatization plan through a strong Democratic effort now.
Kentucky 3-Anne Northrup; has nearly 70,000 Social Security retirees in the district, making it third out of six districts.
Nevada 3-Jon Porter; nearly 86,000 Social Security retirees in the district, the largest of the state’s three districts.
New Hampshire 2- Charles Bass; has nearly 75,000 Social Security retirees in the district, the larger of the state’s two districts in that category.
New Jersey 2-Frank LoBiondo; has the third highest number of Social Security beneficiaries in the state amongst the delegations 13 districts.
NJ 3-Jim Saxton; has nearly 100,000 Social Security retirees in this district, making it the top district in the state’s 13 congressional delegation in terms of the number of retirees.
NJ 4-Chris Smith; also has nearly 100,000 Social Security retirees in the district, making it second out the state’s 13 congressional districts.
New Mexico 1-Heather Wilson; over 50,000 Social Security retirees, second among three.
New York 3-Peter King; who although moderate is a Bush defender; has over 80,000 Social Security retirees in the district, making it fifth amongst the state’s 29 congressional districts.
NY 13-Vito Fossella; has the fifteenth largest number of beneficiaries out of 29.
NY 25-James Walsh; also has over 80,000 Social Security retirees in the district, making it fourth among 29.
Pennsylvania 6-Jim Gerlach; a definite pick up opportunity for the Dems given that Gerlach won by only 2% in November.
Penn 7-Curt Weldon; who has been around like many of these GOP members a long time but who could feel pressure from an early in-district effort from the Democrats.
Penn 8-Mike Fitzpatrick, who just got elected for the first time against a solid Ginny Shrader campaign, and who can be taken out by Shrader in 2006 on the issue of Social Security should Fitzpatrick side with Bush.
Penn 15-Charles Dent, who was also just elected for the first time; has the 6th largest number of Social Security retirees in the state’s 19 congressional districts.
Washington 8-Dave Reichert, who was also just elected by only 4% against a broadcaster in again, a state that went for Kerry.
You can see how it would be critical for the DCCC to take out some of these newly elected Republicans now before the advantages of incumbency begin to lock in for them. Social Security as an issue can help the DCCC do that. And yes, many of these other Republicans are long-time mainstays of the caucus. But any of these members can not only be targeted on the Social Security issue, but also with the Democrats’ own version of a new Contract With America, one that makes the case that America needs to crawl out from under the Bush fear environment and no longer accept the GOP status quo of private greed instead of public interest, self-interest instead of shared sacrifice, fear instead of hope, and do-it-my-way gridlock instead of bipartisan problem solving.
Our contract can call for, among other things, improved but not privatized Social Security, real national security instead of costly empire-building through a real energy policy, our version of tax simplification and fairness, a focus on our communities and small businesses, a little FCC reform, affordable health care, and an ethical (and maybe term-limited) Congress. In other words, let’s run against the GOP stranglehold and Tom DeLay in 2006, just like Gingrich ran against Tom Foley in 1994, and use Social Security as one issue to nationalize the 2006 midterms while having a district-by-district effort aimed at the GOP incumbents. Let’s use Social Security as one way to turn the tables on the GOP.