Nationalizing Isn't Always the Best Strategy.

Jeff Zeleny reports on one aspect of the GOP's strategy for November's elections:

If Republicans are to win control of the House, party leaders are relying on candidates like [Ohio's Steve Chabot] to whittle away the 39-seat Democratic majority. Their strategy is rooted in the belief that the Republican base is significantly more energized than it was two years ago, particularly because of the influence of Tea Party activists and at least a share of independent voters who have soured on the leadership of Democrats. Mr. Chabot is seeking to make the race a national referendum on every major element of the Democratic agenda, from health care to the economic stimulus plan to the growth of federal spending. (emphasis mine)

Republican leaders and candidates like Mr. Chabot should be careful about nationalizing local contests. The dynamics of the midterm elections are different, of course, but it is worth noting that Democrats have won seven of the last eight special elections, and two of those wins -- in NY-20 and NY-23 -- happened in districts where Republicans had a strong chance of winning. But rather than allow their candidates -- Jim Tedisco and Doug Hoffman, respectively -- to focus on local issues in their districts and appeal to less ideological voters, Republican leaders immediately moved to nationalize the contests. This may be a good strategy for mobilizing the Republican base -- i.e. the people for whom the mere mention of "Nancy Pelosi" would provide a compelling enough reason to elect someone to office -- but it isn't a great strategy for less-ideological voters and those who are still uneasy about the Republican Party.

By nationalizing both races, GOP leaders have also brought that Bush-era baggage to the fore, giving Democrats an opportunity to capitalize on those negative feelings. In New York, this turned what should have been an easy expected victory (historically, voters in the NY-23 had given more than 60 percent of their votes to Republican candidates) into a historic defeat. Democratic favorability has dipped since then, but Republicans are also dealing with low favorability ratings. Nationalizing this round of contests might be successful in districts where a Republican victory is all but assured, but it could also backfire in tight races, like Chabot's in Ohio's 1st District.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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