There are a number of developments in the past few days which may indicate that strategists in the national Republican party believe that the 2008 elections will be a Democratic landslide of historic proportions. Rather than attempting to win any Democratic seats, Republicans are desperately trying to stem their losses.
Granted, studying campaign expenditures to try to determine electoral strategies can be a little like reading tea leaves to determine the future. However, looking at how national campaign strategists decide to spend their limited resources can be a good way of determining which races they believe can win and which they believe they will lose. In the case of the national Republican party this year, which has extremely limited resources, financial decisions may be more telling than usual.
So, what are these telling developments?
• Under the headline GOP may ditch recruits to rescue incumbents Politico reported Tuesday that House Republicans have ceased funding some of their “prized recruits” in order to focus on incumbents. The list of incumbents they consider endangered was a stunner for those of us who follow House races, a number of them were not on anybody’s list of close races.
• Senate Republicans followed suit the next day, canceling their advertising in the Louisiana Senate race, the one Democratic Senate seat that was considered vulnerable this year.
• Even some of those incumbents are getting ditched: The Hill reported today that the national Republican party is pulling out of Michigan’s 9th Congressional District, leaving embattled incumbent Rep. Joe Knollenberg to fend for himself.
• Republicans may not be considering just House and Senate races as hopeless, they may be giving up on John McCain as well. Politico also reported that the Republican National Committee is in triage and “considering tapping into a $5 million line of credit this week to aid an increasing number of vulnerable incumbents.” What is striking is that Republicans would put this last minute cash infusion into Congressional races instead of using it to try to put McCain over the top. The implication is that they believe McCain will lose and the better use of their money is to try to stop Democrats from getting a filibuster proof 60 vote majority in the Senate.
• Picking up on this meme, election guru Stu Rothenberg ran an article in today’s Roll Call (subscription only) with several anonymous Republican strategists debating whether to “throw McCain under the bus” and publicly tell donors the Presidential race is lost and their best hope is to contribute in Senate and House races to try to stop an overwhelming Democratic majority in Congress.
Taken separately, these developments could be explained as tactical decisions unique to each individual race. Taken together, however, they begin to paint a picture of a party not just in disarray, but in blind, panicked retreat and burning its bridges behind it.