As the Republican wave sweeps America, endangering more and more Democratic Congressmen, the House Democratic Campaign Committee and the PACs that follow its lead face tough triage decisions. Whom will they fund?
The Democrats, naturally, want to protect the 39 seats the Republicans need to take away to get a majority. But as the tide sweeps past these seats -- and protecting a Democratic majority becomes increasingly unrealistic -- what will the party do? Will it mount a goal line stand and pour funds into its weakest 39 races? Or will it concede the House, back up and defend the seats it can win.
If the Democrats move their resources away from the basic 39 races, they will be swallowing a bitter pill by admitting -- as presidential press secretary Gibbs implied -- that Speaker Pelosi's days are numbered.
But if they focus their funding and manpower on the 39 most endangered seats, they may well be letting dozens more slip away that they might once have defended successfully. In their probably futile efforts to protect a disappearing majority, the House Democrats could end up losing 60 to 80 seats where a more prudent allocation of their resources might have held their losses to 50 seats.
In the process, the House Democratic campaign strategists might condemn dozens of Democrats to defeat. This decision might open the door to a long-term Republican majority and deny the Democrats the incumbents on whom they would need to build to fashion a future majority.
Take Virginia as an example. There are three House Democrats who are facing tough re-election races. One is as good as gone. In Charlottesville, freshman Democrat Tom Perriello is running more than 20 points behind his Republican challenger, Robert Hurt. Next door in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Democrat Glenn Nye is slightly behind his Republican opponent, Scott Rigell. In the southwestern part of the state, long-term incumbent Rick Boucher still leads his Republican challenger, Morgan Griffith, but the Republican could well come on and win.
So where should the Dems put their money? They probably need both the Perriello and Nye seats to protect their majority. But if they put their funds there, they won't have enough left to protect Boucher. It's unlikely that either Perriello or Nye can win, just as it is improbable that the Democrats can hold their losses to fewer than the 39 seats they need to keep power. But the Boucher race could go either way.
So their choice in Virginia is to endanger Boucher to protect Nye and Perriello or to fall back and make sure solid incumbents like Boucher win even if it means sacrificing a majority by giving up seats like Nye and Perriello.
The Republicans, of course, face no such tough choice. Should their strategists conclude that the Nyes and the Perriellos of the world are goners and they choose to put their resources into the truly swing seats like Boucher's, the Republicans vying for the Nye and Perriello seats will undoubtedly still attract all the money they need from opportunists eager to climb on their winning campaigns.
As November approaches, watch how the Democrats allocate their resources. It will soon be evident if they are attempting a goal line stand for 39 seats or if they are falling back to protect what they can. The second course will be an admission of defeat. But the first option -- the goal line stand -- could transform a defeat into a rout.