With Republican prospects looking ever better for this fall, the House Democratic Campaign Committee and the PACs that follow its lead face tough triage decisions: Who will they fund?
Republicans need 39 seats to take away the Democrats' majority, so the temptation is to focus on protecting the weakest seats. But protecting a House majority is becoming more unrealistic -- so what should the party do? Will it mount a goal-line stand and pour funds into its weakest 39 races -- or tacitly concede the House, back up and defend the seats it can win?
By moving resources out of the races where they're weakest, Democrats would be swallowing a bitter pill by admitting that Nancy Pelosi's days as House speaker are numbered. But if they focus their funds and manpower on the most endangered seats, they may well let slip away dozens more seats that they might have defended successfully.
Futile efforts to protect a disappearing majority could lead to a loss of 60 to 80 seats, where a more prudent allocation of resources might hold the damage to 50 seats.
Condemning those dozens of "extra" Democrats to defeat would deny the Democrats the incumbents on whom they'd need to build a future majority -- opening the door to a longterm GOP majority.
Take Virginia, for example: Three House Democrats are facing tough re-election races there -- and one is as good as gone. In Charlottesville, freshman Democrat Tom Perriello is running more than 20 points behind his GOP challenger, Robert Hurt. In Norfolk/Virginia Beach, Glenn Nye is slightly behind his Republican opponent, Scott Rigells. In the southwestern part of the state, longterm incumbent Rick Boucher still leads his GOP challenger, Morgan Griffith -- but the Republican could well come on and win.
So where should the Dems put their money? They'll probably need both the Perriello and Nye seats to keep their majority. But if they put funds there, they won't have enough left to protect Boucher.
So do they endanger Boucher to try to protect Nye and Perriello, or fall back and make sure solider incumbents like Boucher win -- even if it means virtually guaranteeing a loss of their majority by giving up on the Nye and Perriello seats?
The GOP math is different: If strategists conclude that the Nyes and the Perriellos of this Congress are goners and devote their resources to true swing seats like Boucher's, the Republicans vying for the Nye and Perriello seats will still attract all the money they need from opportunists eager to fund their winning campaigns.
As November approaches, watch how the Dems allocate their resources. It'll soon be evident if they're attempting a desperation defense of those 39 seats or if they're falling back to protect what they can.
Falling back would be an admission of defeat. But the desperate defense could transform a defeat into a rout.