John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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GOP Winning Coast to Coast

Posted on March 2, 2010
In the last two Congressional elections, Republicans took it on the chin.  They were decimated in New York; they took terrible blows in Indiana and some big hits in Florida.  They lost seats they should have won in Alabama (of all places).  The carnage stretched all to way to Idaho, Washington, Oregon and, of course California.

It was one long, electoral tidal wave.  Some thought these were transformative elections, that the Democrats were now the majority party for the foreseeable future.

But as often happens in politics, things change and the tidal wave that swept the Democrats into power is starting to recede.

I haven’t met all of the contenders, but I have met a few, and I have been impressed by their passion, their commitment to this country, and their ability to win.

For example, I met earlier this week with Randy Altschuler.  Altschuler is running against Democrat Tim Bishop of Long Island, New York.  Bishop represents a seat that tends to blow with the political winds.  During the Eisenhower years, it was Republican.  During the Johnson and Nixon years, it was Democrat.  During Reagan, it was Republican.  For the first Bush and Clinton years, it was Democrat again, and during the Republican revolution in 1994, it swung back to the GOP.  Michael Forbes continued this trend by being first a Republican and then a Democrat.  Felix Grucci beat Forbes, and then improbably, after running the worst campaign in history, lost to Bishop.

Bishop now finds himself in a terrible position against Altschuler.  Polls have the two neck and neck, and Altschuler, who has more than a quarter million on hand, is the best-funded Republican challenger in the country.  Randy calls himself a  “self-made small businessman” and an outsider who has never run for office before, a political profile that works well with the current anti-incumbent mood of the country.  He also has a wide network of grassroots activists who are fired up and ready to go, an essential element to any campaign.

Altschuler is focusing on economic issues and spending, which is a winning combination for New York Republicans, who don’t necessarily share the same social conservative concerns of Alabama Republicans, for example.

On the other coast, Mattie Fein is running a spirited challenger race against well-entrenched Democratic incumbent Jane Harman.  Harman might seem unbeatable, except well, she is having a lot of trouble in her own primary.  Harman shows up in her district typically only when there is a big snowstorm in Washington D.C. and her constituents are getting awfully tired of her diva-like attitude.

Harman is well connected and, of course, has a lot of personal money.  She was perhaps best known for feuding with her fellow Californian, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who kicked her off the Intelligence Committee, and filled her slot with a gentleman who couldn’t tell reporters the differences between the Shia and Sunni (or as Alan Jackson might have put it, “I watch CNN, but couldn’t tell you the difference between Iraq and Iran”).

Harman has so many business conflicts; it is a miracle she can vote at all.  For example, she had to recuse herself on any probes or votes on Toyota.  It is widely rumored that Harman is seeking a diplomatic post somewhere in the Middle East, which wouldn’t be much of a surprise, given that she probably won’t go much further up the chain in the House as long as Pelosi is around.

Fein has run a feisty campaign, and seems to have a straight shot at Harman as long as the incumbent stays in the race.  While the demographics of the district have improved for Democrats since Harman initially won in a squeaker more than a decade ago, Fein’s strong national security credentials, her political experience and her positions on the issues fit in well with the constituent profile.

From coast to coast, Republicans are on the march.  They won’t win every seat that they are targeting, but they will win some that nobody expects them to win.