Word is that Sen. Michael Bennet will accept the position as the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), reuniting there with his old chief of staff, Guy Cecil, who’s now the DSCC’s Executive Director. It’s tempting to conclude that the appointment is largely on the strength of the unexpectedly strong Democrat showing in this year’s Senate elections.
Cecil was credited with having created “the largest gender gap in the country,” here in Colorado, in 2010’s Senate elections. That gap helped ease Bennet over the finish line against Ken Buck, and was predicated on painting Buck as extreme on women’s reproductive issues, and then waiting for him to do something to justify the claim. Cecil never made any secret of the fact that his plan was to reproduce that strategy nationally in 2012, pointing to it in interviews back in early 2012 and at the DNC in September. Bennet himself claimed it would be the Democrats’ path to victory at a speech to the Colorado delegation at the DNC. It certainly appears to have been key to Democrats’ Senate victories on Election Day.
That said, this could end up being a trap for Cecil.
First, while Obama won Colorado this year, he did so without any noticeable gender gap. If anything, it appears that he won men here by 3 points, while tying Romney among women – a reverse gender gap. This was achieved in part by aggressive push-back from conservative women’s groups like My Purse Politics and the Colorado Women’s Alliance. It suggests that perhaps this is a difficult strategy to repeat. There are states that will have 2014 Senate elections that didn’t in 2012, but since this strategy was also adopted by the President’s re-election campaign, voters in those states will already have been exposed to it. The lack of first-time shock value, combined with a determined opposition message, could limit its success in 2014.
Perhaps as important, the 6th year of a 2-term presidency is historically terrible for the party controlling the White House. In 1958, the Democrats picked up an astonishing 16 seats, going from a 49-47 majority to a 65-35 lead, with the addition of Alaska and Hawaii to the union. In 1986, the Republicans lost the Senate, which they had held since the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan. In 2006, the Democrats picked up a net 6 seats (including two independents that caucused with them) to gain control. While the 1986 results could be seen as a regression to the middle for Republicans, with many marginal 1980 pickups reverting to form, the 2006 elections don’t confirm that as a pattern; the Democrats picked up 4 seats in 2000.
Both 1974 and 1998’s numbers were distorted as a result of impeachments; in 1974, the Democrats went from 56 to 60 seats, and in 1998 it was a wash, with no net gain for the Republicans. These results should serve as a reminder that impeachment is a political process much more than a legal one.