At Risk Republicans

By Brian Beutler

You hear a lot these days about how the Obama agenda puts Democrats in conservative districts at considerable political risk. That much is well within the Sphere of Conventional Wisdom. Even if the argument is often correct, though, it’s never really all that well defended:

Nearly all of the 11 Democrats who voted against the economic stimulus package Wednesday had an incentive other than the plan’s hefty price tag: Nine of them hold districts carried by John McCain in 2008….Among the 11 are four freshmen from Republican-oriented districts who narrowly won election in 2008. One of them, Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-Md.), is already facing the prospect of a rematch with a GOP opponent he defeated by less than 1 percent….

Kratovil’s vote came as little surprise to Maryland Democrats, who note that he holds a seat that had been in GOP hands for 16 years.

Of course, one of the nicest ancillary benefits of having a popular Democratic president is that some Republicans Not Named Chris Shays will begin to feel an equal force in the opposite direction. Obama won both Indiana and North Carolina, for instance, and, on a more precise level, he prevailed in a couple dozen swing districts where voters also chose to re-elect their incumbent GOP congressmen. Unfortunately, though, you won’t read a ton of stories about how these at-risk Republicans are taking a huge political risk by trying to block Obama’s agenda: “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is set to launch a series of radio ads targeting 28 Republicans over their opposition to President Obama’s stimulus plan.”


Notice that Rick Klein hasn’t leaped to the assumption that these vulnerable Republicans ought to buck party leadership and do the safe thing. Which is fine. I’m not saying that one frame is correct and one isn’t. I think it’s probably fair to say that more Democrats voted against the stimulus than absolutely necessary, and fewer (zero) Republicans voted for it than a purely strategic analysis would have recommended. Democrats played it too safe and Republicans threw caution to the wind. But if this sort of nuance is just too difficult for the horserace press to deal with — if we’re stuck with conventional wisdom — then at the very least it should hold in both directions.