Can Coats Be Replicated?
A cast of insiders are running in critical races for the Republican Party this cycle, and Democrats, feasting off a very solid pre-decisional dunking of Ambassador Dan Coats, the former Senate-cum-Senate candidate from Indiana, are hoping to replicate the process elsewhere. But it won't be that easy: Coats has unique vulnerabilities, and the DSCC was able to exploit the fact that it took Coats about 24 hours to hire a press secretary to exploit them. (It is also hard to imagine a more damaging bit of oppo than the YouTube recording of Coats suggesting that North Carolina was better than Indiana...)
Still -- the events show that the Democrats can be aggressive and quick and that their frontal assaults can work to soften Republican candidates. It fortifies those within the party who want the campaign committees to attack NOW -- and not wait for later. And it helps their cause that the GOP roster includes folks whose vulnerabilities as Washington insiders or lobbyists can be built over time.
In Missouri, Senate candidate Roy Blunt is to Washington insider like Sammy Davis, Jr. is to rat pack. Here, though, Blunt's insider-y-ness is kind of built into the price of his stock. Missouri knows what they're getting with Blunt -- someone who can play the DC game to their advantage. That said, if independents are truly independent in November, and if they turn out, Blunt will not win their hearts or minds without a big fight.
In Ohio, Rob Portman leads his Democratic challengers. He is also a verified, registered-trade-marked Washington insider who was very close to President Bush and help design the President's economic policies. But the DSCC and Democrats have been so far unable to squeeze him into the Bush-Cheney economic frame. They're trying. In Pennsylvania, it behooves Democrats to remind Pennsylvanians that Pat Toomey was the head of the Club For Growth, which Dems will label a special interest group (it is) and Toomey will label a group that fights against taxes (true too.) He's also a former member of Congress. He's leading the current very Washington-y senator-party-switcher Arlen Specter and Specter's new-to-Washington primary opponent, Joe Sestak.
In Connecticut, former Rep. Rob Simmons's claim to fame is that he's a former member of Congress. Generally well-liked, though. Dick Blumental, the front-runner, is a crusading AG type.
In Delaware, it's going to be hard to portray Rep. Mike Castle as an insider -- though, to borrow Ezra Klein's television metaphor, it's not that you have to outrun the bear, it's that you have to outrun the other guy.
The likely Democratic challenger is most definitely not a creation of Washington. If contrasts really matter -- if generic affiliation with Washington really matters, then Democrats will find a way to make this seat more competitive. In Illinois, the Democratic nominee may have too many ties to Chicago machine politics; the Republican, Mark Kirk, has Washington baggage. Not sure which is worse in this environment.
In Arkansas, Democrats have their best shot to Washington-ize the likely Republican nominee -- although the GOP field is crowded with more tea partiers than a luxury London hotel. John Boozman has been in the House leadership for ten years and was close to the Hastert-Blunt axis of power.