What We Learned: Year End Edition
As 2011 draws to a close, here's a rundown of what we at The Hotline learned throughout the course of the year:
-- 2011 proved that in a national campaign, the basic building blocks, organization, discipline, consistent messaging and fundraising still matter most. With the repetitive rise and fall of GOP presidential candidates throughout the primary season, we saw time and again what happened to candidates who fell short on one or more of these fronts.
Rick Perry was expected to bridge the divide between social and fiscal conservatives, but minimal exposure on a national platform translated into weak debates and flubs on the campaign trail. Herman Cain was outspoken, but lacked the discipline and organization needed to keep the Republican electorate. Something similar can be said about Newt Gingrich. Mitt Romney's steady effort, while not flashy, has proven to be a solid approach. Fiery rhetoric can fire up the base, but if it is not matched by the other necessary ingredients, it won't be enough.
-- It seems like there were a lot of GOP presidential debates this year, right? In fact, 2011 featured only one more Republican debate than 2007 (there were 12 in 2007 and 13 in 2011). And that doesn't even take into account the additional 12 Democratic presidential debates that aired in 2007. What is actually unique this year is that the number of people watching these debates has nearly doubled. 7.6 million people watched the ABC News debate on Dec. 10 -- a Saturday night -- and 6.7 million tuned into the Fox News debate on Dec. 15, by comparison the CNN debate on Nov. 28, 2007, brought in 4.2 million viewers.
-- After a year of redistricting where over half of the states have completed drawing new maps for 2012, House Republicans appear to be well-positioned to hang onto the majority thanks to some creative effort in key states that protect their most vulnerable incumbents. When all is said and done, Republicans would probably only end up gaining 1-2 seats at most from the redistricting process itself. But it's the gerrymandering in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana that protects a slew of vulnerable Republicans who would normally face difficult re-election campaigns. The average House district in the country will be notably more Republican than in 2010. As our Cook Political Report colleague David Wasserman noted this month, there were 72 Democrats sitting in seats with a Republican-leaning PVI score in 2010; now there are just 21 Republicans sitting in Democratic-leaning seats.
The Cook Political Report's latest ratings list 31 House Republicans as vulnerable for re-election (1 likely Dem, 3 lean Dem, 13 toss-ups, and 14 in the lean GOP category). And there are 23 Democrats in the same categories (5 lean Republican, 8 tossups, 10 lean Democrat). Unless there's a big Democratic wave -- and with President Obama's mediocre-at-best approval ratings, that's a long-shot - winning the necessary 25 seats for a majority is an awfully difficult task. Another statistic to note: Since 1936, no president on the ballot has seen his party net more than 24 House seats in the same cycle.
-- While one narrative this year has focused on the power of outsiders, the major players in competitive 2012 Senate races are mostly establishment insiders. Among the top GOP recruits: former governors in Hawaii, Virginia and Wisconsin; sitting House members in Arizona, Missouri, Montana and North Dakota; and former House members in Connecticut, Michigan, New Mexico and Wisconsin.