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Why GOP’s Mississippi House loss resonates

This latest loss for the GOP makes the House 236 Democrats to 199 Republicans.  Can cash and campaigning stop the bleeding come November?

Stunning? Only if you haven’t been paying attention in recent weeks.

Sickening? Yes, if you are a Republican.

That about sums up Tuesday night in Mississippi’s First Congressional district.

In a special election, Democrat Travis Childers defeated Republican Greg Davis in a district which had long been a GOP stronghold and where only three years ago, George W. Bush had won 62 percent of the vote.

Republicans ran ads linking Childers to Democratic presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Obama gloated a bit on the campaign trail in Michigan Wednesday. “Look, they (the Republicans) just lost yesterday in the heart of Mississippi…. this is a hardcore Republican seat. And they lost it by eight points."

The Republicans, he said, "did everything they could, you know they ran ads with my face on it, and they said, 'look at this former liberal,' his former pastor said offensive things, I mean they were trying to do every trick in the book to try to scare folks in Mississippi. And it didn't work.”

In turn, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee distributed one flier accusing Republican Davis of links to the Ku Klux Klan, which he heatedly denied.

Childers, a conservative Democrat who called himself “pro-life and pro-gun” in his advertising, won 54 percent of the vote. Now, he'll join his similarly minded neighbor, Rep. Don Cazayoux, a newly minted Louisiana legislator who won his spot on May 3.

Not as bleak for GOP as 1983
Once Childers takes the oath of office, the party division in the House will be 236 Democrats to 199 Republicans.

Want to look on the bright side for those 199 Republicans?

Consider that things are not yet as bleak as they were in 1993 during Bill Clinton’s first term as president. That's when there were only 176 Republican members of the House. And it's still not as bad as it was in 1983, when a recession helped drive House Republican membership down to 166.

DCC chairman Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland celebrated Tuesday night's victory by contending, “There is no district that is safe for Republican candidates because President Bush’s failed policies have hurt every community in America.”

Hyperbole, perhaps. But if it’s an exaggeration to say that there’s no congressional district that is safe for Republican candidates, the question remains: which districts are safe?

Of the 199 districts they now hold, which of them can Republicans safely assume they'll hold on to? Can they then turn their attention and resources to seats where GOP incumbents are in peril?

At this point, it appears there’s little that could go amiss for Democrats as they aim to expand their majority.

Corporate K Street interests, trial lawyers, and labor unions are allied in richly funding the Democratic Congressional Committee, which now holds a huge cash advantage.

Political actions committees ranging from the electrical workers union to the employees of Bear Stearns and Pfizer have filled the DCCC coffers.

Huge cash advantage for Democrats
The cash-on-hand disparity is now better than six to one: about $44 million for the DCCC to $7 million for the Republicans, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign finances.

The job of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is to recruit House candidates and shore up incumbents who are in trouble.

Republican strategist Jason Roe, who has managed or consulted in some very tough congressional races, including Rep. Peter Roskam's 2006 contest in Illinois, said the NRCC will have to ration its money and not spread it widely over too many races.

“It’s better to pick a couple of places where they can have an impact with the limited resources they have,” Roe said.

The NRCC can hope that outside allied groups like the fiscally conservative Club for Growth “can pick up some of the slack,” Roe said.

Roe suggested that perhaps this year the Club for Growth will buy TV ads supporting some beleaguered incumbents that it helped elect, such as Rep. Tim Walberg, R- Mich. and Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R- Colo.

Frank admission of failure
NRCC chairman Tom Cole admitted failure Tuesday night in the case of Davis’s defeat in Mississippi.

“Republicans made a major effort to retain this seat,” he said, but “we came up short.”

Cole said “Republicans must be prepared to campaign against Democrat challengers who are running as conservatives, even as they try to join a liberal Democrat majority.”

He contended that “the Democrats’ task will be more difficult in a November election,” due to the likelihood of Obama being the Democratic presidential nominee.

Meanwhile, House Republican incumbents could face tough veto override votes in the coming weeks.

Bush has threatened to veto the farm bill (which includes a $10 billion increase in funding for food stamps, school lunch programs, and food banks for the poor) and the foreclosure prevention bill, on grounds of excessive cost to the taxpayer.

Democratic strategists will portray Republicans who back Bush on these bills as insensitive to the plight of hungry people and those about to be foreclosed out of their homes.