Washington Prowler

Saved by Foley

Why Democrat hit squads dropped the big one early.

By 10.10.06

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One of the stories going around Democrat Party circles is that party operatives like Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and American Family Voices weren't quite ready for primetime with the opposition research materials they had gathered for the 2006 election cycle.

According to one political consultant with ties to the DNC and other party organizations, "I'm hearing the Foley story wasn't supposed to drop until about ten days out of the election. It was supposed the coup de grace, not the first shot."

So why the rush? According to another DNC operative: bad polling numbers across the country. "Bush's national security speeches were getting traction beyond the base, gas prices were dropping, economic outlook surveys were positive. We were seeing bad Democratic numbers in Missouri, Michigan, Washington, Arizona, Florida Pennsylvania, even parts of New York," says the operative. "A month before, we were looking at launching an offensive against Republicans who according to polling barely held a five-seat majority if the election were to be held at the end of August. That was doable for Democrats from September 1 to November 7. But by mid-September, Republicans were back to having held seats for a 15-seat majority. In the Senate, it looked like a wash. We held seats in Florida, Nebraska, picked up seats in Pennsylvania, but that that was about it. They were holding in Missouri and possibly within reach of Maryland and Washington. We were looking at a disaster in the making."

So how to remedy? "You pull out the bright shiny things that distract the average American voter away from the issues we all know they care about -- national security, anti-terrorism -- and focus on the ugly: Foley and Iraq."

"Republicans had to have known we'd be looking to change the national debate," says a House Democrat leadership aide. "You had our leadership looking at cratering polling numbers. A majority within grasp wasn't drifting away, it was being yanked back by Republicans. I wouldn't be surprised if Foley had to be bumped up on the scandal schedule. That makes a lot of sense given where we were two weeks ago, and where we are now."

Conventional wisdom had Republicans seeing improving numbers in races across the country throughout the month of September after Congress spent the month of August home campaigning in their districts. But some Republicans don't disagree that the polls were improving that dramatically. "I've seen some of the polls and I don't buy into the notion that we were making up tons of ground in a lot of these races," says one GOP political consultant. "Some of the underlying data led me to believe that the polling was somewhat flawed, and that this was a lot of spin to re-energize a base that was growing disenchanted."

What no one disputes, however, was that the GOP was sensing some wind at its back and reinvigorated base with Bush on the stump, and Congress quietly at home not creating any more messes for the media to hit on. Now, of course, the Foley story has left a far bigger mess a month out of Election Day than anyone had expected.

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