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Status-Quo on Tuesday Good News for GOP

By Stuart Rothenberg

Republicans got some good news Tuesday when they won special elections in Ohio and Virginia to retain two Congressional seats that became open upon the death of sitting GOP U.S. House members.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee didn't seriously contest Virginia's open 1st District, but the DCCC and the National Republican Congressional Committee ended up pouring considerable resources into Ohio's 5th C.D.

Republicans have reason to feel good about holding both seats, particularly given the nasty GOP primary in Ohio 5 and the party's continued problems in the Buckeye State.

Ohio Democrat Robin Weirauch didn't do any better than she did last year even though the seat was open, she was running for the third time, and Democrats tried to tie Republican nominee Bob Latta to discredited former Ohio Republican officeholders.

GOP strategists were successful in turning out Republican voters, some of whom are less than enthusiastic about the President. In other words, the NRCC still knows how to motivate the party faithful.

Democrats can take pleasure that they forced Republicans to spend heavily to defend a solidly Republican district. Part of the Democrats' 2008 House strategy obviously is to force the NRCC to play in as many districts as possible, bleeding the under-financed GOP dry and, possibly, sneaking off with a few extra seats next fall.

The NRCC was able to hold the Ohio district, in part, by outspending the DCCC. It will not be able to do that very often next year. But before you give the DCCC a trophy for forcing the NRCC to spend money on the race, remember that the Democrats just tossed away $250,000 in Ohio 5 and have nothing to show for it.

Unfortunately, the NRCC's post-election press release once again reads far too much into the results in Virginia and Ohio.

"The results of the special elections...are further confirmation of a shifting political environment, an electorate desperate for change in Washington, and a wide-open congressional playing field," asserts the NRCC in its release.

First, let's deal with - and dismiss - the easiest point, that the results demonstrate that voters want change. If anything, the results argue against change, since both districts are reliably Republican and the GOP nominees held the seats.

National polls certainly show that voters want change, and voters in Ohio's 5th District and Virginia's 1st C.D. may want change, as well. But the election results don't show that.

Does the NRCC want people to believe that Democratic victories would have been a sign that voters don't want change? That would not be a credible argument.

The other two NRCC points are more reasonable, but that isn't saying a lot since the first one was so absurd.

In arguing that there is "a wide open congressional playing field," the NRCC may mean that there are lots of seats in play this cycle. There may, in fact, be more competitive seats this cycle than last, but Tuesday's two special elections don't prove that.

Given that GOP special election nominees held reliably Republican seats, all the results prove is that Democrats will have a hard time winning solidly Republican districts next year. That suggests that Democrats aren't likely to gain another 30 or 40 seats in 2008, hardly an earth-shattering conclusion.

Has the landscape changed from 2006? Possibly, since Democratic nominee Weirauch didn't come all that close to upsetting Republican Latta. But let's not go overboard. All we can say right now is that there isn't a Democratic tsunami in Ohio, as some Republicans had worried.

The '08 landscape may indeed be very different from the landscape in '06, but the specials don't offer compelling evidence either way.

The bottom line? Some good news for both parties - and a whole lot of relief at the NRCC. Given the DCCC's effort to swipe a Republican seat in a special election, as well as the damage and bad press a Republican defeat would have brought, the day was an especially good one for Republicans.

Stuart Rothenberg is the editor of the The Rothenberg Political Report, and a regular columnist for Roll Call Newspaper.

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