The current debate among pundits regarding the GOP’s chances to take control of the House and make sizable gains in the Senate is both important and completely not important.
It is important because the perceived chances of a GOP takeover in the House and a much better ability in the Senate to check the Dems agenda will continue to result in strong recruiting, improve fundraising, and motivate the grassroots.
(For the record, I do believe our opportunity to make significant gains is real. We might win the House back, and we might not. Even if we don’t win it back this year, we will make significant gains.)
However, the debate is NOT important to campaigns from a messaging standpoint. While that message can fire up the base for November, there are LOTS of messages that keep an already fired up base engaged. The challenge is, the GOP taking control of the House really isn’t a big deal to swing voters.
From a math standpoint, we can’t win many swing districts without winning a healthy margin among Independents. Independents are flooding back to the GOP for a lot of different reasons. The primary reason Independents are moving back to the GOP is that they are concerned about fiscal issues. Another is the unchecked power that one party has right now. Independents are moving our way on issues, not because of inside baseball.
The broader message used by Republican candidates is a simple one — focus on the economy, spending, the growth of government, and an increased focus on national security. It is a message of change — one which provides a check and balance on the overwhelming dominance that the Democrats have in Washington — a dominance they are using to recklessly spend, increase the reach of government, and tell us the War on Terror is really just a sideshow to getting other countries to like us more by blaming America for everything, and then paying billions of dollars in aid.
(Obviously, in addition each campaign will have specific elements to its message based on your own background/record as well as the contrast with your opponent’s record.)
It’s important for Republican candidates to have a plan of what they would accomplish, but it is more important to keep the focus on the Democrats’ expensive schemes. Off-year elections for Congress are referendums on the party in power.
So, GOP candidates should not get caught in the current DC debate. Anyone who tells voters that “a vote for me is a vote for GOP control” is making a mistake. Instead, we need to make the case that Washington is running amok, and there needs to be a check and balance.