In '08, Democrats Aim to Conquer the Cul-de-Sac

By Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray
Sunday, March 11, 2007

House Democrats are already gearing up for 2008, and they are eyeing suburbia as fertile territory for more pickups to increase their gains from November.

"Democrats are perceived to be much more attuned to the concerns suburban voters have now," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.). He declared that his party has led on issues of prime importance -- such as college costs and education in general -- to suburbanites.

That issue palette, which was condensed in the Democrats' "Six for '06" agenda, led to party pickups in nine substantially suburban districts: Arizona's 5th; California's 11th; Colorado's 7th; Florida's 22nd; New York's 19th; Pennsylvania's 4th, 7th and 8th; and Texas's 22nd.

Van Hollen acknowledged that the poisonous political environment for Republicans last fall played a large part in turning over many of these seats, but he believes that long-term trends suggest "there's more of a pattern to this."

According to national exit polls, Democrats won the suburban vote 50 percent to 48 percent in the 2006 midterms, after losing it in the past two presidential elections. In 2004, President Bush carried the suburbs 52 percent to 47 percent; four years earlier, he won them 49 percent to 47 percent.

Exit polls also show why any shift in the suburban vote will be crucial to both parties' electoral calculus in 2008. In 2000, 43 percent of the national vote came out of the suburbs, a number that grew to 45 percent in 2004 and 47 percent in 2006. Given that trend line, it's not unreasonable to think that half of all the votes cast for president in November 2008 will come from the suburbs.

Is Van Hollen right or overly optimistic?

Maybe a little of both. Recent elections do suggest that the suburbs have become more competitive between the two parties, as areas once considered appendages to big cities have begun taking on personalities all their own and attracting former urban dwellers.

But a midterm election is not a presidential election, and 2006 was not an average election. The true test of the extent of Democratic gains comes in 2008.

Table Talk

Top campaign operatives representing each of the Democratic presidential candidates broke bread together late last week at a dinner organized by the Democratic National Committee.

At the meeting, described as a "social" gathering without a specific agenda by one source familiar with the details, DNC Executive Director Tom McMahon and Chief of Staff Leah Daughtry briefed the campaign managers on a variety of topics, including the committee's national voter database project and its work to beat up the potential Republican nominees through research and press releases.

The topic of debates also arose, according to another informed source, with McMahon and Daughtry taking the temperature of the group about a series of DNC-sponsored gatherings beginning later this spring.

What we wouldn't give to get our hands on the seating chart for the dinner. Were Patti Solis Doyle (manager for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton) and David Plouffe (manager for Sen. Barack Obama) on opposite ends of the table? Inquiring minds want to know.

Five days: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) gases up the "Straight Talk Express" -- again. The maverick-turned-mainstreamer hops aboard his famed bus for two days in Iowa and then two more in New Hampshire.

202 days: Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), above, has said he won't make any decision on a presidential bid until after Sept. 29. Does his admission last week of an extramarital affair during the late 1990s move that timetable up or scrub it entirely?

© 2007 The Washington Post Company