Sunday, March 9, 2008

Schadenfreude Sunday

It's gotta suck to be Tom Cole. Poor fella heads up the NRCC, and in that capacity he has faced a never ending onslaught of setbacks and negative developments, capped last night with the humiliating loss of Dennis Hastert's seat to a Democrat in the special election for the Illinois 14th.

In less than two years, the two most powerful Republicans in the house - DeLay and Hastert - have not only resigned their seats, but the are now occupied by Democrats. That's gotta sting just a little.

Since September Cole has faced what must seem to him like a never ending barrage of ever-worsening news.

• The NRCC lags behind the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee by nearly $30 million in cash on hand.

• GOP House leadership endured an embarrassing scuffle when Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) tried to fire Cole’s top two staffers, during which Cole threatened to resign.

• There has been a wave of retirement announcements by veteran Republican lawmakers that will force the NRCC to defend what were once seen as safe GOP seats.

Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) was indicted on 35 federal corruption charges, which puts another Republican-controlled district in play.

• And the FBI continues its criminal investigation into a brewing accounting scandal that centers on the former NRCC treasurer’s activities.
With all this bad news swirling about, last nights loss of Hastert's seat to Democrat Bill Foster is a psychological blow that will be difficult to shake off as the election season heats up - and the new Congressman faces the electorate in November with an incumbency advantage. “By itself, this would not be that big of a deal, but coupled with everything else it will just deflate the [House Republican] Conference,” said an aide to one top GOP lawmaker. “And symbolically, losing Hastert’s seat is like the toppling of the Saddam statue in Baghdad for Republicans.”

And it gets better. Cole and company are trying to spin the defeat as resting solely at the feet of the losing candidate, portraying the humiliation as an "isolated incident that is not endemic of further GOP losses in the fall."

But the NRCC spent $1.2 million on the race, and that amount constituted 20% of the cash they had on hand. Repeat that out loud - they spent one-fifth of their cash in a desperate attempt to hang on to the seat - even though they had a bad candidate with a lot of baggage. They wanted it bad, and they were denied.

For my money, the symbolism of a Democrat representing the Illinois 14th is enough to send me into a schadenfreude-induced daze. I am relishing their distress and I do not apologize for this.

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