The National Education Association distributed its election post-mortem to its activists last week. As you might imagine, NEA’s score was pretty good: union-recommended candidates won 14 of 21 gubernatorial races, 14 of 15 U.S. Senate races, and 18 of 25 targeted U.S. House races.
The union deployed 67 staffers in 26 states, sent 188 different direct mail pieces with a combined distribution of 3.6 million, and racked up 28,000 hits on its member-only, political action web page.
But there was one statistic that NEA disaggregated that was worth further examination. Of the 27 NEA-recommended Congressional candidates who were Republican incumbents, 26 won. There’s a lot of meat there, so let’s cut it open.
The first thing it shows is that NEA is formidable when protecting incumbents, of either party, and on a par with other special interest groups when it comes to capturing open seats or defeating incumbents.
NEA donated 12% of its PAC money to Republicans this cycle, which is higher than usual. But a quick examination of the recipients shows no money going to Republican challengers (it’s possible I missed one, so I’m willing to be corrected). So the second lesson is that even if you are a Republican who supports NEA’s agenda, you need to be elected first, before you start to see any support.
The results of the 2006 elections, coupled with the close margins in races where the Republican held on, will prompt some interesting choices by NEA for 2008. The union worked closely with the Republican Main Street Partnership during its years in the congressional wilderness, but many of the Main Street members were the very ones who drowned in the Democratic wave: Senator Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), and Representatives Charles Bass (N.H.), Nancy Johnson (Conn.), Sue Kelly (N.Y.), Jim Leach (Iowa), Curt Weldon (Pa.), and others.
If NEA’s crystal ball had been clearer, would the union have donated $10,000 to incumbent Republican Jim Gerlach (Pa.), who eked out a 3,000 victory over Democrat Lois Murphy?
When 2008 comes around, NEA will want to defend its new 2006 incumbents, plus pick up additional seats for the Democratic majority. Where will these seats come from? From conservatives in gerrymandered safe districts? Or in the remainder of the GOP-held seats in blue areas, most likely to contain NEA-favored Republicans?
With a Democratic Congress, NEA’s entire calculus changes for 2008. The ones who will get run over during the change in direction are the Republicans who are closest to NEA now.