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The Smart Play

One of the more frustrating experiences I suffer every election cycle as a political pundit/consultant is hearing GOP candidates tell me how “vulnerable” certain Democrat incumbents are who back up their assessment with nothing more than “feelings.”

In fact, there is a time-tested formula – which I believe was originally developed in Texas – that uses objective historical voting data to determine the actual chances for a Republican to defeat a given incumbent Democrat. I taught the “Optimal Republican Vote Strength” (ORVS) calculations in detail to the folks who attended last night’s grassroots training workshop at the Bootlegger.

For those who missed it, the concept is simple enough:

You look at the percentage of the vote the worst-performing Republican has received in a given district (the base vote), as well as the percentage of the vote the best-performing Republican in recent elections received. You then calculate the percentage of the vote a reasonably solid GOP candidate can expect to receive assuming he or she will pull 2/3 of the “swing” vote between the worst- and best-performing Republican candidates.

Without going into detail on how to assess the chances for Republican victory for all of the numbers, suffice it to say that any district with an ORVS number below 40 is mission impossible. IM-POS-SI-BLE. There’s a better chance of me winning Miss Congeniality in the Miss America pageant.

For example, let’s consider Congressional District 1, currently represented by Democrat Shelley Berkley.

The worst performance recently by a GOP candidate was in 2008, where the Republican chalked up a whopping 28 percent of the vote.

The best GOP performance in CD 1 also occurred in 2008, when Republican presidential candidate John McCain pulled in an earth-shattering 34 percent of the vote.

Does any local Republican mulling a race in this district next year – anyone at all – actually think they can pull in a ton more votes than the party’s presidential nominee was able to garner in the last election?

In fact, the ORVS number for this race is: 30

No way, no how, short of a miracle of epic proportions, does a Republican beat Shelley Berkley in this district next year. Period. Exclamation point.

And party leaders and donors would be insane to waste one dime or one minute trying to do so.

Instead, Republican challenger John Guedry absolutely, positively has a chance to beat Democrat Rep. Dina Titus in the 3rd Congressional District next year. How do we know this? Because until last year, the seat was held by a rather non-exceptional Republican for six years, that’s how.

The GOP party brass, donor community and grassroots activists should pour every dollar and ounce of energy into doing that which is possible, rather than that which is impossible. That means loading up on CD 3 and all but completely ignoring CD 1.

There are, of course, some Republicans who believe the party should equally support all Republican candidates running for office. Those Republicans are, of course, dead wrong.

That said, if some Republicans want to waste their own time, money and energy running against Shelley Berkley next year….hey, have at it. But don’t expect the rest of us to be enthusiastic or supportive of such a quixotic campaign. We have a winnable race to win.

It’s the smart play.