Still More Punditry: The Massa Situation

I don't buy the notion that first-term Representative in a tough district is automatically in trouble. If they were smart enough and tough enough to win in the first place, the skills they used don't evaporate overnight. Eric Massa won in 2008 because he worked hard, raised a lot of money, and threaded the needle on some important issues. The same strategy can work in 2010.

Let's start with hard work. Since he was a tireless campaigner, it's not surprising that Massa's kept his grueling schedule as a Member of Congress. Almost every weekend is full of in-district meetings and appearances. He has a weekly radio show. His three district offices were opened and staffed quickly, and his press operation inundates the local media with information. Massa's even found time to use his EMT training after witnessing a car wreck.

As for fundraising, Massa's on track to raise millions. His decision to start accepting corporate PAC funds will make his fundraising easier. Tom Reed might not like it, and he's made a few noises about it, but I doubt this will be a major campaign issue, since Reed will need PAC money to launch a credible bid against Massa.

The big issue of 2009 was healthcare reform, and Massa's consistent opposition to the House bill has worked pretty well for him. His performance at the August town hall meetings was energetic and tough. He didn't convert any teabaggers, and they made a lot of noise, but Massa's opposition didn't give them much leverage to oppose him. If the healthcare bill passes, Massa will have gotten the best of both worlds. He will have kept his campaign promise to support single-payer healthcare, without the damage that comes from supporting the mediocre result of a bunch of industry-driven compromises. If the bill doesn't pass, I think Massa will be in for more heat, since there are a lot of center-left Democrats who want reform started with the best compromise available.

Massa's opposition to the bill puts Tom Reed in a tough spot. He can call Massa a "socialist" for supporting single-payer healthcare, but with single-payer off the table, Reed can only criticize Massa for how he thinks, not how he voted.

The rest of Massa's important votes are a further study in walking a razor-thin line. Massa supported almost every appropriation bill except for the war supplemental, and he opposed raising the debt ceiling. Massa's position is that we should pay for domestic spending by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One might want to argue with the details of Massa's stand, but at least it's internally consistent and fiscally responsible.

So far, Reed's attacks on Massa's appropriation and war positions have been completely ineffective. His position that further stimulus should be rejected is simply political suicide. He's also resorted to tired "cut and run" rhetoric when discussing Massa's war position. That just gives Massa an opportunity to highlight his military service.

In general, when Reed answers a foreign policy question, he rattles off a set of talking points. Massa gives a nuanced and well-informed position statement. Reed will have to hit the books hard if he doesn't want to be demolished in the Fall debates.

As for "hot button" issues, a couple of Massa's votes have thrown a little water on possible special interest fires. He voted for guns in national parks and against cap-and-trade legislation. The only vulnerability that I see is his vote against the Stupak amendment, but he's always been a solid pro-choice candidate, so that vote is unlikely to change any of his constituents' minds.

Finally, Massa's voting record is nothing if not independent. Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama do not agree with some of Massa's most important votes, and attempts to portray him as a party yes-man will fall flat.

This post is starting to sound like a fan letter, but I really can't see much to criticize in Massa's first year. He's simply an astute and effective politician. He's got another year of hard work and tightrope walking ahead, but at the moment it looks like he has a good shot to win in November.


I think Massa has done a much better job of putting himself in position to get re-elected than any number of southern blue-dogs in redder districts. Plus, NY-29 won't be as effected by the likely reduction in minority turnout for 2010 relative to 2008 as many other places (ie. the south).

Agreed. The recent southern retirements and party switch illustrate that it's tough for a Democrat in a southern district that isn't majority minority.

Welcome back! And Happy New Year~! Did you happen to catch Massa on MSNBC last week, calling for V.P. Cheney "to just go away"?

Yep - pretty classic Massa on display.