Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C. is promoting on television today and tomorrow his longshot bid for Democratic House Leader. He’s very unlikely to win, but I wonder what he’s up to. A few thoughts:
1) Most House Democrats who hold reasonably competitive districts were defeated this year. That guarantees the party is going to be something of a fringe-fest for the next few years. Shuler’s quixotic bid for Minority Leader is a smart attempt to distance himself from that. If Democrats return Speaker Pelosi to the leadership after suffering a 60-plus seat loss in the House, it is a real sign that they have learned nothing and are satisfied to be an ideologically pure minority.
2) Republicans will be redistricting North Carolina next year. When they draw the lines, they might want to consider what Maryland Democrats did to former moderate Rep. Connie Morella, R-Md., ten years ago. They couldn’t make her district much more Democratic (it was already deep blue), but they were able to push her over the edge by giving her a large number of Democrats who had never voted for her. With sufficient creativity in remapping, Shuler could lose tens of thousands of sympathetic Republican voters to Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., and inherit thus suffer the same fate.
Assuming he loses, Shuler will find himself at odds with his party’s leaders for some time. (If by some miracle he wins, he will either have to tack left or else fight his entire caucus for two years.) It’s not completely unreasonable to ask whether Shuler could switch parties. Then again, there will be a governor’s race in North Carolina in 2012. The Democratic incumbent is deeply unpopular, and Obama’s re-election will surely create a high-black-turnout situation that is favorable to Democrats, whether Obama actually carries the state or not.
So Shuler might feel like an endangered species right now, but he has a lot of options, and a lot of ways to win.