Published on TheHill.com on September 7, 2010
The magnitude of the catastrophe facing the Democratic Party in the fall elections is only gradually becoming clear to the leaders of both parties. The Democrats will lose both the Senate and the House. They will lose more House seats in 2010 than the 54 they lost in 1994 and they will lose the Senate, possibly with some seats to spare.
In state after state, the races that were once marginal are now solidly Republican, those that were possible takeaways are now likely GOP wins and the impossible seats are now fully in play.
Colorado offers a good example. Betsey Markey was supposed to be a marginal new Democratic member. But Cory Gardner, her Republican opponent, is now more than 20 points ahead. John Salazar, the brother of the Interior Secretary and a well-established Democratic incumbent in a largely Republican district, is now almost 10 points behind his GOP challenger Scott Tipton. And Ed Perlmutter, a solidly entrenched Democrat in a supposedly nearly-safe district, is running one point behind his GOP opponent, the unusually articulate Ryan Frazier (a black Republican with Obama-esque charisma). The Republicans will probably win all three seats.
Or take Arkansas. Blanche Lincoln is clinically dead, trailing John Boozman 65-27 in the latest Rasmussen poll. In the race that was supposed to be close for the open seat in AR-2, Republican Tim Griffin is massacring Democrat Joyce Elliott by 52-35. In the race that was thought to be a likely Democratic win — AR-1, the East Arkansas district — Republican Rick Crawford is running seven points ahead of Democrat Chad Causey. And, in the district that was considered a safe Democratic seat, the home of Blue Dog leader Mike Ross, Republican Beth Anne Rankin is showing surprising strength and may topple her opponent.
In the Senate, Republicans are solidly ahead in Delaware, North Dakota, Indiana and Arkansas. They have good leads in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Washington. The Democratic incumbents are perpetually below fifty and basically tied with their Republican challengers in Nevada, California and Wisconsin. Illinois is tied. Connecticut and New York (after the primary) are in play. That’s a gain of up to 13 seats!
And, then consider West Virginia, where the hugely popular Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin — who boasts of a 70 percent job approval rating — looked like the certain successor to Robert Byrd. But, in the latest Rasmussen poll, he leads Republican challenger John Raese by only 48-41. When 22 percent of the state likes the job you are doing as governor but doesn’t want to vote for you for senator, you are in deep, deep trouble. That’s 14!
Why the disaster? Obama’s poll numbers alone don’t account for it. With a job approval in the low forties, he is not as radioactive as Bush was. He still has a ways to fall to reach those depths. So why the unbelievable wipeout in the congressional races?
Obama has a lot to do with it. But so does Congress itself. With congressional approval at 23 percent in the realclearpolitics.com average, the Democrats in the House and Senate have contributed mightily to their own demise. The Rangel and Waters investigations and the impending decision to let each keep his and her seat does a lot to undermine Congress’ image. So did the deals surrounding health care reform as the public watched sausage being made in Washington. The spectacle of Congress voting on bills the members have not read adds to public discontent.
In most off-year cycles, it is the president’s party that is judged in the voting. But, this year, Congress has been in the forefront of most of the legislation — up to actually writing the stimulus and health care bills — that the body itself is attracting its own negatives. Republican insurgents’ success in derailing incumbent senators in Alaska and Utah attest to the bipartisan nature of the disaffection.
But, for whatever reason, the only mistake either party can make as 2010 approaches is to aim too low. It is not the marginal seats that are in play, it is the safe ones!