Why I’m skeptical about the Great Democratic Demise

The narrative these days out of Washington is simple: Democrats are in trouble.

The healthcare bill is stalled, tea partiers have eclipsed Obamaites as the grassroots movement du jour, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid is facing the toughest election of his life.

The litany of Democratic woes is punctuated by the stunning victory of Republican Senator Scott Brown, who snagged Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts.

So why am I still skeptical about the Great Democratic Implosion, forecast for November 2010?

The first reason is entirely anecdotal, a gut-instinct sort of thing, and it dates back to last November.

I was at the Hotel Saranac for the inauguration of Conservative Party insurgent Doug Hoffman — the tea party favorite, the Fox News darling — who had shouldered aside Republican Dede Scozzafava.

The mood in the 23rd district was simple: Hoffman was going to win. I thought so, too.

But when I showed up at the victory party that night, I noticed that the room was largely empty.

Where were all the tea partiers? Where were the grassroots folks? I asked a Hoffman staffer and he shrugged nervously.

“It’s a big district,” he said. “They’re scattered around, watching at home on TV.”

But then the polls started coming in and Hoffman faded. He lost to a Democrat, Bill Owens from Plattsburgh.

For the first time since forever, the 23rd district had slipped away from the Republican Party.

What’s certain is that tea party activists — the folks watching Fox and listening to Rush — are furious, noisy and eager for a revolution in American politics.

What’s less than certain is that they’re interested in making that happen at the ballot box in partnership with the GOP.

On the contrary, tea party activists are challenging some of the Republican Party’s most powerful figures — from Ron Paul in Texas to Charlie Crist in Florida to John McCain in Arizona.

Democrats, of course, have their own disarray to deal with, mostly in the form of a deeply disappointed party base.

Progressives are disgusted that President Obama hasn’t done more with his supermajorities in Congress.

That could suppress turnout. But as we look toward spring, the Dems still hold some big advantages:

1. They’re ready for a fight. In 1994, New Gingrich’s crew had won the election before Democrats even suspected they were vulnerable. That won’t happen this time.

2. Democrats have tons of money. Historically, Republicans fare best when they have a huge dollar advantage. But in many races, “vulnerable” Democrats will be able to outspend their GOP rivals.

3. Democrats are still polling at par. Yes, the rah-rah atmosphere is gone. The blush is off the Obama rose. But slightly more Americans still say they want Democrats to win in November than Republicans. 83% of Democrats and 45% of independents still support the Dems. That’s hardly the stuff of full-blown paradigm shifts.

4. Democrats still have time. Pundits generally say that Americans lock in their political views in August, three months before casting their votes. If Democrats can accomplish one or two big things over the next five months, they could shift the mood decisively.

5. Democrats have a fat cushion. Yes, they will lose seats in November. But their current dominance is so great that it will take a huge collapse for the GOP to take power.

So here’s my baseline prediction, which I’ll tweak in the months ahead:

Republicans will win 26 seats in the House, and 4 seats in the Senate.

Ironically, the Democrats who lose will be the more conservative blue dogs — possibly including Harry Reid himself.

Which means that the remaining Democratic caucus could actually emerge from November more unified and coherent than before.

Your thoughts? Post below.


Leave a Reply