Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How Bad Will 2010 Be for Democrats?

Over the past few months, we’ve noted some signs of trouble for Democrats across the country - in New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado, and more. Lately there has been a good deal of discussion in the news about the possibility of a 2010 GOP comeback.

It wouldn’t be an unfamiliar phenomenon - midterm elections are often bad for the party in power. In fact, the party in control of the White House has seen a net loss of Congressional seats in (at least) 14 of the last 17 midterm elections.

Politico this morning refers to the landscape as “perilous” for Democrats, suggesting a landslide backlash to the newly empowered party.

…the possibilities GOP officials now imagine are a dramatic shift from the bleak prospects that the 2010 midterm elections presented for the party at the beginning of the year…

…There’s a sense building among Republicans that 2010 is going to be a far better political environment than 2008 or 2006,” said GOP pollster Whit Ayers. “Part of that is because we have a Democratic president and a Democratic-controlled Senate and House that are promoting fiscally dangerous policies for the future of the country. Part of it is we don’t have the burden of Iraq as we did in 2006 and don’t have the economy on the Republicans’ watch as we had in 2008.”

Much of the economic arguments put forward by the GOP do appear to be sticking. Polls show that Americans are becoming increasingly worried about the national debt and the effectiveness of the stimulus package passed earlier this year. Republicans, to the credit of their political savvy, have continued to press on this issue.

In fact, it’s becoming such an effective message for them that the Democratic National Committee is now responding with country-wide ads attacking GOP leaders.

Will it really be that bad for the Democrats next year?

If this year’s state elections in New Jersey and Virginia can offer any insight, the answer would certainly appear to be “yes” - and it’s only becoming more and more evident. Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) is trailing Republican challenger Chris Christie by a 50% - 36% margin according to a Public Policy Polling survey released yesterday.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, state Sen. Criegh Deeds (D-Bath) continues to fall short of the former Republican Attorney General, Bob McDonnell, by something along the lines of three to six percentage points. This comes despite a Deeds lead a little more than a month ago.

And gubernatorial polls across the country seem to favor the GOP for 2010. Democratic governors Bill Ritter of Colorado and Jim Doyle of Wisconsin both have approval ratings in the low 40s and are becoming increasingly vulnerable. Once-popular Democratic governors Ted Strickland of Ohio and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania aren’t doing so hot either. Strickland is neck-and-neck with his GOP opponent for next year and Rendell’s approval rating is in the 30s.

Even in the “super-liberal” states like New York and Massachusetts, the Democratic governors are underperforming in the polls. Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA) is facing a 52% disapproval rating, while Gov. David Patterson (D-NY) is likely to face an uphill battle in a primary, if not a general election as well. (Rumor has it that Rudy Giuliani is thinking about a Patterson challenge - he was reportedly overheard talking about it to Rep. Pete King (R-NY).)

It makes sense too: all of these governors are facing budget crises that came with an unexpectedly strong recession. To make up for the shortfalls they’ve had to cut services and raise fees or taxes - it’s sort of been an impossible predicament for them. State Legislatures may also see some shifts towards more GOP control.

But what about federal races?

The 2010 congressional races might actually be an entirely different story. There's been a strong push to regain seats for Republicans against Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH), Travis Childers (D-MS), Walt Minnick (D-ID), and Harry Teague (D-NM).

They've also been targeting Sens. Chris Dodd (D-CT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Arlen Specter (D-PA) and the open seats in Deleware and Illinois as well.

But despite their efforts, the Democrats might get the best of the GOP.

As Nate Silver wrote on Monday:

The Democrats currently have a 78-seat margin in the House of Representatives. That means they could lose a net of 38 seats (half of 78, less one) and still control a majority of the chamber.

CQ Politics, which does terrific work, has identified 59 competitive races involving Democratic Representatives. Conversely, there are 41 competitive races involving Republican Representatives.

At first, this math looks pretty decent for the Democrats. If each side won one-half of the other's competitive seats, the Democrats would lose a net of 9 seats, and their majority would be reduced from 78 seats to 60…

…Of course, in both 1994 and 2006, the opposition party was tremendously well organized. We've seen nothing as smart as the Contract with America that the Republicans put together before 1994, and nothing as impressive as the 50-state strategy that the Democrats had working for them in 2006. On the contrary, the Republicans have something of a power vacuum and weren't done any favors by the McCain campaign, which put little emphasis on ground game and did not help to develop the party's voter lists. Also, the Democrats have pretty significantly outfundraised Republicans in House races so far, which is a pretty good leading indicator.

In fact, Congressional Quarterly indicates that the Democrats might pick up 3 seats in the House against Reps. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-LA) - who beat the palpably corrupt William Jefferson of New Orleans in a run-off last year - and in two open seats. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is vacating his mildly-Democratic seat to run for Senate while Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA) is leaving his to run for governor.

The toss-ups CQ identifies are Minnick, freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-MD), and the newly open seat of Rep. John McHugh (R-NY) who was chosen by Obama to be Secretary of the Army.

Meanwhile, there are four GOP-held Senate seats that will be open next year: in Missouri, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Ohio - all of which are likely to be competitive. Even if the Republicans manage to pick up a couple of seats (such as those in Delaware, Illinois, Connecticut or Colorado) they’re still likely to be matched - or close-to-matched - with Democratic pick-ups.

So why won’t Democrats do as bad at the federal level?

Despite their gains in convincing the public they’re better at handling wasteful spending and taxes, the majority of Americans still don’t trust the GOP. According to a GWU poll released today, “likely voters in the 2010 congressional elections lean towards the Democrats by 43 percent to 40 percent with 17 percent undecided.”

Among their findings:

Reflecting findings of other polls, 48 percent viewed congressional Republicans unfavorably while 37 percent saw them in a positive light. Democrats were seen favorably by a bare 46 percent to 44 percent ratio…

…Rating congressional Republicans and Democrats on a range of issues, voters trusted Democrats more than Republicans on overhauling health care (51 percent to 30 percent), on promoting energy independence (49 percent to 33 percent), defending middle class values (48 percent to 35 percent), "sharing your values" (42 percent to 40 percent) and honesty (38 percent to 27 percent). Republicans topped Democrats on controlling wasteful spending (41 percent to 33 percent), holding down taxes (53 percent to 29 percent) and promoting a strong national defense (53 percent to 33 percent)…

…The poll said that 53 percent believe congressional Republicans are blocking change and still supporting former President Bush's policies while 41 percent disagreed.

One of the most important findings was that “Fifty-seven percent said Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress should get a year to see if the programs they have put in place really make a difference while 33 percent believe enough time has passed to render judgment.”

In a very similar finding a few months ago, 50% of respondents to one survey said they would give the Obama Administration 18 months for the economy to turn around before judging the effectiveness of his economic policies. Furthermore, the vast majority of economists (about 95%) predict the recession to be over by then.

And that’s just a few months before the 2010 midterm elections.

So don’t be surprised if Democrats lose some gubernatorial offices this year and next, but don’t expect any big Congressional surge for the GOP - at least not yet.

Also, for a great interactive map of Congressional seats up next year, click here.

UPDATE: A new SurveyUSA poll finds Deeds trailing McDonnell by a much more significant margin: 55% - 40%.

1 comment:

Superb Jon said...

AP October 24, 1994, Monday Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani rejected his own party's candidate for governor Monday and threw his support behind embattled Democrat Mario Cuomo's bid for a fourth term. . . The mayor had repeatedly said he was concerned that Pataki's plan to cut New York's state income tax by 25 percent over four years might mean less state aid to the city even though Pataki had vowed that it wouldn't. . . The Republican mayor told the City Hall news conference he was aware he was taking a risk by endorsing a Democrat, but added: "Mario Cuomo will simply be a better governor than George Pataki."

AP August 19, 1994 Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor elected mayor last fall, stood on a stage with Clinton in Minneapolis last week and applauded after the president ripped congressional Republicans who derailed the bill.

AP February 8, 2000 Giuliani has routinely run for mayor with Liberal Party backing. . . "He's wrong on domestic partners, he's wrong on gays in the military, he's wrong on gay rights, he's wrong on rent control, he's wrong on ... we could just go on and on and on," Long said.

AP March 3, 1997 Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who enjoys his role as a tough politician, stunned friends and foes alike as he gamboled before 2,000 people at a black-tie affair dressed as a woman. . . Giuliani called his feminine alter ego "Rudia." Giuliani, running for a second term this year, remarked that he is "a Republican pretending to be a Democrat pretending to be a Republican."

AP June 28, 2001 Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, in an effort to escape the strains of his divorce, has forsaken Gracie Mansion for the refuge of a close friend's high-rise apartment, according to published reports. . . The East Side apartment is owned by the mayor's friend, Howard Koeppel, a [homosexual] Queens car dealer and mayoral fund-raiser

UPI February 24, 1982 Mayor Edward Koch, who now wants to run for governor and will need upstate support to win, says living in the suburbs is ''sterile,'' and rural life is a ''joke.'' Koch made the comments in an interview with Playboy magazine . . . Questioned about time wasted in city subways, Koch replied, ''As opposed to wasting time in a car? Or out in the country, wasting time in a pickup truck when you have to drive 20 miles to buy a gingham dress or a Sears Roebuck suit?''