Thursday, October 7, 2010

Editorial: The Difficulty in Facing November

Summary: Dave speaks to the fears that Democrats have moving forward.

Taking a look at this blog, comparing this year’s posts to last year’s posts, you can see a burgeoning trend.

Whereas last year I commented much more on Tea Parties, day-to-day embarrassments for the GOP, and Obama’s job approval ratings, I’ve now started talking more about things like the effectiveness of campaign ads and the British elections from earlier this year.

It’s because I’m finding it harder and harder to speak of good news for the Democrats going into November’s midterm elections.

It’s not difficult for Democrats to feel a bit frightened right now. Even those who (unlike me) can’t ignore the topic altogether -- those who work on Democratic congressional campaigns at the moment -- are still doing their best to practice cognitive dissidence. It’s the only way to proceed and do their jobs without falling apart emotionally.

But like all Democrats, I have to confront this fear for the moment, and speak to the reality of the political environment.

November 2, 2010, is going to be a bad day.

I’m not going to say we’ll definitely lose the House of Representatives, and I actually doubt we’ll lose control of the Senate. But I will say this much: don’t expect a terrific Congress or terrific state governments next year.

I look toward my own state, Wisconsin, as a golden example of this reasonable pessimism.

Here in the Badger State we have a governor’s race, U.S. Senate race, and two Congressional races that could easily flip their respective offices from Democratic to Republican.

We cheeseheads have proudly gone blue in the past five presidential races, two gubernatorial races, and eight U.S. Senate races. Our Congressional Delegation, State Senate, and State Assembly all have Democratic majorities.

Yet the model statesman we have always been most proud of -- Senator Russ Feingold -- is currently trailing a millionaire GOP insider named Ron Johnson by a 52%-41% margin.

The Congressional seat held by retiring Appropriations Committee Chair Dave Obey is leaning Republican. Another seat -- held by Democratic Dr. Steve Kagen -- is considered a “toss up” in the midst of a race against a Republican businessman who moved to the district (only a matter of months ago) specifically to run for Congress.

Our Governor’s mansion is also at risk of going to Tea Partying Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker -- a man notorious for flip-flopping and lacking in anything that resembles an intellectual capacity.

Why? One simple reason: the economy is bad right now.

It doesn’t matter what party screwed the economy up, nor does the fact that the same party has no real ideas to solve the problems they complain about.

As political scientists (Niemi and Weisberg, Nadeau and Lewis-Beck, Miller and Shanks, Lodge and Steenbergen) have pointed out for decades, people blindly vote against incumbents when the economy is bad. And for the past few years now, the economy has been really, really bad.

That is the nature of the problem: voters will treat 2010 like a referendum and not as a choice between leaders and their ideas.

Democrats have tried to explain to voters how they should not treat this election as a referendum. But this argument can, in practice, only limit the inevitable damage.

When this election is over, there will certainly be things the Democrats did wrong that we can point to, trying to explain our failures (after the election, I plan on writing an extensive piece on the abysmal failure that was OFA). But most of the problem really boils down to factors that are out of our control as Democratic campaigners.

So until then, let’s do all we can ever do in these scenarios, a plan of action I have come to learn well as a political operative…

…brace for the worst and hope for the best.

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