Time for the Pundits to Take a Deep Breath -- Why Democrats Will Not Be Routed In November

In 1994 Democrats were caught flat-footed by the GOP onslaught -- completely unprepared to mount a defense. This year there is a danger that the opposite will be true -- that fear and defeatism turn into self-fulfilling prophesies.
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Two years ago today, just two months before the 2008 Election, John McCain led Barack Obama for president in the compilation of national polls assembled by Pollster.com. The Democratic polling project at Democracy Corps had McCain up by two points. As everyone knows, on Election Day Obama beat McCain 53% to 46%. A lot can change in 56 days.

Time for the pundits and prognosticators to take a deep breath. Despite all of their dire predictions of Democratic demise, the Republicans have not yet seized control of either chamber and I, for one, predict that they won't any time soon.

Democrats will certainly take losses in the coming Midterms. But the odds are good that they will emerge from the elections with working majorities in both houses.

No one doubts that pulling the economy out of the massive ditch into which it careened under George Bush has, and continues to be, a Herculean task. It is, of course, a task that has been made much more difficult by the virtually unified opposition of Republicans to Democratic initiatives to energize the economy. Two years of economic pain have made voters unhappy.

And this difficulty is compounded by the natural tendency of voters to turn out Members of Congress from the President's party in the first Mid-term after his inauguration.

However, six major factors will work to limit Democratic losses.

1). The voters do not view Republicans as the answer to America's problems. And in fact, a late August NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that they actually have a less favorable view of Republicans than Democrats.

It is true that only 36% viewed Democrats positively compared with 43% who view Democrats negatively. But a mere 30% view Republicans positively compared with 43% who view them negatively.

In the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, voters were split down the middle (43% to 43%) as to whether they preferred Republican or Democratic control of Congress. There is every indication that this will be the Republican high water mark as voters begin to focus in on the race and Democrats begin to introduce them -- and their beliefs -- to their Republican opponents.

2).The Republicans' major institutional allies are viewed with even more approbation than the Party itself. The economy has made voters sour on elites of all sorts. They are furious with Wall Street (10% positive to 53% negative), Corporate America (12% positive to 42% negative), and the Health Insurance Industry (12% positive to 56% negative).

If Democratic candidates do their job of connecting their Republican opponents with their base constituencies, their support will plummet.

The critical issue for Democrats is to establish that they are populist outsiders, not elitist insiders. That dynamic is much more important in the coming election than whether a candidate is a Republican or Democrat.

3). There is not a large-scale inclination among voters to reject progressive-Democratic values and adopt conservative-Republican values in their place. When the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll asked if Government should do more, or whether it is doing too many things, voters divided evenly 47% to 47%. When presented a core Democratic and core Republican message, the same number of voters (25% ) found the Democratic message very convincing as those who found the Republican message very convincing.

4). Elections are not simply referenda on the state of the country or the economy. They are choices between two candidates. In a generic context, voters can be angry and dismissive about a current officeholder if they are unhappy with the current state of their lives. But if Democrats do their jobs right, each race will be turned into a choice between two living, breathing people. The more that voters focus on the Republican alternative, the less abstract that choice will become -- the more they will become acquainted with the qualities of the alternative. Whereas once they might have been happy to throw the incumbent out, they will become increasingly focused on the fact that he or she will be replaced by someone else who has negatives of his own.

Voters cast their ballots for people - not concepts. One of the big advantages for Democrats this cycle is that many Republican nominees are politically inexperienced radical extremists whose views -- once voters learn them -- are completely outside of the mainstream of American politics.

The best known are Tea Party-Republican Senate candidates like Sharron Angle in Nevada who wants to replace Medicare with vouchers for private insurance, Rand Paul in Kentucky who opposes the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Joe Miller in Alaska who wants to phase out Social Security, and then there is the potential nominee in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell, who opposes masturbation.

And there are many lesser-known House candidates who are just as extreme in their views - and who have no economic program other than the proposals that were put in place by President Bush, that yielded the worst economic collapse in sixty years and cost eight million Americans their jobs.

Some of the positions these candidates take are downright radioactive. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 21% of voters were either totally enthusiastic or comfortable with privatizing Social Security, whereas 68% were either very uncomfortable or had some reservations about it -- a difference of 47%. And feelings were intense. Forty-nine percent said they felt very uncomfortable about privatization, while only 9% were enthusiastic.

As they come to know these people -- and their views, and other negatives that will be exposed in the course of the campaign -- many of voters who might have considered voting against a Democratic incumbent in the abstract will reconsider.

What's more, many Democrats begin with sizeable positives with voters that they have developed over many years of constituent services, and personal relationships.

Republicans were almost certain they would take the southwest Pennsylvania 12th CD in the special election last May after longtime Congressman Jack Murtha died. But in the end Democrat Mark Critz defeated Republican Tim Burns 53% to 46% -- largely on the strength of the personal relationships he had developed over years of working on the Murtha district staff.

You see the same thing in many districts that are in play - or were expected to be in play - this November:

  • Democrat Mike Arcuri in NY-24 leads Republican challenger Richard Hanna by 13 points in a Benenson Strategy Group poll.

  • Congressman Tom Perriello - who represents the tough VA-5th CD that went heavily for McCain -- is tied with his Republican rival.
  • Representative Larry Kissell of North Carolina -- who was considered a political dead man walking -- leads Republican challenger Harold Johnson by 12 points in a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll.
  • An Anzalone Liszt Research poll shows Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is leading Republican challenger Kristi Noem by 9 points in South Dakota, where Social Security has emerged as a big issue in the race.
  • Democrat Travis Childers leads his challenger Alan Nunnelee by five points in Mississippi's conservative 5th CD.
  • A Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll shows Democrat John Adler leading his opponent, John Runyan, by a whopping 17 points.
  • A Lake Research Partners poll shows Oregon's Representative Kurt Schrader leading Republican Scott Bruun by 11%.
  • North Carolina's Heath Shuler leads his challenger by 17% in western North Carolina's 11th CD.
  • Alabama's Bobby Bright leads Republican Martha Roby by 9% according to Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.
  • A Garin-Hart-Yang Research poll shows Chad Causey in a dead heat with Republican Rick Crawford to win Northeast Arkansas's 1st CD.
  • Democrat Rick Boucher of southwest Virginia leads his opponent by 23%.
  • And Jason Altmire of western Pennsylvania leads Keith Rothfus by a massive 27% according to Anzalone Liszt Research.
  • In some districts Republicans are hampered by late primaries. In Wisconsin's 8th CD, for instance, Republicans will battle until next week to decide who takes on Democratic Congressman Dr. Steve Kagen. Kagen has had a well oiled campaign operation in place for months and a sharp populist message that resonates with the sprawling Greenbay and Appleton based district.
  • Democrats will also likely capture a number of formerly Republican and open seats in November.

    • Democrat Dan Seals leads his Republican opponent Robert Dold by 13% in the Republican seat left vacant when Republican incumbent Mark Kirk decided to abandon his suburban Illinois seat to run for Senate.

  • Democrat Joe Garcia is poised to win Florida's 25th CD after incumbent Mario Diaz-Balart decided to run in a neighboring seat after his brother Lincoln decided to retire from the seat. Garcia made a strong challenge to Mario Diaz-Balart last cycle - and has a well-organized campaign with a robust field operation. What's more he faces an opponent who has been accused in a police report of running a direct mail delivery truck off a busy expressway to prevent it from meeting a mail deadline at the post office. It seems that the mail he did not want delivered, in a previous campaign for State Assembly, accused him of domestic violence.
  • In Illinois 13th CD, Democratic challenger Scott Harper is given a chance to beat long-time incumbent Judy Biggert, who has soft support among the suburban district's voters. A Global Strategies poll shows Biggert an early favorite, but after one comparative paragraph describing the two candidates, Biggert falls behind and never catches up.
  • In New Orleans' predominantly African American 2nd CD, accidental incumbent Joseph Cao, who came to office after Congressman Bill Jefferson's conviction in Federal Court, will almost certainly be defeated by Democrat Cedric Richmond.
  • Many pundits have written off the rest of Louisiana where Barack Obama did not score well in 2008. But Ravi Sangisetty may prove them wrong in Louisiana's 3rd CD, where the combination of a large African American population and white Democrats is more than adequate to allow him to succeed, Democrat Charlie Melancon, who is now running for the Senate. And while polls show Melancon behind incumbent Senator David Vitter, recall that the sitting Senator has spent more than a little time explaining proclivity to utilize the services of prostitutes.
  • 5). The enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats will almost certainly narrow.

    Many commentators point to the "enthusiasm gap" that indicates that Republican base voters are more likely to turn out than Democrats. That gap will narrow as it becomes increasingly clear to base Democratic constituencies what is at stake in the election.

    Progressives will become more and more engaged as they understand the consequences of a big business, radical right victory in the fall.

    African Americans will be especially energized by the attack on the first African American President.

    Hispanic turn out will be turbo-charged by the outrageous disrespect shown the Hispanic community by Republicans who propose the elimination of the 14th Amendment to keep Hispanic children from becoming citizens -- and the "papers please" law passed by Republicans in the Arizona legislature.

    Young people will step up as they see the specter of the Empire Striking Back.

    And turnout will be boosted by far superior Democratic Get Out the Vote operations being mounted by the Democratic Committees.

    6). Democratic Campaigns will be better organized and in many cases have more resources.

    Under Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee is a mess. While the Republican Senate and House Committees are better organized, both have been hamstrung by their dependence on the RNC.

    The Democratic National Committee has been well managed and includes Obama's Organize for America (OFA) operation that has been systematically reaching out to first time Obama voters for months.

    The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has one of the best field operations in years and is staffed with highly-skilled political operatives.

    The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is also well organized and has been blessed with extremist Tea Party candidates that can be introduced in all of their blazing glory to the voters in the 56 days that remain. And in most cases, Democratic Senate candidates have the financial muscle to deliver their message.

    The Bottom Line

    It ain't over 'til it's over.

    While Democrats and progressives have a great deal to do in the next two months; while we should be ever mindful of the tragedy that could befall us if we let down our guard; I believe that Democrats will emerge from the November elections in much better shape than the doomsayers and prognosticators are predicting.

    In 1994 Democrats were caught flat-footed by the Republican onslaught. We were completely unprepared to mount a defense.

    This year there is a danger that the opposite will be true -- that fear and defeatism turn into self-fulfilling prophesies.

    Voters don't support losers. They don't support candidates or parties who are always on the defense.

    To make certain we win this fall, Democrats have to shake off the doomsaying, and take the offensive. If we act like winners, we'll win November 2nd.

    Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.

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