What with the close race in MA (hey, if Coakley's staff can't spell it, I'm not even going to try) and now a new and threatening (to the Democrats) prognostication from Charlie Cook, is it time for Democrats to get used to the idea that it's going to be bleak for them this November?
I don't think so. Certainly, this could be a great year for Republicans. But there are still a lot of positives for Democrats.
1. People still don't like the Republican party; that's probably part of why the GOP lost all of the special House elections last year (and this local one yesterday -- of course, if it had been in Wisconsin or Oregon the national press wouldn't have noticed, but still it's not the sort of thing that happens in landslide years).
2. Republicans still are having problems nominating reasonable candidates. My sense is that their recruiting has been strong, but there's a pretty large unknown factor, with Tea Party and other weak general election candidates running in numerous primaries. It's very possible that, outside of the national glare of NY-23, most of the weak candidates will be easily defeated, but I'd have to say that for now, it's an unknown that can only hurt the GOP.
3. For all the hype, the Democrats have not -- to date, and it's getting late -- had very many retirements. Compare this current list to the one from 1994. Retirements promise a good Republican year, but nothing like a landslide (the Democratic spin about total retirements is a bit of a stretch, since most Republicans leaving the House are doing so to seek higher office, not to avoid the voters -- although it does mean their seats are open). Remember, open seats are primarily important because they are open seats, and it's open seats that flip most often; they're only secondarily important as a signal of elite political thought about the electoral environment.
4. And here's the big one: Obama just isn't unpopular. Gallup today has him at 50% approval, which is basically where he's been (I think low 47, high 52 in the last few weeks). I'm assuming we're about to get a bunch more soundings in a week to coincide with his one year mark...Gallup may be a bit high, but he's not below 45% as of now. This tells us, however, relatively little about where he'll be this summer and fall. For that, the important thing will be events -- the economy, mainly, but also Afghanistan, Iraq, terror attacks, and who knows what other issues. The good news, I think, for Obama and the Dems is that (at least as I read the polling) he's mainly being hurt by the economy. If the pessimists are correct and we're heading for a double-dip recession, then, yes, the Dems are in huge trouble. If, however, the recovery has begun and will continue throughout the year, then there's every chance that Obama will be riding much higher by summer than he is now. The point is that there's very little evidence that people (outside of the Republican base, of course) have just dismissed him -- just as people had not dismissed Bill Clinton in 1994 or Ronald Reagan in 1982. If the things people don't like now (mainly the economy) improve, his approval rating will revive.
Charlie Cook is good; I'm a big fan. But he's basically taking a straight-line approach, and it's still a bit too early to do that; in fact, there's some reason to believe that Obama is at or near a low point now, and as low points go it's not all that bad. If I had to bet now, I'd be with Cook and say that the Democrats supermajority in the Senate is toast, but if you gave me odds, I might bet on things to go the other way. In the House, it's a lot more certain that the Republicans will have gains, but still too early, in my view, to guess whether it'll be in the 10-20 range or the much more impressive 30-40 (or more) range. Sometimes, the best prognostication anyone can give is: wait around and see.