Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Time for Dems to Panic about 2010?

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.


  1. The supermajority is gone. Too many risky seats, particularly with Dorgan retiring. I disagree with Nate Silver that Delaware is all that bad; I think Reid is TOAST, though. I count 2 locks for the bad guys and only one good chance (MO) for the good guys. If gumdrops fell from the sky, the FL GOP would implode, and NH would vote their civil liberties instead of their tax bills. But, even if that happened, the Dems have to run the table on a LOT of open seats and a LOT of wounded-duck incumbents.
    The House will depend entirely on the economy. I'm thinking something in the 20s is very possible. But, let's not forget, there's a lot of Dems representing seats that they really shouldn't be able to hold in all but the best (ie, 2008) years. Some of these guys would have lost in a neutral year, but they might have been offset by pickups from GOP retirements out of minority frustration. I think that the "conventional" wisdom of this being a bad year didn't resonate down to politicians when they were deciding whether to shit or get off the pot. In a sense, moving to the permanent campaign has helped the Dems this cycle because their high-quality candidates had to decide to run or not in early-mid 2009, before all this gloom-and-doom set in. My guess is that, if we were to run the models, that 2010 will come off as a slight outlier, in that models with economic effects in them but no candidate quality controls will be off to the GOP side, because the models that predict candidate quality will also be off on the GOP side.

    I've been wondering if 2011 has played a role in this: tamping down a candidate quality differential that might otherwise exist because, at the end of the day, you're just getting a 2-year seat rental out of it. The savvy state legislator might even prefer to REMAIN in the state legislature in order to draw their own ideal district for 2012.

  2. Good point about the census.

    I agree about ND, and most likely about NV. The question is, though, how does the map look if, let's say, there's average 4% GDP growth each quarter from the one that just ended through the end of 2010? That's an optimistic, but hardly unrealistic, scenario. My guess is that Obama would be sitting at high 50s approval then, and the map changes a lot. MO, OH, KY (are people really going to vote for Rand Paul?), and NH are all realistic pickup possibilities, with FL and LA as longshots, if things shake out that way, so it's no longer about running the table. Again, I'm not predicting that...I'm mostly saying that I don't think that the Republicans have locked in any important structural advantage on the Senate side, at least so far.

  3. Problem with FL is candidate..Meek just can't win statewide.
    I think MO and OH are realistic...Fisher is still within striking distance. KY I'm a little less sanguine on. Paul will raise a TON of cash, and get national media coverage. Yes, he's a libertarian, but that lets him be a "conservative" instead of a Republican. BOTH party brands are tarnished these days, and he can benefit from that.

    However, even with a better economy (4% is way high to me), ND is gone, and NV is dicey. The good guys start down 1.5. IF Beau Biden doesn't run in DE, that's 2.5. We'd need to hold NV and pick up both MO and OH to hold serve. If Biden DOES run, picking up ONE of MO and OH is doable.


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