Monday, September 28, 2009

What Awaits Democrats in 2010

In recent months, as the Obama administration clearly has been emphasizing health care reform and de–emphasizing job creation, I have stated that I believed Democrats were setting themselves up for midterm losses next year similar to the losses they experienced in 1994.

Relax, writes Ed Kilgore in The New Republic. It ain't gonna happen.

That must come as a relief to some Democrats, who were feeling anxious that Barack Obama was duplicating the mistakes from early in Bill Clinton's presidency. Whew! Now they can get back to being complacent.

Not so fast.

I understand Kilgore's logic. But I think that he gives too much credit to the fact that far fewer House Democrats who represent essentially Republican districts are retiring than was the case in 1994.

And he doesn't give enough credit to the fact that the electorate is likely to be dominated by older white voters, a demographic that is "famously skeptical of Barack Obama."

Oh, he concedes that older white voters "almost always make up a larger percentage of those who go to the polls during midterm elections than they do in presidential election years." But he doesn't really address the fact that Democrats aren't likely to benefit from voting blocs that usually don't participate in large numbers but were attracted to Obama and were instrumental in his election in 2008 — black voters and young voters and liberal voters. Obama will not be on the ballot to lure them back to the polls in 2010.

Nor does Kilgore allow for the fact that, after two humbling election defeats, Republicans are likely to be energized next year while Democrats are likely to be, as I said before, complacent. That surely was the case in 1994. And Republicans are sure to be energized by a bruising battle over health care.

In general, I think Kilgore makes some good points, but his conclusion — that Democrats will experience a "cyclical turnover" of about 10 seats in the House — is too optimistic.

I agree that 2010 probably won't be an exact repeat of 1994, but it's going to be more like it than Kilgore thinks. The average midterm loss in House races for a party in power is more than twice what he anticipates, and losses on that scale will change the legislative reality for Democrats in the last half of Obama's term in office.

I don't think Democrats will lose control of the chamber, but their margin will be much smaller than the forecast Kilgore presents — as comforting as it may be to Democrats to believe the "cyclical turnover" theory.

No, I don't think 2010 will look like 1994. I think it probably will look like 1978 — when Democrats lost ground in Congress but kept their majorities. It was two years later when the Democrats lost the White House and the Senate.

Many things could happen between now and the midterm elections. But, with each passing day, it becomes less likely that anything will.

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