But there isn't as much time as they want to believe.
As you have probably noticed, politicians like to use sports analogies. You will often hear them say things that suggest a struggling campaign is at halftime or gaining momentum for a fourth–quarter comeback. A candidate who forces a heavily favored opponent into a runoff may say that the race has gone into overtime.
Continuing with such an analogy, most Democrats who must face the voters in 2010 will tell you that, if this was a football game, we haven't even had the opening kick yet. But this game's farther along than they would like to think. And they're losing. Big time.
A political rule of thumb is that voters' attitudes about the party in power and its handling of the economy and foreign affairs and, well, everything harden about six months before the election. After that, very little — short of the Second Coming — will alter those perceptions.
I resisted that nugget of wisdom when I studied political science in college, but my observations since then have convinced me it is true.
So, for Barack Obama and the Democrats, the window of opportunity is not the 54 weeks that remain until the midterm elections of 2010. It is roughly 28 weeks.
If unemployment isn't going down by May 4 ...
If real health care reform — not the watered–down kind that Obama, in his wishy–washy appeasing way, is willing to accept — isn't enacted by May 4 ...
If it isn't clear that America is removing its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan by May 4 ...
And if all the other promises that were made have not been kept by May 4 ...
Democrats can kiss their huge majorities in Congress goodbye.
Do I think they will lose their majorities? At this point, it is hard to say. But I do believe they will be dramatically reduced.
In the Senate, it will be possible to derail Obama's proposals with filibusters. All it will take is the loss of a single seat.
Don't think it can happen? Three Democratic senators who represent states that voted for John McCain in 2008 will be up for re–election in 2010 — and that doesn't consider Democratic incumbents who are facing electorates that have been hit especially hard by unemployment (i.e., Barbara Boxer in California) or who are unpopular for other reasons (i.e., Harry Reid in Nevada and Chris Dodd in Connecticut).
Now, before I proceed with this, let me say that I don't think Boxer is in serious trouble right now. A recent poll suggests that she is "comfortably ahead of her Republican opponents," writes Joe Garofoli in the San Francisco Chronicle.
"But Boxer, who was viewed unfavorably by 70 percent of the Republicans in the survey ... does not have an easy path to victory," he writes. "The support of barely half the voters 'is not great' for an incumbent, Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said."
I can almost hear the protests from Democrats: But this is California we're talking about — the state that hasn't voted for a Republican candidate for president since 1988. That's true. But a recent poll showed that only 34% of Californians approve of the job House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has done.
California is the largest state in the nation. It has huge employment and budget problems. Pelosi's job performance may only be of concern to people in her district, but the poll results imply the serious problems many incumbents will face in California next year. If the speaker of the House — a left–leaning Democrat from left–leaning San Francisco — gets a thumb's up from slightly more than one–third of the state's voters, how will they vote when Boxer's name is on the statewide ballot?
If things don't get better, the unemployed across the nation will be very unhappy in 2010. Unhappy voters are not stupid. They know that the bad things began when George W. Bush and the Republicans were in charge. But they already punished the Republicans last year. They will be unhappy if they see no evidence that the people who were elected to clean up the mess have done so.
And they will take out their frustrations on the incumbents.
"Remember the fierce urgency of now, the audacity of hope and change we can believe in? Even passing unemployment benefits became a life crisis for politicians in a town that gets little done.
"There is pain and suffering in the heartland but little urgency, audacity or change in Washington. Democrats move from being rolled to giving in.
"Do–nothing Republicans, acting like they are bought and paid for by the status quo, are joined by a handful of Democrats who negate the 2008 election.
"The public burns, Washington fiddles, the president campaigns, Congress dithers, Democrats waver, Republicans obstruct, business as usual continues.
"The result is a Golden Age for Wall Street bonuses, a Gilded Age for insurance profits and a Grapes of Wrath for American workers."
It's "showtime for Democrats," Brent Budowsky writes in The Hill. "If the president fights as he promised to fight, and Democrats stand as they promised to stand, we will make some history. Nobody will ask whether the president is tough enough for the job."
Right now, there are a lot of questions. Obama and the Democrats have until May to provide satisfactory answers.