Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Point of No Return

I was listening to some political pundits discussing the midterm elections the other day, and I wondered something.

At which point do we acknowledge what everyone seems to know but relatively few are willing to admit — that the midterms are going to be bad for Democrats?

Some people insist on drawing a line between bad and very bad. While I am not exactly inclined to designate degrees of bad, there is — and always has been — a way to distinguish a bad outcome from a very bad outcome. Bad is when you do not achieve your goal. Very bad is when you not only fail to achieve your goal but your adversary does achieve his. The Democrats' goal in 2014 is to take the House from the Republicans. The Republicans' goal is to take the Senate from the Democrats.

And, as I observed a few months ago, for Democrats to win control of the House, they need to take 17 seats from the Republicans. The constituencies of House districts are more compact — and easier to predict — than statewide constituencies, and nearly all districts are predisposed to vote one way or another — until the next census makes redistricting necessary. It is why I am 100% certain that, although House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was beaten in the Republican primary, the district will remain in Republican hands. The mood among the electorate in 2014 is not anti–incumbent; it is anti–Democrat.

If voters really were in an anti–incumbent mood, we would be seeing more congressional incumbents lose on both sides of the aisle.

It's been clear since March — when Democrats lost a special House election in Florida — that their 2014 objective simply was not going to happen. But still they nursed the hope that they could do well enough to turn the midterms into a no–win for everyone.

Here we are, roughly four months from the election, and nearly all political observers see Democrats making few, if any, gains in the House, where they are already outnumbered by 33.

That could change, of course. Four months can be an eternity in politics. But, barring a major event, it seems very unlikely that anything will change.

Bad outcome for the Democrats. Plan B = avoid a very bad outcome.

To keep it from becoming a very bad outcome, the Democrats must focus all their attention and resources on denying Republicans the six Senate seats they need to win control of that chamber. To do that, my guess is that Democrats will need to resort to negative campaigning.

It is going to be a tall order. My guess is that Democrats will find ways to blame the immigration crisis on Republicans — even when the Republican in the race is not the incumbent — and they will try to whip up anger over secondary — and, in some cases, nonexistent — issues. Because the biggest problem Democrats face in this year's Senate races is the fact that so many are in Democrat hands.

This is the crop of senators who were elected six years ago when Barack Obama won his first term as president. Remember the atmosphere? The economy imploded in September 2008, and Democrats seized nine Senate seats from the Republicans, winning an outright majority for the first time in 14 years.

Two years earlier, when George W. Bush's Republicans lost control of both chambers, most polls showed Bush's approval numbers in the upper 30s and low 40s.

Obama's numbers have been hovering in the low 40s for months now. Will improved jobs numbers help the Democrats? Or will the Benghazi hearings — and further revelations about the IRS, VA, NSA, etc. — erode any political gains the Democrats might enjoy?

That would almost certainly increase the problems for the Democrats, who are already fighting an uphill battle with a metaphorical avalanche coming down around them.

When do we reach the point of no return?

No comments: