Dick Morris has an interesting column on the potential for a Democratic rout in 2006. He’s personally predicting that the Democrats will retake Congress (which I’m doubting, and given his track record seems dubious), but he also makes some very salient observations about political polling:

Despite the promptings of pollsters, voters do not focus on congressional or even senatorial races until much later in the process. Beforehand, they watch and listen but do not collect their thoughts or correlate their overall partisan inclinations with the votes they must cast in their own specific race. That thinking takes place only at the end.

To understand it, think of sports fans. Those who follow football avidly probably can handicap the Super Bowl on the first day of the regular season. But those who pay little or no attention have no idea what is going on. But on the day of the Super Bowl, everyone — fan or not — knows who is playing and likely knows some of the subplots the media have invented to hype interest in the game.

If the election were tomorrow, the GOP would be screwed. Fortunately, the election isn’t tomorrow, and the campaign season hasn’t begun in full yet. It won’t be until late August/early September that people start really paying attention to Senate and House races (if then). Polling now gives some idea of who begins from a position of strength, but they don’t have much predictive value for how the race will end.

Still, the Democrats are motivated by their abject hatred of Bush, and the GOP is deeply divided. The only saving grace the Republicans have is that they’re running against the most irresponsible group of Democrats in modern history. At the end of the day, it’s not good enough to bitch and moan about the current leadership – a party must have real ideas. The Republicans in 1994 had a comprehesive Contract with America that provided a realistic alternative to the Clinton-era status quo. The Democrats have no such thing, and to get into policy details would fracture their coalition. What can they say, we want socialized healthcare, higher taxes, and surrender in Iraq? That may appeal to the 20% of the population that belongs to the hardcore left, but it doesn’t have much appeal outside that group.

It is quite possible that the Democrats could take Congress, and the lack of Republican leadership makes that all the more likely. I don’t believe it will happen, but the GOP needs to act like it will unless they get serious about enforcing this nation’s immigration laws, cutting spending, and speaking out for our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The GOP leadership hasn’t been leading, and with the fate of the United States and Iraq hanging on what happens next, that lack of leadership will get people killed.

8 thoughts on “Wipeout?

  1. In the rare moments that Morris isn’t obsessively playing Ahab to Hillary Clinton’s Moby Dick, he makes some cogent political observations. Here I think he’s right on the money, but am skeptical about the prospects of a Democratic takeover of either House. I go back and forth on this because for every bad development for Democrats (Francine Busby throwing away a freebie in CA-50, the party’s clueless association with Bush and McCain over a disastrously-flawed and unpopular immigration bill), they come back with positive developments at the horse race level, such as primary victories for Jon Tester in Montana and James Webb in Montana, both of whom are stronger candidates than were the favored establishment candidates they upset in the primaries. This week, I’m more optimistic about the Dems’ chances than last, but they still have alot to overcome on a path to victory, and little margin for error in a party that is addicted to political mistakes.

    For Morris to outright predict that the Democrats will win BOTH Houses kind of undermines the credibility of his article because the Dems need to win six seats and lose zero if they are to win back the Senate. That means holding off vigorous GOP challenges in Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington; scoring a royal flush in the five most vulnerable GOP-held seats in Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island; and pulling off at least one longshot upset in either Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, or the almost completely out-of-reach Nevada. While I’m confident the Dems will hold the five seats they’re playing defense on, I’m very skeptical of Sherrod Brown’s chances in Ohio despite a Survey USA poll showing him leading by nine points and I’d say the Dems chances of picking off either Jim Talent or Lincoln Chafee are at best 50-50. At this point, the possibility of a longshot upset seems best in Virginia as I can’t imagine Harold Ford winning in Tennessee given not only the GOP tide he’s swimming against there but also the logistics of his specific race where the Memphis-based Congressman essentially has to win over all of the other eight districts in TN to win. The immigration issue will work against both Claire McCaskill and Harold Ford. Ford is hawkish on the issue, but will have to defend himself against Ted Kennedy’s position. Overall, I wouldn’t give the Dems more than a one-in-25 chance of winning back the Senate.

    There is no reason at all why the Dems shouldn’t be able to win back the House, but here is where they seem the most vulnerable in regards to immigration since the House GOP can convincingly campaign on the theme that the only thing preventing the ridiculous McCain-Kennedy bill from becoming law, and thus foisting and additional 120,000 impoverished immigrants on our communities EVERY MONTH, is the House remaining in GOP hands. Considering that Karl Rove, a proponent of the guest-worker apartheid, will again be the architect of the GOP election strategy, it’s unclear whether the Republicans will be shrewd enough to nationalize the elections on this theme, but if they do, even immigration hawks running as Democrats in the South will be rolled. And this is where the Democrats’ biggest problem comes in. Many of their first-tier and second-tier prospects are in blue districts or soft red districts, but just as many are in districts just as red or redder than CA-50. The slightest trend against them nationally will be fatal in multiple districts.

    That’s why my revised theory on the House is that in the northeast, the Dems will make substantial gains, winning back two or more seats in New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, with the strong possibility of another gained seat in both New Hampshire and New Jersey. As for the rest of the country, they’ll probably suffer a net loss if the immigration issue is exploited the way it easily could be. Democrats like Heath Shuler, Ken Lucas, and Brad Ellsworth, along with incumbents such as Jim Marshall and Charlie Melancon, would probably win their respective races under normal conditions, but if they have to run against their party’s support for guest worker programs, they will get rolled.

    If the immigration issue dies down, the Dems probably will take back the House. If it doesn’t, they’ll fall a handful of seats short.

  2. Democrats come out with an agenda this week. I think there was a press conference about it yesterday. Sounds like your theory is in trouble.

    Democrats don’t take either house November.

    Ellsworth is to the right of Bush on immigration. If immigration is the issue, Ellsworth is a big winner.

    I want you to be a Republican strategist against me some day.

  3. Seth, I assume you’re talking about me since you reference my mentioning Brad Ellsworth, and if you had read anything I’ve written over the three years I’ve been posting here, you’d know I’m as far from a Republican as anyone on the planet. But I can usually recognize political folly when I see it, and the immigration platform most Democrats are embracing will be a political trainwreck. The only thing saving the Democrats from themselves is that the nation’s top Republicans, George Bush and John McCain, hold the same position Ted Kennedy does. However, if the House GOP nationalizes the campaign theme that “we’re the only thing stopping amnesty and guest worker programs from becoming a reality”, they make a compelling case to a wide cross-section of voters not to let the Democrats take over the House.

    Brad Ellsworth may very well be to the right of Bush on immigration, and I’d guess that Jim Marshall and Charlie Melancon are as well, but that will only help them if the Republicans don’t nationalize the issue as a wedge against the still-unpopular Democrats AND the newly-unpopular Bush….and frankly they’d be fools not to nationalize the issue considering its widespread potency. Being personally pro-life and hawkish didn’t help Brad Carson last year in Oklahoma. When forced to run against the national Democratic party platform rather than his Republican opponent, voters rejected him by a double-digit margin. The same thing could easily happen to Middle American Democrats no matter how averse they are personally to Bush-McCain-Kennedy-endorsed immigration policy.

  4. Mark,
    I have not read anything you’ve written here over the past three years.
    The problem is not that the Democrats don’t have a message, the problem is that we don’t sell it in a good gimmick like the Republicans do.
    The last thing in the entire world that Republicans want is a bill passed on immigration. The bill will either alienate moderates in November or anger the base. Right now they can rile the base up without defining where the party is on immigration and spew more crap about how they are tough on immigration this fall.
    I agree the Democrats need an image boost in certain places. But 51% of Oklahomans are registered Democrats, 38% are Republicans. The governor is a Democrat. And the state senate is controlled by Democrats. The reason Coburn won is because he ran a better campaign.

  5. “The problem is not that the Democrats don’t have a message, the problem is that we don’t sell it in a good gimmick like the Republicans do.”

    The problem with that is our diverse coalition expects different things from the party. The interests of West Virginia coal miners is decidedly different from those of Portland hippies with a strong environmentalist agenda. And the interest of UAW workers in Detroit couldn’t be further than the Hollywood celebrities buying Toyota Priuses. Boeing workers vs. demilitarization advocates, open borders ideologues vs. low-skill workers competing for jobs with immigrants, Catholics vs. abortion-rights advocates, the list goes on and on. The reason Al Gore and John Kerry’s campaign messages have been so counterproductively broad in the last two election cycles is the same reason why the Dems are having a hard time coalescing on an agenda for 2006 even with the wind at their back…..by moving too strongly in one direction, we risk alienating the other. It’s more of a tightrope walk for us than the GOP.

    “The last thing in the entire world that Republicans want is a bill passed on immigration. The bill will either alienate moderates in November or anger the base.”

    Probably true. The House immigration bill is almost as impractical as McCain-Kennedy, but the GOP holds to it more as a means of creating an effective wedge issue than out of conviction. Sadly, I fear it will work.

    “The reason Coburn won is because he ran a better campaign.”

    I’ve heard alot of things said about Tom Coburn, but admiration for his 2004 Senate campaign skills is not one of them. In the course of a few months, he advocated the death penalty for abortion providers, grumbled about “rampant lesbianism” in Oklahoma schools, and my personal favorite, referred to the people of Oklahoma City as “crapheads”. Brad Carson ran a pitch-perfect campaign for Oklahoma. There was just no way any Democrat was gonna be elected to national office from Oklahoma in 2004.

  6. The Democrats won’t win until they learn to build an effective demon again. Until that point, they will lose.

    Political movements gain their strength from demons, and the GOP has several potent ones at their disposal- Terrorists being the most prominent, followed by homosexuals and “liberals” (whatever that term means anymore. While the Democrats have a slew of them as well, they’re not nearly as effective. Pollution? It worked in the 70’s, when our cities were choked with lead and our lakes were catching on fire, but three decades of effective environmental legislation has “done in” most of the visual pollution, and global warming is too esoteric and distant to really work. The Terrorist demon trumps the Jackbooted Thugs Destroying the Constitution demon, so that one’s a wash. Bush himself? Too weak, too short-term.

    So, any candidates for a good demon?

  7. Here is a demon for you.

    Religious fanatics: Paint fanatical Christians the same a fanatical Muslims. Of course speak the double talk that religions are peaceful and only the fanatics are evil. Try to prove that fanatical Christian elements have the republican party by the tail and thus cannot be trusted. Go just sort of calling fanatical Christians terrorists. Then hope for an abortion clinic bombing or something of that sort.

  8. Micro:

    That one doesn’t work either, because the “fanatics” will shoot back that all Christians are being tarred with the same brush; and in doing so, you manage to alienate the moderate Christians as well. (The liberal and progressive Christians already understand the difference; it’s merely preaching to the choir.)

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