The Outlook Dims for Democrats

September 08, 2010

With the midterm election less than two months away, all signs point to a punishing defeat for Democrats in the House of Representatives.

Since July 1, there have been 111 polls released on U.S. House races in 79 districts. Some were commissioned by news organizations; others came from the campaigns themselves or political groups (a detailed list is posted at Ninety-seven polls were conducted in seats held by Democrats while 14 were in Republican districts.

They show that Democratic incumbents trail GOP challengers in 30 districts and are behind in seven of nine open Democratic seats. By comparison, GOP incumbents are ahead in seven of the eight contests polled and Republican hopefuls lead in four of the six races for GOP open seats. If Republicans prevailed in these fights, they would net 34 of the 39 seats they need to win the House.

It could get worse. Of the 36 polls in which Democratic incumbents led, Republican challengers were within three points in 12 contests and within five points in 18 others. By contrast, in the 55 polls in which the GOP leads, the Republican is ahead by more than five points in 36. And in all but two instances in which data are available, the Democrat incumbents are significantly better known than their GOP challengers. As these challengers become better known, they're likely to rise in the polls.

Indiana's second district is a good example. Republican State Rep. Jackie Walorski trails Democratic Congressman Joe Donnelly by only 44% to 46%, according to an August American Action Forum poll. But Ms. Walorski is known by 78% of voters while Mr. Donnelly's name ID is a near-saturation 97%. This is a very winnable seat for the GOP.

On the money front—and despite the Republican National Committee's considerable fund-raising and spending difficulties—the Republican Governors Association has almost twice as much cash as the Democratic Governors Association. In addition, the GOP's Senate campaign committee has achieved parity with its Democratic counterpart and, as Josh Kraushaar pointed out in a perceptive piece in Politico, the GOP's Congressional Campaign Committee has outraised its Democratic competitor over the last four months and is spending more wisely. This led Speaker Nancy Pelosi to write Democratic congressmen who hadn't contributed to their party's election fund, telling them to call her within 72 hours to discuss their plans to give . . . or else.

The Democratic financial advantage is also offset by outside center-right groups. Some (including American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, organizations I'm helping) are raising impressive sums and, as importantly, are working together to expand the battlefield to the GOP's advantage.

Republicans don't necessarily need to match the Democrats' money. Democrats, after all, were outspent in 2006 when they won control of the House. What matters is sufficiency—whether GOP challengers have adequate funds to get out their message.

Democrats are saddled with two signature initiatives—the stimulus package and health-care reform—that are manifestly unpopular. Opponents of these laws are energized while supporters are lethargic.

No Democratic incumbent has run a single ad this summer heralding health-care reform, while several have run ads emphasizing their opposition to it. Praise for the stimulus is rare even from the lips of Democratic candidates. Democrats have passed a lot of legislation but don't want to claim public credit for it.

No wonder. Consider what voters call the election's three most important issues. Republicans are leading Democrats on the economy by 11 points, jobs by five, and federal spending by 15, according to the Sept. 1 Gallup/USA Today survey.

This week, the president is trying to regain the initiative by championing $50 billion in new stimulus spending, temporary business tax breaks, and an R&D tax credit. It won't matter. After Labor Day, voters tend to be highly suspicious, rightly seeing such new proposals as election eve shenanigans. While the surging party wins most of the toss-up contests in a year like this, some Democratic incumbents will survive by spending every dollar they have to make their Republican challengers appear radioactive.

It's not too early to assess the damage done by America's 44th president. He squandered his mandate and the public's enormous good will. He alienated voters and dropped a heavy yoke on his party with useless spending and a shockingly unpopular health-care bill. With pressure mounting and a potentially epic loss looming, Mr. Obama has gone from a commanding, engaging candidate to an arrogant, self-pitying president. It is not pretty to witness.

The first people to pay the political price for Mr. Obama's mistakes will be congressional Democrats, who likely will be swept out of their House majority this November.

This article originally appeared on on Wednesday, September 8, 2010.

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