At the outset of this election cycle, most political analysts did not anticipate a second consecutive big win in November for congressional Democrats for a number of reasons.
First, after voters have punished one party badly, they've usually gotten those hard feelings out of their system and either punish the other
party or revert to a more typical "all politics is local" election. In 2006, Republicans held the presidency as well as the House and Senate. One-party government sooner or later invites an election disaster for that party. But having taken away the Republicans' majorities in both chambers in 2006, why would voters decide to hammer them a second time?
Second, although President Bush continued to have dismal job-approval ratings after the 2006 election and it was hard to see how they would improve much, wouldn't he become increasingly less relevant--to the point of being almost irrelevant by November 2008?
Third, wouldn't at least the congressional side of the 2008 elections be more about Democrats anyway, a referendum on whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and their party were dealing effectively with major national problems? And with the Democrats holding only narrow majorities in both chambers, weren't the odds against their accomplishing much, thus increasing the likelihood that the electorate would turn on them?
Then the analysts' arguments got down to the micro-political level. After losing 30 House seats, wasn't the GOP herd pretty much culled of its weakest incumbents and those who had been serving in the most-endangered districts? Weren't the remaining Republican incumbents in reasonably secure districts? Indeed, weren't there far more Democrats sitting in districts won by Bush than Republicans sitting in districts won by 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry? On the Senate side, other than incumbents Norm Coleman of Minnesota and John Sununu of New Hampshire, were there really many other Republicans who looked particularly vulnerable?
So there were numerous legitimate reasons for doubting that 2008 would turn out to be another big Democratic year. And, of course, we won't know until Election Night whether it will be. But the chances that November 4 will be terrific for Hill Democrats are rising, and the arguments against it are getting much less persuasive. Strong signs point toward a Democratic bonanza.
• Voters are clearly still very upset with Republicans and don't seem to have finished venting their spleens. In a May 13-15 national survey of 1,014 likely voters by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg for the Democracy Corps, Democrats held a 14-point (54 percent to 40 percent) lead on the generic congressional ballot test. When told the likely nominees in a given district, voters still gave Democrats a 10-point advantage, 52 percent to 42 percent. These results are consistent with those from other national polls.
• Antipathy toward Bush has not abated. Indeed, in both this Democracy Corps survey and a recent National Public Radio poll conducted by Greenberg and Republican pollster Glen Bolger, the president's "strong disapproval" rating exceeded 50 percent, a jaw-dropping level of animosity.
• Although Congress has a terrible job-approval rating, this election isn't about it, at least so far.
• On the micro level, things look awful for the GOP. Five Republican senators are retiring while zero Democratic senators are. On the House side, 27 Republicans are leaving voluntarily compared with just eight Democrats. Meanwhile, Democratic House and Senate campaign committees are out-raising their GOP counterparts by astounding margins, meaning that Democrats will be able to pump a ton of money into far more races than the Republicans will.
The GOP's three consecutive special-election losses in heavily Republican districts have been enough to terrify Republican lawmakers on the House side of the Capitol. The fact that eight GOP Senate incumbents are in danger while only one Democratic senator is in any jeopardy, and that former Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, has run 8 points ahead of appointed Republican Sen. Roger Wicker in back-to-back polls, should be enough to scare those Republican lawmakers on the Senate side as well.
In short, Republicans might get walloped again in November. The indications that they will are getting stronger and stronger. And the arguments that they won't are getting weaker and weaker.
This article appears in the May 24, 2008 edition of National Journal Magazine Contents.