Labor Day is almost here and Democrats are still waiting for the cavalry to arrive. An exhaustive scan of the horizon reveals no rescuers and none of the things Democrats badly need to save them from tough midterm election losses on Nov. 2.
There are few signs of any meaningful recovery, and indeed there is more talk of a double-dip recession, plunging the country back into economic trouble between now and the end of the year. Unemployment seems stuck at 9.5 percent, reinforcing the view that last year would have been better spent focusing on the economy than on health care reform.
Democrats also needed a public re-evaluation of the new health care reform law. They needed the public to decide that it wasn't so bad, that it was a good idea after all. That hasn't happened, as pointed out by the Kaiser Family Foundation's health care monthly tracking poll released this week. Favorable attitudes toward the new law dropped from 50 percent last month to 43 percent this month, and unfavorable views climbed from 35 percent to 45 percent. Twenty-nine percent of Americans believe that they and their families will be better off under the new law, while 30 percent say they will be worse off and 36 percent say it will not make much difference.
An interpretation of what has happened that could be considered extremely charitable to Democrats is that while the nation's economy deteriorated rapidly, President Obama and the Democratic Congress checked the box on the economy with an unpopular stimulus bill and then became obsessed with passing a health care reform package. At best, Americans are ambivalent about that package, and quite a few believe it is horrifically flawed. Unemployment has been above 9 percent for 15 consecutive months, and that number is significantly higher among African Americans, Hispanics and young people, the groups that boosted Democratic fortunes in 2008.
Simply put, Democrats find themselves heading into a midterm election that looks as grisly as any the party has faced in decades. It isn't hard to find Democratic pollsters who privately concede that the numbers they are looking at now are worse than what they saw in 1994.
The race-by-race outlook confirms the dire forecasts. Cook Political Report House Editor David Wasserman points out that at this point, 32 Democratic incumbents are running even or behind their Republican challengers in one or more public or private polls. At this point in 2006, when Republicans lost control of Congress, only 11 GOP incumbents were running even or behind.
Privately, some Democratic pollsters say that they are routinely seeing districts where Democratic incumbents are running only even with relatively unknown GOP challengers. In other districts where the Republican challengers are reasonably well known, the incumbents are often running 5-10 points behind, a rather extraordinary development at this point.
In the Senate, while the odds still favor Democrats holding on to a narrow majority, it is not only mathematically possible for the GOP to capture a majority this year, but it has become plausible. The odds of Democrats capturing even one currently Republican-held seat appear to be getting longer. Meanwhile, Republicans are running ahead or roughly even in 11 Democratic-held seats, one more than necessary for control of the Senate to flip. It's still a tall order but not crazy to say that Republicans will win the Senate.
Congress does not come back to town for two more weeks, but it is a pretty safe assumption that the mood among Democrats will be surly and the fingers will begin pointing. A party has not lost a House majority in such a short period of time in over a half-century. This is not going to go down well.