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OFF TO THE RACES

Ready, Aim, Fire, Repeat

It's Democrats Bearing The Brunt Of Voters' Anger Today, But An Impatient Electorate May Have A New Target Next Time

Relax, Democrats, this isn't just another Charlie-predicts-the-apocalypse-for-Democrats-again column.

Maybe I'm right and this will be a very, very ugly year for Democrats, or maybe I'm wrong. After all, there are a lot of political scientists, pollsters and analysts who also know a lot about politics and many are smarter than I am. Perhaps they will be right, that this will be a really bad year for Democrats (everyone agrees on that), but not a horrific one. We'll find out soon enough.

 

But stepping back, whether or not Democrats hold onto their House majority by a sliver -- say, five or six seats -- and hold their Senate losses to five seats or so, the fact is that after just four years in power, congressional Democrats are in trouble.

This is something that Republicans should be thinking about too.

For four decades, up until the Republican Revolution of 1994, Democrats held a majority in the U.S. House, and for 34 of those years, they also held a majority in the Senate. Basically, in good years and bad, voters elected Democratic majorities. Then, in 1994, voters threw Democrats out and put Republicans in, and they held that majority in the House for 12 years, before being equally unceremoniously dumped from power in 2006. Now, just four years later, Democrats are at great risk of losing their majority again. Even if they don't lose their majority, they won't keep it by much.

 

Can you see a pattern? A 40-year run for one party followed by a 12-year run for the opposition party, then a four-year run that will either be cut short or very nearly cut short. The circle is getting tighter and tighter and spinning faster and faster. Voters are demonstrating an impatience that they didn't use to have.

Is it that we live in a society that features short attention spans and demands immediate gratification? Or is it that voters are just growing increasingly fed up with our political process and their tolerance has grown thin? My money is on both, but more of the latter than the former.

Average Americans have lives, and the vast majority of them have concerns and interests that go far beyond politics and the ideological and partisan food fights that people in the business dwell on. But even the people who are not glued to political talk shows, and who don't read newspapers or watch television news, have a sense that the system isn't working and hold a growing mistrust of elected officials from both parties.

I average about 250,000 miles of air travel and visit several dozen states a year. In addition, as part of my job, I pore over mounds of polling data. It's pretty clear to me that this sentiment is pervasive in every corner of the country.

 

That is why this is something that Republicans should be thinking about too. In 2010, they will be the beneficiaries of this political environment -- my hunch is that no more than one incumbent Republican in the House or Senate will lose re-election this November. But like the proverbial dog chasing the car, catching it presents another problem. If Republicans manage to win 218 House seats in November, they will no longer be the beneficiaries of this anger and impatience.

The most recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey should grab the attention of those of us inside the Beltway. The poll of 1,023 adults, which had a 3-point error margin, asked whether or not a series of words or phrases described officials in Washington. When the phrase "honest" was offered up, only 22 percent said that word described officials in Washington, while 75 percent said it did not.

The same question was asked in September 1994, right before another tidal wave election, and even then, the numbers were somewhat better. At that time, 22 percent said honest described officials in Washington, while 65 percent said it did not.

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The survey two weeks ago also gave respondents three choices and asked which was closest to their view. While just 5 percent agreed with the choice "our system of government is broken and cannot be fixed," 81 percent picked "our system of government is broken but can be fixed," while an amazingly optimistic 14 percent opted for "our system of government is not broken."

There is a lot of anger out there toward Washington, the federal government and the political process that is ready to be aimed at whichever party is in power at a given moment. Republicans felt the full wrath in 2006 and 2008 and, if I'm not wrong, Democrats are about to feel it.

And if Republicans are fortunate enough to win a majority in the House, they will have to figure out how to deal with that, as they will then share in the power and responsibility that goes with it, starting in January.

Until something is done, we might simply have entered a time of enormous political volatility, a time when whichever side controls the gavel and possesses the power has a political target on its back, even more than has historically been the case.

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