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OFF TO THE RACES

The Dominant Narrative

Things Would Have To Change In A Big Way For Democrats To Reverse Their Fortunes For November

Regular readers of this column know that for over seven months, I have argued that because midterm elections are referenda on the party in power, Democrats have big problems going into 2010. The American people continue to be exceedingly unhappy with the way things are going in this country, and especially with Washington politics.

Voters believe the jobs situation is poor and blame President Obama and Democrats for not having focused more on the economy. In part, because Democrats have devoted the lion's share of their messaging efforts on health care, their focus and primary concern was on an issue not perceived by many to be directly related to the economy and jobs.

 

And according to a Pew Research Center report released last week, their efforts on the economy are seen as ineffectual.

These factors, combined with the traditional preference for divided government over one-party control, suggest very large losses for Democrats this fall.

This is reality, not perception, and for Democrats to avoid major losses, the reality has to change.

 

Whether Republicans can take control of the House in November is a close call.

I see it as more likely than not to tip to Republicans, which is a call many people in my business, for whom I have enormous respect, are not willing to make just yet.

There will likely be heavy Democratic losses in the Senate, as well, but not enough for Republicans to take control; it's more likely they'll gain between six and eight seats. However, with 22 Democratic and 10 Republican seats up in 2012, and 20 Democratic and 13 Republican seats up in 2014, there will be more targets for the GOP as they look to take control in the near future.

As everyone knows, though, things could change in the six months between now and the election -- as many Democrats seek to remind me.

 

But, at this point, things would have to change dramatically to save Democrats from some very significant losses. The trajectory or the narrative of the election would have to profoundly change from where it has been and where it still is. And, with each week that goes by, there are no clear signs that the direction this election seems to be going has altered. It still might change, but it hasn't thus far.

A recent Gallup report, which reflected interviews with 5,490 registered voters between April 1 and April 25, asked the generic congressional ballot question. The poll showed those surveyed preferring the GOP at 46 percent and those preferring Democrats at 45 percent. Among those "very enthusiastic" about voting, Republicans had a 57-37 percent advantage. This reflects those people most likely to vote in the traditionally lower-turnout midterm election. The poll has a 1-point error margin.

That same Gallup survey also showed that young people -- voters ages 18-29, a key source of votes for Obama in 2008 -- were much less enthusiastic about voting than older voters. This could be a major problem for Democrats in turning out the vote.

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This is the reality, not the perception, and for Democrats to avoid major losses, the reality has to change.

It's always important to question one's assumptions -- the "if I am wrong, where am I wrong" examination.

The news this Saturday that a car bomb had been planted in New York's Times Square on a busy spring evening should be a bone-chilling reminder that a "Black Swan" event could always happen that would turn everything upside down and fundamentally change the dynamics of the election.

Without knowing the specifics and the circumstances, conjecture on what the implications are is meaningless, but it is important to remind ourselves that some huge and awful event is always possible.

More down to earth is whether Republicans find some way to seize defeat from the jaws of victory. Some seem to believe that there might be an issue or thematic self-immolation that will bring down the GOP, such as if they are perceived as defending Wall Street or if they trigger an uprising with Hispanic voters as a response to Arizona's new immigration law. I don't see any of those things moving numbers yet, and am focusing more on the possibility of the new rising populism and hard-edged conservatism.

This, driven in part by the Tea Party movement, could help nominate Republicans who are simply too far from the general election mainstream to capitalize on what should be a great year for the GOP, or it could fuel independent or third-party conservative candidates who would siphon support out of the Republican column in November. Upcoming Republican primaries in Arizona, Indiana and Kentucky, along with the state GOP convention in Utah, will give some important clues as to whether Republicans are seeking to nominate pragmatic, mainstream and highly electable candidates or whether the party is in a primal scream phase, one that could result in potentially self-destructive party behavior.

From this vantage point, the anti-Democratic, anti-party-in-control-of-Washington narrative seems to be the most dominant storyline. But it is important to look for any competing ones that could alter where this election seems to be heading.

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