09.23.10

The Dems Aren't Toast

With the midterms approaching, conventional wisdom has it the Dems will get a 1994-style trouncing. Kirsten Powers on the Democrats’ plan.

The conventional wisdom is that Democrats are in for a shellacking in the midterm elections.

Many are comparing the impending wave to the carnage of the 1994 midterms, where Democrats lost 54 House seats, eight in the Senate, and control of both Houses.

But there are many differences between 1994 and today.

For one thing, barring some sort of freakish event, Democrats are not going to lose control of the Senate as they did in Clinton’s first term.

The dynamics of the election are also different in an important way. Dr. Brian Calfano, a political science professor at Missouri State University, recently explained it like this: “Fully half of the Democratic seats in 1994 were in districts that had voted for the Republican presidential ticket in one or both of the previous two presidential elections. This time, just one third of democratic seats are in that kind of danger. All of this is to say that it remains too early to make any kind of accurate prediction about how these midterms are going to turn out for the two major parties.”

Fast forward to 2010. No Democrat will be caught flat-footed this time around. Democrats from President Obama on down have seen the danger early.

The polls have also started to move Democrats way, and should continue to move their way after the nascent Dem advertising campaigns begin in full swing.

After showing an unprecedented 10 point lead for Republicans on the generic ballot, Gallup’s subsequent polls have tightened, with this week finding Democrats leading 46 percent to 45 percent among registered voters. It is the second week out of the last three in which the two parties have been virtually tied.

Gail Sheehy: Obama’s Ticket Fire SaleAnd earlier this week, Nate Silver suggested in The New York Times that the generic ballots may actually be underestimating the Democrats. In his analysis, Republicans did better when voters were asked if “in general they would prefer to see a Democrat or Republican elected” choosing the GOP by six points – 39 to 33. But when the candidates were named, the gap was lessened to just a two point GOP advantage, 45 to 43. Silver concluded: “This might imply that the generic ballot overestimates Republicans’ standing by about four points, at least in swing districts.

The House, of course, is still clearly in play.

Democrats are also up against a bunch of Mini-Me’s in the House, who are trying in vain to imitate the giants of the 1994 Republican Revolution. John Boehner is no Newt Gingrich, who was supported by savvy lieutenants like Dick Armey and Tom DeLay. Today, the GOP released their Pledge to America, their rip-off of the popular and galvanizing 1994 Contract with America.

For a little comparison, the “Contract” was 869 words and included the signatures of 300 members of Congress, creating some sense of accountability for their campaign promises. The “Pledge” is 21 pages and was described by RedState’s Erick Erickson as merely a series of “ compromises and milquetoast rhetorical flourishes.” The Club for Growth's Andrew Roth was equally unimpressed writing:"I want to like the new GOP Pledge to America.  I want to endorse it, but it's so milquetoast that it proves to me that these guys just aren't ready to lead."

Conservative radio host John Batchelor recently described the current GOP leadership in The Daily Beast as: “lads holding a winning lottery ticket, yet are seeking philosophical reasons for their unearned riches before they cash the check,” and he quoted a “disgusted” GOP member of Congress who described the Republican House as a bunch of “6-year-olds on a sugar high.” As Batchelor wrote: “Boehner and [Eric] Cantor [suffer]…open mockery…from young House members.”

Contrast that with the Democratic leadership, headed by the formidable Nancy Pelosi. One of the most powerful speakers in history, Pelosi is a stark contrast to her 1994 counterpart Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley. Foley was so clueless as to what was about to hit the Democratic Party that he did not even know his own seat was in jeopardy, let alone the Democratic majority.

Needless to say, Pelosi has known for a long time that her majority is in danger and has been taking steps to address the issue. Recently she has given her blessing to conservative Democrats who need to distance themselves from her in their races.

Foley wasn’t the only Democrat who didn’t see the wave coming in 1994. In John Harris’ book, The Survivor, he quotes a conversation between Bill Clinton and Dick Morris in September 1994 where Morris warns the president that he will lose the Senate and the House. Clinton responds: “No way, no way. Not the House, not the House. You’re wrong. You really think so? You’re wrong.”

Fast forward to 2010. No Democrat will be caught flat-footed this time around. Democrats from President Obama on down have seen the danger early.

Part of the reason it was so unthinkable that the Republicans could overtake Congress in 1994 was that they had been out of power for 40 years. Voters had no real memory of how the GOP would lead since it had been so long since they controlled Congress. Today, the days of Republican rule of rising deficits, runaway spending and expanding government, among many other things, are still fresh. If the GOP win control it will not be an affirmation of their party, but a choice between what voters see as the lesser of two evils.

In 1994, Dems had also grown fat and happy from enjoying power for four decades. Many were lazy candidates who hadn’t had a serious challenge in recent memory. The Democratic members of Congress who are battling for their seats today are younger, newer to power and are battle-tested. Many were recruited and trained by Rahm Emanuel.

Which is just to say, they won’t go down without a fight.

Kirsten Powers is a political analyst on Fox News and a writer for the New York Post. She served in the Clinton administration from 1993-1998 and has worked in New York state and city politics. Her writing has been published in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Observer, Salon.com, Elle magazine and American Prospect online.