Alert reader F. e-mails from the "great unwashed middle of the country":
[S]ince the president hit the trail to gin-up the base, the house has been moving ever more into the red column on RCP. A while back, I thought the blues were going to hang on by making every house race local—not an unreasonable strategy. However, Obama has been out every day reminding those of us in the middle how far to the left he is from where he ran in 2008. He's firming up the wrong base.
Its amazing that the Blues don't understand that all BHO's comments, particularly the punish your enemies meme, are on FOX, talk radio and the Internet. Your trash talk goes right into the other guy's locker room.
It sure seems like there is something to this theory. Name a race where Obama's intervention has saved the day for a Democrat ... Barbara Boxer seems like the most likely savee. She has welcomed Obama's help. But even her race is far from a done deal (see latest Rasmussen poll). I'd take Nate Silver's odds on Fiorina (93–7) ...
P.S.: Note that the "locker room" analogy is slightly misleading. It's not just that rousing the Dem base also rouses the GOP base (which can hardly be roused more than it already is anyway). It's that rousing the Dem base alienates the middle. Were Dems always faced with that base-vs.-middle tradeoff? On issues like immigration reform, it seems like they are now. (Welfare was a base-vs.-middle issue, of course. The middle hated welfare. But Dems could always soft-pedal and hide their cash-dispensing programs in the fine print while pretending that they were requiring work—and then relying on other issues to mobilize the base. On immigration, it seems as if the only way to rouse the Dems' Latino base, Obama-style, is to shout your support for an immigration amnesty from the rooftops, where the middle can also hear it.) ...
P.P.S.: In a sense, it's quite smart of the White House to make the relatively obscure Fifth District of Virginia the Helmand Province of this election—the sudden recipient of a massive surge of presidential and party attention. If embattled Democrat Tom Perriello can pull out a win, the White House can say, "See, the base-pleasing strategy can work. If only we had enough money! And Obama still has the magic. If only we could clone 535 of him." If Perriello loses they can say, "It's only one congressional district in a red state" and blame local factors.
But you also have to wonder if the desperate attempt to demonstrate at least one contest where base-pleasing worked doesn't also reflect the ideological preference of the White House. If you can win by pleasing the base, of course, then it's easier to pursue base-pleasing policies. If base-pleasing flops ignominiously across the board, on the other hand, it's ... make way for neoliberals. 5:00 p.m.
That's Chaiting: Relying on an academic's model, The New Republic's Jonathan Chait argues that structural factors should yield a Republican gain of 45 House seats. Fair enough. But that implies we can blame Obama for any GOP gains over that limit, right? Before readers can reach that obvious conclusion, Chait adds five more seats to his "baseline" on seemingly arbitrary grounds.* Is their real purpose to give him a cushion against having to write a Nov. 3 column he probably doesn't want to write? ...
*Chait suggests the five-seat add-on is justified because President Obama "rode a wave in 2008 that was unusually dependent on sporadic voters like the young and minorities, who tend not to turn out during midterm elections." But of course this is a factor the academic model he relies on has presumably already taken into account, since a) it's a model of midterm elections and b) one of the three "structural" elements in the equation is
2. The incumbent party's "exposure"—the more seats you hold, the deeper into hostile territory you're stretched, and the easier it is to lose seats.
Don't Democrats stretch into hostile territory by appealing to sporadic voters like the young and minorities? The more plausible theory is that Chait just didn't like the number 45 because it makes it look like the president is blowing it. Do not let this man balance your budget! ...
Update: Tom Maguire has other criticisms of the model Chait relies on. The model's Factor #3 is "personal income growth," over which the president has at least some control. If the country's chief executive pushes through an ineffectively structured stimulus, say, and produces lousy income growth as a result, should that mistake raise the "baseline" number of seats whose loss can't be blamed on him? Or are at least some of those seats his losses? ... 5:10 p.m.