Driving to work yesterday, I listened on NPR to a three-person political panel debate the fate of Democrats in the midterm election. It wasn’t pretty.
All the panelists — a ex-Clinton White House guy, a conservative think tank analyst and a Washington reporter — seemed to buy the analogy that this election will be a hurricane headed straight for a Democratic port near you. The only question, they said, is whether it will be a Category 3 that the Democrats ride out with minimal destruction or a Category 5 that flattens all in its wake.
Headlines on the sites of political handicappers are no more re-assuring for this liberal. “Will the House Losses Be Bad or Horrendous,” reads the headline of a CQ Politics piece by longterm political analyst Stuart Rothenberg. (The lead: “.. Democrats face the potential of a political bloodbath the size of which we haven’t seen since the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”)
At the Cook Political Report, Charlie Cook predicts Democratic losses in the House of 48 to 60 seats, “with higher losses possible.”
I may be stubborn, but I’m not entirely stupid. So I’m starting to seriously question the logic that told me the American people can’t really want to flock back to the party that put us in this mess less than two years ago.
It’ll take a pickup of 39 seats to put Republicans back in charge of the House. And virtually no one seems to doubt John Boehner, R-Ohio, will be its next speaker. (Perhaps P.T. Barnum had it wrong; perhaps suckers are born more frequently than every minute.)
But wait. Before I pack the car to escape the storm — Canada, anyone? — I stop at one more poll, this one by the Pew Research Center. It says 47 percent of Americans would like Barack Obama to run again in 2012, presumably not merely to pummel him, while 42 percent say he should not. Furthermore, Pew says, that’s better than the outlook was for the Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan, at a comparable stage in his term. And the poll shows voters split 32 percent each over whether Republicans or Democrats would be better for the country in control of Congress.
Hmmm. In the end, as is the way with America’s tepid midterm election turnout, the key will be who votes. The answer typically is less than half of those who can and should. It is in the answer to this question that the real storm clouds lie. Poll after poll has showed Republicans to be far more energized and passionate — and far more likely to vote (the one exception is a Newsweek poll last week that found likely voters leaning Democratic by 3 percentage points).
In this country, it’s always “the economy, stupid,” and, in late October 2010, that economy is still plenty wretched. Still, how can anyone believe the party of “no” — the party that oversaw America’s economic collapse — will suddenly ride to the rescue?
So, while Jon Stewart leads his “Rally to Restore Sanity,” I’ll predict that on election day Americans will prove themselves sane, after all. I envision a Democratic stealth vote those pollsters have missed. It’ll register a group Richard Nixon dreamed of — for his party, of course. Only this silent majority will be made up of Americans, disgusted with the economy but also the venomous attacks of the right, who ultimately sigh, go to the polls and vote Democratic.
Oh, I know it’s a pipe dream. But I think it can happen enough for Democrats to keep their losses at bay. The Democrats will lose seats on Tuesday, but they’ll beat the expectations game. And they’ll hold both Houses of Congress by narrow margins. House Democrats will cough up 33 seats. In the Senate, six seats will turn from Democratic to Republican.
So what if I’m wrong? Just look for a blue Prius with Massachusetts plates heading north toward the border.