With the revelation last night/this morning that veteran Democratic Senators Christopher Dodd(CT) and Byron Dorgan (ND) are not seeking re-electionthis year, the mainstream press is going wild with speculation that theseretirements herald doom for the Democrats in this year's midtermelections. This is despite that fact that they are almost a year awayand that six, count 'em (Bunning, Brownback, LeMieux, Bond,Gregg, and Voinovich) six, GOP senators are retiring this year as well asseveral other Republicans in the House.Still, a narrative is forming (and we all know how powerful politicalnarratives can be) and if Obama and the Democrats don'tget in front of this soon it could become a self-fulfillingprophesy--the pundits have decided it's 1994 all over again.
For those youngsters out there who may not remember, in November of '94Congressional approval was at an all-time low and President Clinton's approval numbers weremired in the low 40s after his failure to pass healthcare reform. The result was a Republican landslide that dominated Congress until 2006. But2010 can be different and in some ways it already is. The public clearlyhas a lot more good will in the bank for Obama, he remains close to orat 50 percent approval in most public opinion polls--despite roughly six months of consistently bad press. Healthcare reform will likely be passed by the end of this month, albeit a comprised bill, but a political and strategic victory nonetheless. In addition if the Democrats get aggressive on immigration, education and climate change (which are all on the legislative agenda for this year) and continue to rack up victories it'll be easier to contrast themselves with "TheParty of No". Naturally there needs to be significant movement on jobstoo by the White House and Democrats in Congress, my hunch is that 10percent number hovers like a shadow over anything the party in powerdoes.
True, losing Dorgan (as JohnNichols writes) is a significant blow. He was a strong progressivein an undeniably right-leaning state and it will be exceedingly difficultfor any other Democrat to replace him. ChrisDodd, on the other hand, despite having many virtues, was totally tainted by scandal(even Michael Moore went after him in Capitalism: A LoveStory) and was likely to lose his re-election campaign. Hisdeparture, while perhaps bittersweet, clears theway for Connecticut's popular Democratic attorney general, RichardBlumenthal, to capture his seat. It seems unlikely to me that aprogressive state like Connecticut would send a Republican to representtheir state alongside nominal Independent Joe Lieberman.
There is no question though that even with some more legislativevictories and hopefully some drop in the unemployment rate, Obama andthe Democrats will face a tough fight come election time this year.Every midterm the pundits conveniently forget that historically theparty in control always gets clobbered in midterms--with the recentexception of 2002, where the GOP's first stab at politicizing a terroristattack paid off in spades. No wonder President Obama feels forced to behavelike Bush on airport security. Still, the Democrats have an impressiveweapon in their arsenal that they're not using quite enough. They atleast have ideas. No, they may not be as progressive or strong as we'dlike but at least they are putting forward a comprehensive jobs bill, aclimate change bill, etc. Meanwhile, the Republicans are content to siton their hands and block anything that has a Democrat or the president'sname attached to it.
The polls show that voters believe by a significant margin thatDemocrats have tried harder to (and I hate to use this overused phrase)"reach across the aisle" and I think if Obama can regain his confidenceand footing and starts to really wring a few more wins out of thissuper-majority as long as he has it, it'll really take the wind out ofthe GOP's sails. I know, I know, this is a lot of wishful thinking on mypart--but I don't think it's time to surrender either, as disappointingas the Democratic-led Congress has been, I would hate to see what couldhappen to my country with Mitch McConnell and John Boehner at thehelm. Not a pretty picture.