In 2006 and 2008, Democrats elected fifty-five new members to the House of Representatives, assembling a huge supermajority in part by winning in unlikely red states across the map.
Last night was proof that if a Democratic wave sweeps you into office, a Republican wave can sweep you back out. According to The Hill, fourteen members of the class of 2006 and twenty-one members of the class of 2008 went down to defeat last night, as Republicans posted big gains in the Industrial Midwest, Northeast and South. Only twelve Democratic reps from ’06 and a mere six from ’08 managed to hang on.
The losers included progressives like Carol Shea-Porter, Tom Perriello, Alan Grayson and John Hall, and reactionary conservative Blue Dogs such as Bobby Bright, Walt Minnick and Travis Childers. The Blue Dog Coalition was hit particularly hard, losing half of its 56 members. As I predicted, their conservative voting records deflated Democratic activists but did little to win Republican support.
Those notable survivors from the class of ‘06 include Dave Loebsack and Bruce Braley of Iowa, John Yarmouth of Kentucky and Heath Shuler of Western North Carolina. Few high-profile members from ’08 remain. The voters who proved so instrumental to Obama’s election in 2008 did not turn out in large enough numbers to save the Democratic incumbents elected into office along with the president. Wrote John Judis of The New Republic:
The election results themselves did not represent a full-blown realignment, but a more modest shift in existing loyalties. Democrats retained, but at somewhat reduced proportion, the loyalties of blacks, Latinos, and professionals (evidenced in the 52 to 46 percent support among those with post-graduate degrees); and they suffered from reduced turnout among young voters. Republicans increased sharply their margin among white voters without college degrees, who made up 39 percent of the electorate. In 2008 House races, Republicans carried this group by 54 to 44 percent; this year, it was 62 to 35 percent. In other words, the Republicans did better with their coalition than the Democrats did with theirs; but the contours remained the same.
After having so successfully mobilized their supporters in support of change, Democrats and Obama became complacent, turning into the party of Washington and the status quo, former Obama organizing guru Marshall Ganz argues in a new LA Times op-ed:
Obama and his team made three crucial choices that undermined the president’s transformational mission. First, he abandoned the bully pulpit of moral argument and public education. Next, he chose to lead with a politics of compromise rather than advocacy. And finally, he chose to demobilize the movement that elected him president. By shifting focus from a public ready to drive change — as in "yes we can"—he shifted the focus to himself and attempted to negotiate change from the inside, as in "yes I can."
As a result, Obama and his party had little too show for their legislative accomplishments and could not make an affirmative case for what they’d do differently if they remained in office. Based on his press conference today, the president is still holding out hope that Republicans will compromise with him on some key areas, though GOP leaders have given no indication they’ll do so. In the past two years, Obama attempted to simultaneously please the left and right of his party, along with the middle of the electorate, and he ended up satisfying neither. Before setting their sights on recapturing the House once again, Democrats will have to think long and hard about what they would do—and how they would do it—once they get there.
-Ari Berman is the author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuid the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, out now from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.