Unhappy New Year . . . for Democrats
The 2010 election cycle looks very different from the last two.
Jan 18, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 17 • By FRED BARNES
The good news for Republicans in 2010 is they’re ahead in 6 races for Senate seats now held by Democrats and lead or are tied in 6 open seats where Republicans are retiring. In the House, Republicans figure to win a minimum of 20 seats, as things now stand. They’re a good bet to have a majority of the nation’s governors after the midterm elections in November. The bad news? There is no bad news.
Okay, the stream of good news is occasionally interrupted. In Connecticut, Democratic senator Chris Dodd, of Countrywide sweetheart mortgage fame, is retiring rather than face likely defeat in November. The new Democratic candidate, state attorney general Richard Blumenthal, will be tougher (but hardly impossible) to beat. In several states—Washington and Oregon come to mind—Republicans haven’t come up with strong Senate candidates yet. And a few more Democratic retirements are probably needed for Republicans to gain 40 seats and capture the House.
But Republican shortcomings are mostly correctable. The problems facing Democrats are mostly not. There’s no way, for example, to turn Deval Patrick, the ineffectual and unpopular governor of Massachusetts, into an attractive candidate for reelection. His Republican opponent, Charles Baker, raised twice as much money in six months as Patrick did in all of 2009.
Nationwide, the Republican trend is picking up speed. Charles Cook, the election guru, issued his 25 “latest ratings changes” last week. All but two took note of improved Republican prospects in congressional races. In polling by Scott Rasmussen, Republicans widened their lead in the generic ballot to a 9-point preference for Republican House candidates. Meanwhile, the Democratic “brand,” as measured by Gallup, continues to fray.
Democrats find consolation in their lead—49 percent to 41 percent in Gallup—in party identification, though their number just dropped below 50 percent for the first time since 2005. They’ve also persuaded themselves that 2010 won’t replicate 1994, when Republicans gained 52 House and 8 Senate seats and took control of Congress. This time, Democratic majorities remain “safe,” as Politico put it.
I don’t think so. A few months ago, the consensus in the political community was that Democrats would gain Senate seats, bolstering their current 60-vote majority. Now the consensus is Republicans will pick up 3 to 5 seats. That would put Republicans in a position to take control in 2012, when 24 Democratic but only 9 Republican seats will be at stake.
In 2010, the Democratic seats in jeopardy—those with Republican candidates leading in polls—include Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s in Nevada. Reid has already spent $1 million on TV ads in a state with only two media markets. But he trails both Republican contenders, state Republican chairwoman Sue Lowden and Danny -Tarkanian, the son of famed basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, by 6 points in the latest Rasmussen poll—that is, outside the margin of error.
In Colorado, Democrat Michael Bennett, appointed to his Senate seat, is running behind Republican Jane Norton, a former lieutenant governor. He says he’s for Obamacare, opposed by most Coloradoans, even if it means losing the election. It might. After years of decline, Colorado Republicans are resurgent. Bennett has a formidable primary foe, former state house speaker Andrew Romanoff.
Arkansas is a hotbed of anger against Obamacare. Yet Democratic senator Blanche Lincoln voted for it. Four Republicans are seeking the Republican Senate nomination. She trails all four.
In Delaware, Republicans have their best possible candidate in moderate congressman Mike Castle for the seat vacated by Vice President Biden. Castle leads all potential Democratic opponents, including Biden’s son Beau, the state attorney general.
Pennsylvania looked hopeless after Senator Arlen Specter switched parties and became a Democrat. No more. Specter has a tough primary struggle against Democratic -representative Joe Sestak. Republican Pat Toomey has surged ahead of both of them. With Democrat Byron Dorgan quitting, North Dakota is all but certain to elect a Republican senator, as it should have years ago. In Illinois, Republican congressman Mark Kirk is running even in the race for President Obama’s old Senate seat.
The six open Republican seats are the flip side of the Democratic ones: Once highly vulnerable, they are growing safer. Florida, in fact, is a near-cinch to go Republican, whether Governor Charles Crist or ex-house speaker Marco Rubio wins the primary. Kansas is similar. The Republican nominee, whoever it is, undoubtedly will win the seat of Sam Brownback, who is a prohibitive favorite to be elected governor.