The Midterm Elections: Ten Weeks To Zero

In modern American politics, the next major election starts the morning after election day. The ink was not yet dry on the 2008 Presidential cycle when pundits began posting articles that described the “standard” midterm fall-off. Reagan’s Republicans were hurt badly in 1984, Clinton’s Democrats lost the House altogether in 1994, and the forecast for Obama’s Democrats have been dismal from the beginning. In our media-saturated world of hyperbole, the self-fulfilling prophesy is the truth of the matter.

According to the smartest election watchers, if the mid-terms were held today, Democrats would have to win just 4 of 40 races logged as “toss-ups” to hold their majority. The idea that 2010 will be a cycle dominated by anti-incumbency fever has not been supported by the polling done…so far. The conservative mainstream media, however, has done a masterful job of framing all polling results carefully; Americans, after all, are becoming ever more “monkey see, monkey do”. Every month for many months now, we have seen literally hundreds of national stories, in print and on TV, talking about the historically low approval ratings for Congress. These ratings are then used as affirmative evidence that Americans are rejecting Democratic policies, and will vote out the Democratic majority in the mid-terms.

But there is a major problem with this reporting; in poll after poll for month after month (literally thousands), the approval rating for Congressional Democrats is higher than that of Republicans. The reporting, which we have all seen nightly on every outlet within the conservative mainstream (from the NBC Nightly News, to ABC, to Fox News), is written, produced, and circulated in contradiction to all of the evidence. This isn’t media bias so much as it is rank media ignorance and irresponsibility. They tell the country what will happen, then they run stories to make the happening more likely, then they screen and report only that polling data that supports their predictions. Welcome to the American political media, circa the 21st Century.

Despite this, the Democrats are still in a reasonably strong position. The 43 seats that Republicans have their best chances in are mainly held by Blue Dog Democrats (otherwise known as cowards who are useless to the progressive agenda.) A Republican wave election this November might win 75% of the current toss-ups; such a night would leave the Democrats with a 225-210 majority in the House, with most of their losses coming from Blue Dogs who voted no on health care, cap and trade, stimulus, and financial reform. With friends like that….

The Senate represents a much more interesting scenario. With all of the talk about House races, it must be noted that it is conceivable that Democrats could loose those Blue Dog seats and yet gain seats in the Senate. The compilation of data at reveals competitive races in 20 of the 37 seats up for grabs this cycle. It might not surprise you to read that there are 11 Democratic seats in play; the 9 Republican seats that have a race are another matter. That the GOP, and its allies at the Chamber of Commerce, the Koch family, and other entities disinclined to care about working families have a quarter of a billion dollars to throw at these elections is normal. That conservatives have to play defense in so many states must come as a rude shock.

Democrats will loose North Dakota, and Republicans have momentum in Washington and a lead in Delaware. Republican candidates however, as a group, represent a terrible problem for GOP planners. States like Nevada, the home of Majority Leader Reid, should be next to North Dakota in the win column. Instead, Nevada Republicans followed the trends found in states like Kentucky and Colorado, trends that put beatable conservative extremists in play.

Democratic candidates are close enough to make 7 of the 9 Republicans worry, and an eight state (Florida) may go to a former Republican with a moderate streak and a grudge against the national party. The specter, for conservatives, of Charlie Crist joining with Scott Brown, Olympia Dukakis, and Susan Collins to form a center-right consensus is terrifying for activists trying to push the U.S. farther to the right. Those four could prove a temptation to other moderate Republicans who actually want to get work done.

If the elections were held today, Democrats would likely hold at least 52 seats outright, with conservative independent Joe Lieberman and socialist independent Bernie Sanders continuing to caucus with the left. The four moderate Republicans would, along with Lieberman, have a chance to control the Senate for at least two years; an intriguing prospect to say the least. There will be twists and turns over the next ten weeks, and hundreds of millions worth of annoying, defamatory, inflammatory, and outright false TV ads to sift through. In November of 2008, a new liberal majority was poised to stamp its mark on history; by February of 2009, a tough Republican minority was successful (temporarily) in torpedoing the President’s agenda and was poised to take back the House and Senate. How many more momentum changes are left?

The one thing that is certain about the 2010 mid-term elections is that turnout will mean everything. If the standard model applies, then the GOP will approach a retake of the House and cut the Democrats close to 50 seats in the Senate. If the Democrats are somehow able to get Obama voters back to the polls, then progressives will have a chance to see what the party can do with a solid and loyal House majority, and more than 60 in the Senate. Halftime is almost over, and the teams are coming out of the locker rooms. It is ten weeks to go, and we are all tied up.

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