Congressional Democrats who had long hoped that 2008 would be another 2006 might be getting their wish, though It is still too early to tell whether current trends will maintain themselves all the way to November 4th.
Just a few weeks ago, it looked like Republicans would avoid being submerged by a blue tsunami. The GOP brand appeared to be improving and independents seemed less hostile to the idea of voting Republican. But just as 2006, late September events look like they could shatter the GOP’s defenses. Sure, the financial crisis might be more consequential than Mark Foley, but that scandal was an earthquake that cost Republicans any hope they had of recovering.
This year, the Wall Street meltdown has caused voters’ disapproval of government to skyrocket along with voters’ economic insecurity; and while Congress might no longer be in Republican hands, both developments are guaranteed to boost Democratic prospects as long as the White House is in Bush’s hands and as long as Democrats remain the party of bread-and-butter issues.
Voters are once again angry, and they are angry about the economy. Further economic developments could certainly change the situation, but this has certainly boosted Democratic hopes that the national environment will once again outweigh local patterns and carry unlikely candidates to victory on the strength of anti-GOP sentiment.
At the top of the ticket, this new dynamic has undercut John McCain’s campaign, but the Arizona Senator remains standing. Just as we have long known that McCain was one of the only Republicans who was separate enough from the Bush Administration to have any hope of prevailing, McCain has enough cards to play to hope to survive voter discontent, which is why it remains amazing that the Republican nominee chose to return to Washington and associate himself that closely with an unpopular Congress and an unpopular bill.
But other Republicans don’t have McCain’s stature, and a new Democracy Corps poll of battleground districts suggests that Republicans are losing ground in at least 40 seats they hold and in which the pollsters asked voters about House match-ups. Republicans’ situation has deteriorated since July, a number of incumbents are endangered and Democrats look particularly strong in the GOP’s open seats. This is a very similar situation as 2006, where Democrats scored big wins in a big number of open seats, and did so again in 3 special elections this spring.
The trouble Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell finds himself in is telling of the worsening situation Republicans find themselves in. SUSA and Mason Dixon found McConnell’s race against Bruce Lunsford down to a dead heat last week in what could be a direct repercussion of McConnell’s leadership role in the Senate. Now, Stuart Rothenberg reports that he has seen a third poll - a private one about which he releases no details - that confirms that the race is a dead heat. This is prompting the Kentucky press to take notice of the race’s increasing competitiveness, which is in and of itself a positive development for Lunsford since it is always important for a challenger to be taken as a serious contender by the media. Will the DSCC cavalry come next?
Can other Democrats who are facing long shots take advantage of the situation? Can Tom Allen of Maine - perhaps the year’s most disappointing congressional race for Democrats - put Susan Collins on the defensive? Collins looks to be made of rock, as nothing has dented her lead, but it is truly now or never for Allen to link Collins to her party and to the Bush Administration - and this is exactly what the Democratic candidate is doing in a new ad. But this is a race where all of this might be too little, too late. Collins has shown no sign of vulnerability, and Allen remains a long shot.
There is one major difference between 2006 and 2008, however: Democrats have much more money, Republicans far less. While it would be unfair to say that the DCCC or the DSCC were under-funded two years ago, they faced some painful choices in the final stretch, and the DCCC’s failure to fund candidates like Larry Kissell in NC-08 surely cost them a few seats. This year, the situation is very different. Last week alone, the DCCC spent more than $4 million and targeted 27 Republican seats; the RNCC spent… $75,000. That stunning 57:1 ratio makes Mike Bloomberg’s ridiculous overspending seem amateurish, and it will allow Democrats to leave no stone unturned.
While Democrats exploit the anti-GOP environment, it is very important for Republicans to run a micro campaign and disqualify individual Democratic candidates in order to put them on the defensive and prevent them from positioning themselves as reformers, outsiders or change agents. And it looks like the GOP has once again to take the initiative against Al Franken in Minnesota. No candidate wants to run ads addressing charges relating to rape five weeks from Election Day, but that is exactly what Franken has had to do this week:
That’s right, in the midst of a giant financial crisis that gives any Democrat an opening to destabilize his opponent, Al Franken has to air ads defending himself against “desperate attacks that will not work” but that must be working in some way if Franken is taking the time to address them (not that Franken is being careful to denounce the GOP ads over their negativity rather than over their substance, as the last thing Franken wants is to get in a he said, she said about rape jokes and assault charges). And the NRSC is keeping up, releasing yet another ad hitting Franken on similar charges:
Given how much time Franken has spent defending himself against all sorts of charges for the past few months, it is a testament to the cycle’s anti-Republican bent that the race remains a toss-up.