2010 vs 1994 Revisited
32 Democratic incumbents are running even or behind their Republican challengers in one or more public or private polls. At this point in 2006, when Republicans lost control of Congress, only 11 GOP incumbents were running even or behind.
For months, I’ve been poo-pooing comparisons between this cycle and the so-called Republican Revolution of 1994. Not only was that year a perfect storm unlikely to be seen again, I argued, but there was the baggage of the Bush years to contend with and a long way to go until Election Day.
Well, we’re now just a bit more than two months away and, as Charlie Cook notes, “Labor Day is almost here and Democrats are still waiting for the cavalry to arrive. An exhaustive scan of the horizon reveals no rescuers and none of the things Democrats badly need to save them from tough midterm election losses on Nov. 2.”
Simply put, Democrats find themselves heading into a midterm election that looks as grisly as any the party has faced in decades. It isn’t hard to find Democratic pollsters who privately concede that the numbers they are looking at now are worse than what they saw in 1994.
The race-by-race outlook confirms the dire forecasts. Cook Political Report House Editor David Wasserman points out that at this point, 32 Democratic incumbents are running even or behind their Republican challengers in one or more public or private polls. At this point in 2006, when Republicans lost control of Congress, only 11 GOP incumbents were running even or behind.
Privately, some Democratic pollsters say that they are routinely seeing districts where Democratic incumbents are running only even with relatively unknown GOP challengers. In other districts where the Republican challengers are reasonably well known, the incumbents are often running 5-10 points behind, a rather extraordinary development at this point.
In the Senate, while the odds still favor Democrats holding on to a narrow majority, it is not only mathematically possible for the GOP to capture a majority this year, but it has become plausible. The odds of Democrats capturing even one currently Republican-held seat appear to be getting longer. Meanwhile, Republicans are running ahead or roughly even in 11 Democratic-held seats, one more than necessary for control of the Senate to flip. It’s still a tall order but not crazy to say that Republicans will win the Senate.
Emphasis above from an email being circulated around the wife’s firm with subject line “This is a helluva stat.” It is indeed.
My perfect storm argument on 1994 was that, aside from the Contract With America and the other positive messages Republicans have retrospectively assigned credit for the “revolution,” a lot of structural factors were also at work.
It took a series of scandals among key House Democrats, a wildly unpopular Democratic incumbent (who righted the ship in reaction), and radical changes in campaign finance regulations which incentivized a lot of the old geezers to take the money and not run. We don’t really have any of these things this go-round.
Well . . . not so fast. We don’t have new campaign finance laws but we do have scandals, retirements, and voter anger. And, while Obama is more popular than Clinton was at his nadir, his coattails are a distant memory. And, certainly, the economy is a helluva lot worse than it was in the fall of 1994.
Now, I still agree with most of what I wrote last December:
GOP voters will be energized in 2010 and the majority of voting Independents will likely be in an anti-incumbent mood next November. The combination of structural pressures — lots of retiring Democrats, lots of unestablished Democrats in Republican districts — and the sorry state of the economy should lead to substantial Republican gains.
But there does not seem to be a Contract for America moment emerging, either. While Newt Gingrich took too much credit for the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” it’s nonetheless the case that the party advanced a positive agenda that helped nationalize the election and sway some voters. The Tea Party movement, by contrast, is mostly negative.
But the next sentence, well, not so much:
Simply being angry about the status quo isn’t enough to create a landslide.
It just might turn out to be that.