As Election Nears, Democrats Are Running Out Of Options

With 59 days left until Election Day, Democrats are finding that they have few options and little time when it comes to dealing with the issue on the top of voter’s minds:

WASHINGTON — Democrats are entering the fall sprint to the midterm elections lacking a unifying message to address the lackluster economy, scrambling to come up with further job-creating remedies and out of time to show substantial results before voters go to the polls.

The monthly jobs report on Friday, while better than economists had expected, did nothing to improve the deteriorating political climate for Democrats a little more than eight weeks before Election Day.

President Obama, after a week consumed by foreign policy issues, will begin focusing publicly on the economy next week and on Wednesday plans to propose modest additional tax breaks, temporary and aimed at small business to promote hiring. But it is not clear that he has the votes or the time in Congress to pass them, with Republicans eager to deny Democrats any victories and endangered Democrats eager to get home within three to four weeks to campaign.

Democrats’ sense of vulnerability has increased since Congress broke for August, after a month of reports tracking weakness in both the economy and their polls. One result is that they now split more deeply than ever on the issue that in recent elections had been a rallying cry: ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of taxpayers. Democratic leaders are imploring Mr. Obama to come off the sidelines and lead the fight.

On the campaign trail, many Democrats are going their own ways as they face the prospect that persistently high unemployment could cost them control of the House and perhaps the Senate. Many are embracing the stimulus package enacted soon after Mr. Obama took office; others run away from it. Some distance themselves from Mr. Obama and his economic team; most blame Republicans.

Democrats’ campaign message mostly is a Babel of individual voices. With the national winds blowing ever stronger against the party in power, threatened Democrats are tailoring their message to their particular district or state — with party leaders’ encouragement.

As I noted last week, there are already several vulnerable Democrats openly campaigning against their own party leadership, and now many Democrats are trying to adopt the fiscal austerity/fight the deficit message of the GOP:

The candidate was outraged – just outraged – at the country’s sorry fiscal state.

“We have managed to acquire $13 trillion of debt on our balance sheet,” he fumed to a roomful of voters. “In my view, we have nothing to show for it.”

And that was a Democrat, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, who voted “yes” on the stimulus, the health-care overhaul, increased education funding and other costly bills Congress approved under his party’s control.

Faced with a potential wipeout in November’s midterm elections, candidates such as Bennet are embracing budget cuts with the enthusiasm of Reagan Republicans.

Paul Hodes, the Democratic Senate candidate in New Hampshire, recently proposed $3 billion in spending cuts that would slice airport, railroad and housing funds. Elected to the House four years ago as an anti-war progressive, Hodes lamented that “for too long, both parties have willfully spent with no regard for our nation’s debt.”

The new push for austerity could prove too little, too late for Democrats, who fear losing their majorities in both chambers of Congress. In dozens of House and Senate races, incumbent Democrats are struggling in polls, leading political analysts to raise the serious prospect of Republican takeovers in the House and even the Senate.


Some fiscal hawks are skeptical that either party is willing to make the unpopular decisions necessary to restore the country to fiscal health. “On the Republican side, the concern over deficits doesn’t seem to dampen the appetite for tax cuts, even though tax cuts can contribute to the deficit,” said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan advocacy group dedicated to deficit reduction.

On the Democratic side, Bixby said, “The spending cuts proposed usually are fairly small. When you look at the budget dynamics, that really isn’t where the problem is. And I really don’t see hear Democrats talking about the entitlement programs,” meaning Social Security and Medicare.

To the contrary, Social Security has become a weapon for Democrats in numerous House and Senate races, as candidates seize on the comments of some GOP candidates who favor changing or dismantling the retirement program.

And that leads us to the real question. Are we heading toward some kind of consensus on fiscal responsibility, or is this just another cudgel that the party out of power can use to bash the party in power ?

You tell me. Personally, I’m not optimistic.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, Economics and Business, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Anon says:

    Are there reputable economists who believe that austerity during a recession is helpful?

  2. <blockquote>“We have managed to acquire $13 trillion of debt on our balance sheet,” he fumed to a roomful of voters. “In my view, we have nothing to show for it.”</blockquote>

    BTW, am I the only one who gets really annoyed when politicians (and people from both parties do this all the time) talk about the government as though they’re disinterested third party observers with absolutely no involvements in the goings on.

  3. wr says:

    You have to ask? Every top Republican has been asked how he can reconcile keeping the Bush tax cuts on the top two percent with a devotion to eliminating the deficit, and every one has failed to answer. Or has said that tax cuts on rich people pay for themselves. Or don’t count.

    These people don’t care about deficits. You know that. Why bother to pretend otherwise?