High Expectations Setting Democrats Up for Fall?
Adam Nagourney argues that expectations are so high for the Democrats that anything short of overwhelming victory will look like failure.
In most midterm elections, an out-of-power party picking up, say, 14 seats in the House and five seats in the Senate could call it a pretty good night. But for Democrats in 2006, that showing would mean coming up one seat shy of taking control of both the Senate and the House. And it would probably be branded a loss — in the case of the House, a big one.
For a combination of reasons — increasingly bullish prognostications by independent handicappers, galloping optimism by Democratic leaders and bloggers, and polls that promise a Democratic blowout — expectations for the party have soared into the stratosphere. Democrats are widely expected to take the House, and by a significant margin, and perhaps the Senate as well, while capturing a majority of governorships and legislatures.
These expectations may well be overheated. Polls over the weekend suggested that the contest was tightening, and some prognosticators on Monday were scaling back their predictions, if ever so slightly. (Charlie Cook, the analyst who is one of Washington’s chief setters of expectations, said in an e-mail message on Monday that he was dropping the words “possibly more” from his House prediction of “20-35, possibly more.”)
Some Democrats worry that those forecasts, accurate or not, may be setting the stage for a demoralizing election night, and one with lasting ramifications, sapping the party’s spirit and energy heading into the 2008 presidential election cycle. “Two years ago, winning 14 seats in the House would have been a pipe dream,” said Matt Bennett, a founder of Third Way, a moderate Democratic organization. Now, Mr. Bennett said, failure to win the House, even by one seat, would send Democrats diving under their beds (not to mention what it might do to all the pundits). “It would be crushing,” he said. “It would be extremely difficult.” Mr. Cook put it more succinctly. “I think you’d see a Jim Jones situation — it would be a mass suicide,” he said.
Regular OTB commenter Anderson has made this point many times in recent weeks. It has merit.
There’s no denying that expectations are very high for the Democrats. While winning fifteen seats in the House and six in the Senate in the sixth year of a presidential administration is historically modest, it would go against recent tides. There has been only one election in the past quarter century where anything approaching those changes happened, the so-called Republican Revolution of 1994.
Still, it is not at all unreasonable to expect the Democrats to take the House under present circumstances. Not only have the polls pointed in that direction for months but the stars are well aligned for that to take place. From an unpopular war to political corruption to bad campaigns to underage gay hooker sex on meth, the Republicans have done it. If an election has ever been handed to a party on a silver platter, this is it.
By the same token, winning back the Senate is certainly possible but hardly expected. If the Democrats win five seats and make it an effective 50-50 split, with Dick Cheney breaking the tie, it would be a big deal.
UPDATE: Robert Novak nails it: “[S]hould it occur, Democratic victory will come in spite of the total incompetence of Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Howard Dean” and “If you can’t lose an election after all that has happened in the last two years, it may not be possible to lose.” Indeed.