The Spectacle Blog

A Tsunami Strong Enough to Wash Away Republican Incompetence

By on 9.9.10 | 12:33PM

Daniel Larison is skeptical that Republicans will experience major gains in November because he quite sensibly has no confidence in the GOP leadership. But when you look at the leanings of likely voters not just in generic ballot tests but also in a few pivotal races, I wonder to what extent the national anti-Democratic mood can overcome the Republicans' perennial flaws.

As poorly as Tom Reynolds and Tom Cole fared at the helm of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Machiavelli himself could not have come up with a political strategy that was going to save the Republicans in 2006 or 2008. That wasn't Reynolds' or Cole's doing as much as George W. Bush's. Things got so bad that the Democrats won a number of districts with underlying Republican sympathies -- the very places where they are most at risk now.

Aside from Republican mistakes, one of the things that benefited the Democrats in most of the special elections they've won since Obama has been president is that they ran non-incumbents who were free to move as far from the national party brand as suited local preferences. This will be a tougher sell for incumbent Blue Dogs. Only three of them -- Walt Minnick of Idaho, Bobby Bright of Alabama, and Gene Taylor of Mississippi -- voted against stimulus, the health care bill, and cap and trade. (A fourth, Parker Griffith, switched parties and subsequently lost the Republican primary.)

This accounts for why Minnick looks pretty good considering his deep-red district. But more common is someone like Brad Ellsworth of Indiana, who defected only on cap and trade. Ellsworth is losing badly to a flawed Republican candidate in the race for Senate and his congressional district now leans toward a Republican pickup. Even Travis Childers, who only voted for the stimulus, is below 50 percent in the internal poll his campaign released to show the Mississippi Democrat's strength. The Republican's internal polling, predictably, shows the opposite result.

Finally, in a surprising number of races the Republican nominee is the not the candidate the party leadership wanted. In some cases, that will be a liability but in others it will be an asset. Will there be a tsunami? I don't know, and the funding disadvantages faced by the party campaign committees and Republican challengers in key districts are reasons to doubt it. But as I said in 2006 and 2008, if your base is dispirited, the other party's base is fired up, and swing voters hate you, you cannot do well in an election.

That description fit the Republicans then and the Democrats now. Even if the Republicans blow some races, the Democrats are going to lose seats. It is just a matter of how many.

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