Earlier today, the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza reported on wide differences in polls asking people whether they will vote for a Democrat or a Republican for Congress. While I noted on the main site that there are at least two recent polls that show Republicans narrowly in the lead, a number of other polls show a distinct Democratic advantage, albeit with some tightening. (And of course there is always the caveat that the generic ballot doesn’t predict how people will vote in their own district.)
But when you look at the polling in several high-profile races for 2009 and 2010, Republicans are in a better position than they have any right to be considering the party’s ongoing problems. What is clear is that the public’s antipathy toward Republicans, a product of George W. Bush’s presidency after 2005, is not so great as to preclude individual Democrats — even fairly entrenched ones from blue states — from being held accountable. If Democrats are involved in scandals (Chris Dodd), are seen as governing poorly (Deval Patrick), or both (Jon Corzine), they can be beaten.
The 2010 House races also are going to highlight the downside of the Democrats’ Blue Dog strategy: they got a decent number of members elected in 2006 and 2008 who will find their home territory hard to defend in the first election cycle with significant Republican improvement. It was many of the more liberal Republicans in areas with lots of Democrats who lost their seats in 1974 and 1982. It was many of the more conservative who fell in 1994.
None of this is written in stone and things can change rapidly if the the public’s perceptions of the economy and the president improve. That’s especially the case when the Republicans are reliant on a message of opposition. As the Democrats learned with Ronald Reagan in the mid-1980s and the Republicans learned with Bill Clinton after 1995, it is difficult to pivot from blaming the president for everything that is going wrong to denying him credit for things that are going right. But so far, unified Democratic control of the government has given the GOP a fighting chance that none of its leaders could in the last couple of elections.