Shades of '94?
Tuesday, June 06, 2006 :::
The Wall Street Journal has a lengthy analysis ($) of the difficulties facing the GOP in the November mid-term elections. Things look bleak indeed:
If the current mood holds, Democrats are in a position to win the 15 seats they need to take control of the House. They have a harder task, however, snagging the six seats needed in the Senate. As the list of vulnerable Republicans grows, all sides are scouting for signs of an electoral wave like that of 1994, which swept away the Democrats' four-decade control of Congress.
Fair enough. The signs of discontent are there, the conditions are ripe for a fall...but then there's this:
Much can change between now and the elections. Democrats are sparring over what agenda, if any, to put forward and their leaders don't have the tactical vision of former Rep. Newt Gingrich, who inspired the 1994 Republican revolutionaries. Scandals have embroiled two of their House members and voters appear to be turning against all incumbents, putting some Democrats at risk, too.
This isn't new, but it should be troubling for Democrats seeking to regain the majority. Simply hoping the other side will throw itself off a cliff, while offering no coherent message or strategy to act as a hedge, or even an incentive, for people to come out and vote for you is extremely risky.
And then there's this, too:
Republicans take heart that Democrats failed to recruit strong challengers to face other vulnerable incumbents, such as Kentucky's Anne Northup -- whose district went for Gore and Kerry -- or even the embattled Mr. Ney. Republicans also seem prepared for the challenge. That is a contrast, says Carl Forti, communications director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, with the complacency of many Democrats in 1994.
"Anyone who could potentially be in trouble is already paying attention," Mr. Forti says. "That makes it harder to sneak up and beat them."
Hmm. In 1994, the conventional wisdom was that no matter how many high-profile stumbles the Democrats made, the power of incumbency, plus the fact that after four decades as the minority party in the House, the GOP was incapable of taking advantage of those stumbles, the Democratic majority would be safe (though, perhaps, smaller). We know what happened.
This time around, the CW is that the GOP is caught in the undertow and is doomed. I still believe that's entirely possible (if not necessary for their own philosophical health).
But I'm beginning to have a few second thoughts. When the CW congeals like it seems to be right now around a GOP defeat, the contrarian in me says the exact opposite will occur. The GOP will survive, somehow, because they are looking out for trouble, addressing it tactically, and trying to carve out issues on which they can campaign successfully. Meanwhile the Democrats have yet to put forward a compelling argument for people to pull the lever for their candidates in November.
There may be shades of 1994 in this year's elections. But they may only be shades...and not realities.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 6/06/2006