Happy Anniversary, Barry
Scott Brown has turned this town upside down.
Usually, the tendency among political reporters and operatives alike is to overreact and overinterpret elections.
And there are caveats to the stunner in Massachusetts. Yes, this was a special election, which often produces unusual results. Yes, Democrat Martha Coakley ran a timid, sometimes terrible, campaign for Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat. And it’s true that Massachusetts is not as liberal as many people assumed.
But none of that counters the stunning reality of an election where breathtaking results more than justify breathless analysis. Here’s why:
The lock is broken
There is no way for Democrats to spin an upside to losing their 60th vote in the Senate.
Without it, the health care bill that passed one month ago with 60 votes would go down today. Same goes for any other bill Republicans decide to torpedo with unity, obstruction or whatever one wants to call zero votes.
It's not obstruction. It's a healthy democracy. Like it or not, elected Democrats need to wake up and realize that they caused this mess. Since hitting the ground in January of 2009, even before Barry was inaugurated, they started talking about the radical legislation they wanted to pass. That included the health insurance reform, cap and trade, immigration reform, and spending money the nation doesn't have now, didn't have then, like drunken sailors. And they were drunk -- on power.
We believed that, by some miracle, the Tea Party movement would wake them up. That they'd see the outrage of the nation. But they blew off the movement as some sort of extreme right-wing hatefest, comprised of ignorant people. In their hubris they ignored us. When they took to the town halls to "explain" the health care/insurance reform in August, they were met by a wave of chafed and annoyed American citizens. Again, we were ignored, and in some instances we were assaulted by union thugs that were bused in by the very people who wanted to speak to the American people. The victories in New Jersey and Virginia were the first answer we had for the powers that be, and now Scott Brown is a clear shot across the bow of the Democrat's leaking ship.
The fear is unleashed
Any Democrat with even the faintest fear of a tough race in 2010 is rattled. It was easy for some to rationalize the defeats in New Jersey and Virginia last year — and even the flood of polls showing bad news since then.
They are in denial no more: If Democrats can lose in Massachusetts, they can lose anywhere. That is the mind-set that will shape the next nine months for Democrats. It will affect who runs for reelection, who bolts on big votes, who gives money and who speaks out against Obama. All of this will make governing harder.
The focus has been on the special election for the past week. But Democratic insiders were equally concerned about other signs of trouble that got insufficient notice: Polls show Democrats could lose the New York Senate seat, Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson’s favorable ratings plummeted in Nebraska, new polls showed Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) trailing badly in his swing district, and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) is in a statistical tie and in more trouble than previously expected.
Let's not forget who else is in deep kimchi. Harry Reid's poll numbers don't look stellar. His approval is in the low forties, and he is losing on a general election ballot to EVERYONE in the race, be they Republican or Democrat. The last time we saw numbers that bad, the citizens of South Dakota were preparing to give tom Daschle his walking papers. Blanche Lincoln isn't fairing well in Arkansas, either. While her numbers are considerably better than the Majority Leader's she still faces a very tough reelection bid. Roland Burris and Michael Bennet -- both appointed Democrats from Illinois and Colorado, respectively -- haven't exactly shined on their constituents. Burris faces a great deal of criticism and scrutiny, no doubt in relation to his connections to Rod Blagojevich. Bennet, on the other hand, was touted as a moderate Democrat, and he hasn't acted like it.
The soon-to-be vacant seats in Connecticut and North Dakota (Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan, respectively) are looking they will flip red this coming November. Dodd's financial shenanigans concerning his sweetheart Countrywide mortgages, and his connection to the financial collapse (begun mostly by a housing bubble that didn't just pop, but rocked the nation to its financial core) have made him a very disliked person in Connecticut. He can't garner any sort of serious support in his home state, and the citizens are ready to take their frustration out on him at the polls. Going red isn't unheard of. As for Dorgan, other than being in favor of every radical piece of legislation that's come down the pipe in the Senate, the man hasn't done anything to really kill his reelection bid. The voters in North Dakota have signalled they want a change, plain and simple.
The leaders are rattled
It has been an ugly 24 hours of blame-casting for Democrats. In fact, it's the first time in the Obama era that so many Democrats aired their private grievances in such a public way.
The White House blamed Martha Coakley’s campaign. Speaker Nancy Pelosi seemed to fault Senate Democrats. Senate Democrats, in turn, put the blame back on Coakley, who had campaign officials thrashing the White House and Senate leaders by mid-day Tuesday — hours before the polls closed.
Chalk this up to frayed nerves. But the Democratic unity that brought health care to the brink of passage will be tested like never before in coming days. Democrats on Capitol Hill told us they could be headed for a major clash with Obama. The reason: Obama’s agenda — getting health care to prove he can govern and earn reelection — could quickly be in tension with lawmakers' agenda of saving their jobs.
That's why this election was so important. In the days leading up to the special election in Massachusetts, the once-jubilant Democrats were quickly depressed as the polls tightened; Brown basically surging to a lead in the final week of the campaign. He raised over one million dollars a day last week. Democrats were shaken in their Get Out The Vote efforts when many, many Democrats turned them down, and informed those volunteers they were going to be voting for Scott Brown. The earthquake in Massachusetts seems to have finally reached Washington, DC.
Prior to this election there were two interesting soundbites that I heard. The first was from Harry Reid where, once again, he stated the Democrats would resort to the reconciliation option to pass health insurance reform IF Martha Coakley lost. She lost, and now there's nary a word of that option because many Democrats on Capitol Hill have been outspoken in the last couple of days stating, on the record, that Reid can't count on their support. The same message is being relayed to Nancy Pelosi. Now, we know that these two will do whatever it takes to "buy" the votes they need, but if I were an elected politician in DC there's no bribe they could offer me to cook my own political career. Again, remember that Democrats are agreeing right now that if Massachusetts can lose a Senate seat, ANYONE in Congress could lose theirs too.
The angry independent wins
Ideologues and hard-core partisans dominate the leadership of both parties and the cable TV debates. But it’s the independents who are the deciders in most elections.
This voting bloc has swung decisively against Democrats, starting this past summer. A review of polling in Massachusetts, in other states and nationally shows the same thing: By about a 2-to-1 margin, independents have turned on Democrats.
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that two-thirds of independents would prefer Republicans controlled Congress. The same polls show the voters don’t even like Republicans. A CBS News poll showed only one-third of independents approve of Obama’s handling of the economy — a nearly 20-point drop in less than one year.
In all three big Democratic losses this past year — in New Jersey, Virginia and now Massachusetts — better than 60 percent of independents said they backed Republicans.
Democrats took the Independents for granted. Remember how the majority of Democrats campaigned in 2008, including the president himself. They campaigned like moderates, spoke of working in a bipartisan fashion, and to take care of the serious problems the nation faced. (The president's own history was well known to the Republicans and conservatives. Republicans who voted for Barry believed he'd do better than Bush and the Republicans in DC did.)
The Independents bought into that campaign, and had no problem in not only electing Barry, but also in securing a lock on the Congress by the Democrats. After all, why not give the other side a chance the same way they gave our side that chance starting in 2000, right? Wrong. They saw quickly the sort of radical agenda that the Congress and the president were geared up to pass. It started with the Pork-A-Palooza stimulus package, continued through the virtual seizure of two, major US car companies, passing legislation telling companies that accepted bailout money how much they could pay their executives, can and trade passed through the House (dead in the Senate), and now an out-and-out attempt to takeover the health care industry and the health insurance industry. After seeing what they bought, they had a buyer's remorse that could very easily be the Democrat's Waterloo at the ballot box in November.
Grand Old Possibility
Democrats are right that polls show the vast majority of the public holds Republicans in even lower esteem. But that might not matter because they blew the last two elections — and no longer own what Washington does.
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and others are bragging that they have a real shot at winning back the House. They would need to net 40 seats to do so.
Republicans say they have recruited some quality candidates in winnable seats. Democrats grudgingly agree. But Republicans are getting their clocks cleaned when it comes to fundraising, especially by the House campaign committees. Democrats gleefully agree.
The special election — and the enthusiasm it has generated among conservatives — will make it a lot easier for the GOP to raise money and recruit volunteers. It gives conservatives, many of whom remain frustrated by memories of free-spending Republicans when they controlled things, now have a cause. The NRCC blasted out a fundraising appeal overnight — and plans to leverage the results to convince candidates to run in races once seen as unwinnable. GOP fundraisers say the special election — combined with Obama’s new attacks on Wall Street — has some big companies hedging their bets by investing more in the minority.
And this was the point of the party's strategy right from the start. While some int he electorate moaned and groaned about the Democrats being in control, strategists saw a prime opportunity. As I pointed out above, the Democrats are drunk on power. We sat back and let them run with their little power trip, but we didn't go along with it. The only time we did was on the stimulus, and we saw what happened in the aftermath. "Snarling" Arlen Specter jumped parties. He believed that he had a better prospect being reelected by being a Democrat; by being in the party in the majority. It backfired because he will be gone in November. If Joe Sestak doesn't take him out in the primary, Pat Toomey will trounce him in the general election.
the Democrats enjoyed the ride while it lasted, but now they're worried. As the campaigns start up, the Republicans are ready to go to the people with their case -- their ideas -- as to how they'll work to fix the things screwed up by their colleagues across the aisle. The economy is going to be the focus of the midterms, and the Democrats have shown they're woefully inept at fixing it. In fact virtually everything they've done has exacerbated the problems. When they took over, unemployment was hovering around 7.5%. Now it's 10%, and real unemployment numbers have us free-falling to around 20%. So they have a serious problem to deal with, and they're not helping themselves by showing arrogance towards their constituents; sometimes even being antagonistic towards them (as Dianne Feinstein did back in July of last year, calling the police on senior citizens in her office.)
The Obama magic has vanished
Think back a year ago and imagine someone saying Obama would throw his support behind Democrats in New Jersey, Virginia and Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts — and lose all of them.
Think back a year ago and imagine someone saying he would celebrate his first anniversary without having gotten health care, financial regulation or energy legislation signed into law. And that less than 50 percent of the public would hold a favorable view of his presidency.
Obama clearly remains popular at the personal level, a big asset that Republicans privately concede could easily help turn things around for this White House in the months ahead. But it is similarly clear that the Obama magic of 2008 has vanished. His personal popularity is plainly not transferable to other Democrats. His power with Democrats is somewhat diminished.
It wasn't a smart move for Barry to go into Massachusetts to campaign for a woman so clearly flawed. Two gaffes cost he a lot of votes yesterday, and when prognosticators look at the campaign as a whole, they'll agree. First, there ARE terrorists still in Afghanistan. She stated there weren't, just ten days after eight CIA officers were blown up by a suicide bomber. Three days before that, three American soldiers were killed in a firefight that took place on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. She said that during a debate, and tossed in that it was time for an "exit strategy" out of Afghanistan. That doesn't resonate well with voters, especially those who have loved ones in harms way.
Her second gaffe was in claiming Curt Schilling was a Yankee's fan. Anyone who lives on Boston, and eats/breathes/sleeps/lives sports -- even the passing watcher, and not a hardcore fan -- knows that Curt Schilling not only isn't a Yankees fan, but he was the ace pitcher who helped the Boston Red Sox win its first World Series in 86 years. (Also, it was Schilling's performance in the sixth game of the ALCS series against the Yankees that forced a game seven, making the Red Sox the first team in baseball history to come back from a three-to-one deficit.) Like it or not, not knowing about a prominent sports figure in your home state/town is a death knell. As Jon Stewart pointed out on The Daily Show "That's like asking John Lennon who his favorite Beatle was, and his answer was 'Mickey Dolenz.'"
But, I digress. Barry's magic isn't completely gone. He still has popular support across the nation, and he still has his liberal sycophants in the Congress. Barney Frank stated, yesterday on NPR, that it was time to change the filibuster rule to prevent Republicans from engaging in one to slow down or stop the president's agenda. (Not only is this a sign of panic on the part of Democrat leaders in Congress, but it's a bad signal to send to the nation that just because you don't have a filibuster-proof majority, it's time to end the filibuster. Talk about petulant.)
It's clear that Barry can't seem to get his mojo back, and pass it off to other Democrats. He's failed to do so twice, and if we look at his record, the GOP is three-for-three in special elections. He's sporting a big, fat goose-egg in all three races. Democrats will probably not be asking him to help them campaign because he might be more of an albatross around their necks.
The Democrats definitely have a far-reaching problem they need to take care of, and we're not sure if they can do it and still salvage the midterms. People are determined to end their overwhelming majorities in Congress. I cited, at the beginning, several senators in deep trouble. The same goes for the House, as more than a few have spoken out on the health care/insurance reform. They won't support it. Granted, this election likely won't have killed the efforts, but the current legislation working its way back through the Congress just might be.