Jewish World Review August 17, 2009 / 27 Menachem-Av 5769
GOP thinks the unthinkable: Victory in 2010
By Byron York
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | It's a possibility many Republicans speak of only in whispers and Democrats are just now beginning to face. After passionate and contentious fights over health care, the environment, and taxes, could Democrats lose big -- really big -- in next year's elections?
Ask them about it, and many Democrats will point to the continued personal popularity of Barack Obama. But that's not the story. "I think what's going to happen is Obama's going to be fine, and the Democrats in Congress are going to get their asses kicked in 2010," says one Democratic strategist who prefers not to be named. "This is following a curve like the Clinton years: take on really controversial things early, fail, or succeed partially, ask Democrats to take really tough votes, and then lose. A lot of guys are going to get beat, but the president has time to recover."
Most Republican hope focuses on the House of Representatives, but even there they have a huge job ahead. Democrats control 256 seats, and Republicans 178. Forty seats would have to change hands for Republicans to take charge.
On the other hand, 52 seats turned over when the GOP won the House in 1994. And even if Republicans don't get the 40 they need in 2010, they could dramatically narrow the gap between the parties, giving Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership less room to operate.
The polls are definitely moving in the GOP's direction. Just look at the Real Clear Politics average of the generic ballot question, which asks whether, if the election were held today, you would vote for your local Democratic or Republican candidate for Congress. It's been dominated by Democrats for the last few years -- until now.
In recent weeks, poll after poll has shown Republicans neck-and-neck, or even ahead, of Democrats. Even a National Public Radio survey found Republicans in the lead. "There's no question that you're seeing a shift across virtually all the polling," says one GOP strategist, "with Democrats losing ground."
Republicans were sensing momentum earlier in the summer, but events of the August recess -- specifically, the town hall meetings in which opponents of the Democratic health care reform plan have turned out in force -- have changed their view. "This month has opened our eyes," says one plugged-in House aide. "We're seeing real people who are fired up who weren't engaged before -- the first time we've had a popular movement that could really benefit us electorally."
For the moment, Republicans aren't worried about press reports portraying protesters as rent-a-mobs or ugly extremists. A new Gallup poll asking whether the demonstrations have made people more or less sympathetic to the protesters' point of view found that 34 percent of respondents said they were more sympathetic, while just 21 percent said less sympathetic. (Thirty-six percent said it made no difference.) For Republicans, that's a net plus.
Rep. Tom Price, the Georgia congressman who heads the House Republican Study Committee, points to what he calls the fatal combination of Democratic overreaching and arrogance. "I think that means huge gains in the House, with a very distinct possibility of returning Republicans to the majority," says Price. "The American people like checks and balances, and right now they don't see any checks and balances in Washington."
And what if the Republicans stage a comeback? Some Obama supporters think it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. "The truth is, Democratic presidents do better when there's a Republican Congress," says the Democratic strategist. "If there were a Republican Congress, there would be things that are non-starters."
Things like a public option in health care reform, a massive cap-and-trade energy scheme, and all sorts of tax increases. In other words, proposals that are popular with the Democratic base but unpopular with the independent voters who hold the president's fate in their hands.
A Republican victory might not be so bad for a president with re-election on his mind. With a GOP House, Obama would be tugging the debate toward the left, appealing to independents and keeping his Democratic supporters happy. With liberals like Pelosi and Henry Waxman running the House, Obama will be increasingly forced to fight his own party by tugging the debate toward the right -- not a formula for Democratic unity.
Not long ago, some Republicans were worried about becoming a permanent minority party. Although they may not win in 2010, they feel like they're back in the game.
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© 2009, NEA