Commentary Magazine


How Big a Wave?

Last week, Charlie Cook wrote:

In my view, Democrats have been in a free fall since summer, and unless something significant changes, they are headed toward the losses of the magnitude we saw in the midterm elections of 1958, 1966, 1974, 1994, and 2006. One difference between this year and 1994 and 2006 is that the party in power started developing serious problems more than a year ahead of the election.

Although no two cycles are exactly alike, history suggests that the indicators we’re now seeing mean that the Democratic majority in the House is in grave danger and that Senate Democrats could easily see their ranks shrink to 52 or 53 seats. Today’s signs are much like those that led me to predict in August 2006 that “unless something dramatic happens before Election Day, Democrats will take control of the House. And the chances that they’ll seize the Senate are rising toward 50-50.”

He concedes that the public perception of health care could improve, but it really hasn’t. (Obama’s mini-outreach to Republicans is unlikely, I think, to do the trick.) Nor is it likely that unemployment will drop significantly by November. So Cook remains doubtful that the Democrats can hold back the tide.

But here’s the thing: there are waves and then there are waves. Perhaps individual members (Rep. Bart Stupak’s committed pro-life House Democrats come to mind) who can maintain their standing with the voters. Simply because Obama is taking the party down the tubes doesn’t mean all must follow. Democrats may go down to 52 seats in the Senate — but they could also go down to 49. In other words, the gloom and doom predictions don’t tell us which Democrats will be lost, nor do they tell us the magnitude of the wave. What Democrats do between now and November will determine that. In short, how many will be canny enough to save themselves? Stay tuned.