Commentary Magazine


Senate Spin

Chris Cillizza’s column is headlined “In 2010 Obama’s poll numbers less of an asset for congressional Democrats.” Well, that’s one way of putting it. In fact, the president’s a millstone, right?

Despite the headline, the column is actually about Senate Democrats. The only mention of the House, where substantial losses are now expected by everyone but Joe Biden, is this: “Historically, Senate races tend to be less heavily influenced by the direction — and strength — of the national political winds than House races in which the candidates are less well known to the electorate and on which the national parties typically spend less money.” As for the Senate, the most Cillizza will concede is that “the president’s numbers could make a difference at the margins — where a handful of races are typically decided.”

It’s the sort of analysis — GOP wins in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Florida, Colorado, Delaware, and the rest would not be a reflection on Obama — that likely induces approving nods and smiles in the White House. And, in case we did not appreciate the Obamaphile view of things, Cillizza adds: “White House allies argue that in the handful of Senate races widely regarded as those that Republicans must win to take back the chamber, the president isn’t a neutral or negative force but a positive one.” So why are Senate contests in Washington, Wisconsin, and California so close — would Democrats actually be trailing if not for the alleged “positive” Obama effect?

A less Obama-friendly analysis would go like this: Losing the Senate Majority is no longer out of the question. (Al Hunt is now confessing: “Republicans have a real shot at taking control of the Senate, as well as the House, in the U.S. midterm elections. … Even with [the Bush] card it’s an uphill struggle to match the Republicans’ anger and energy, as evidenced by the higher turnouts in primaries around the country.”) Obama’s economy, the disaffection of independent voters, and the populist backlash against Obama’s left-leaning agenda have put into play states that usually aren’t (e.g., California, Wisconsin) and shifted into the GOP column states that two years ago were won by Obama (Pennsylvania, Colorado). The results will probably induce a monstrous game of finger-pointing, and Senate Democrats who survive and those who are up in 2012 will be disinclined to rubber-stamp what remains of his agenda.

I suspect that the more sober-minded in the Democratic Party with agree with that take and will be advising 2012 candidates to look after their own political fortunes and pay close attention to their constituents. Otherwise, they will join the ranks of the 2010 Obama victims.