A Few Light Rays Amid Bad Times For Democrats

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At the beginning of the week, health care reform was, yet again, declared dead. The White House woke up Monday morning, bleary eyed, to awful headlines about the "public option." Chuck Grassley had spit on the idea of bipartisan compromise -- still, in the view of the Senate leadership and the White House, the most likely route to a bill. It's been a bad month for Democrats.  And the long-term (actually, 2010 is short term, but long-term, short-term) prospects for Republicans are brightening.

To feed a news cycle (they don't call it a cycle because it's linear), some folks may strain to make a case that Democrats are in good shape. Eh. No. But there is no single vector to the news, or to public opinion. And importantly, though the prospects for the passage of health care reform are less certain than they were at the beginning of the month, they are still fairly strong.

Item: Public opinion is swinging around like a tether ball. When phrased fairly, Americans still support the basic premise of health care reform, and they seem to like the president's ideas. They like the "choice" frame as applied to a public option, especially if _they_ get the choice. They aren't concerned about tax hikes. They're not too happy with Democrats, but they like Republicans even less. They're especially vulnerable to misinformation, and Democrats are still trying to figure out whether rebutting the bad info simply reinforces its salience among partisans.

Item:  What Democrats really need this month is partisan energy to match the perceived enthusiasm gap with Republicans. President Obama's town hall meeting attracted about 273,000 viewers, according to the DNC.  He made a forceful case for reform. As one party official put it,  put Obama for America campaign back in the center of the effort to pass health insurance.

Item: The White House seems to have a back-up strategy and is openly embracing budget reconciliation. What Jay Rosen calls the Church of the Savvy -- that is, us media elite types -- say that reconciliation isn't possible, likely, or feasible. But enough Senate Democrats are beginning to disagree.

Item: The DNC outraised the RNC in July, suggesting at least some level of base enthusiasm.

Item: Senate Republicans went too far last week, and they knew it. That's why several of them -- not Jon Kyl, but others, like Grassley -- walked back from the ledge, a little.

Item: The press is still covering the town hall meetings, but there's a sense -- collective? intuitive? that they're calmer than before. There are reliable reports that Democrats outnumber Republicans are many events in critical districts.

Item: For the first time in a long time, Democrats in New Jersey saw a few rays of light. Republican gubernatorial nominee Chris Christie, the former Attorney General, cast himself as a pure anti-corruption crusader.  Then came a report that he had discussed his bid with Karl Rove -- probably not in an of itself a violation of the Hatch Act, but forcing Christie on the defensive.  He's now involved in a complex scandlette about his failure to disclose a loan to a lower-ranking colleage in the U.S. Attorney's office.  Christie needs his reformist credentials to win; if he loses that, Gov. Jon Corzine is probably re-elected.

Item: President Obama is about to go on vacation. As Larry Sabato twittered, presidential vacations are politically irrelevant.  But Obama gets to go on vacation with his family. He gets to spend time outside campaigning venues. If he plays the optics right -- and you can bet that the White House is thinking about how to exploit the optics a little -- some of the tension among independents might ebb.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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