Eric Kleefeld raises a good question over at Andrew's place: How bad do conservative pessimists expect '08 to be? In response, both Bruce Bartlett and Liz Mair point out that there are very few obvious toss-up seats in play in the Congressional races, which suggests that even in what will probably be a good year for the Dems, the Republicans won't necessarily drop that far below their current totals in the House and Senate. (In the latter body, the consensus seems to be that New Hampshire and Colorado are the most likely Democratic pick-ups, followed by Minnesota and Oregon.)
This analysis seems basically right to me, and if anything, it heightens the pressure on the Dems to pick the best possible nominee and run the best possible campaign. Various long-term trends are going the left's way, certainly, particularly on size-of-government issues, and there's reason to think that an incremental victory in '08 might be followed by similarly incremental gains in subsequent elections, which would gradually build a majority large enough to enact, say, the entire Ezra Klein agenda. (I have a piece on this theme in the next Atlantic, though the phrase "Ezra Klein agenda" is sadly absent.) But nothing in American politics is certain, and years like 2008 - when the GOP is likely to be as weakened and on-the-ropes as it's been in my lifetime - don't come around all that often. Which means, in turn, that the Democrats have every reason to aim and hope and pray for something more sweeping than a three-seat pickup in the Senate. Their goal should be a Reagan in '80 wave, the sort of sweep that could threaten Republican Senate seats in Maine and Virginia, New Mexico and even Nebraska, and dozens of GOP-leaning Congressional districts besides.
For that, though, you need a Reagan, and I don't think they have one. Obama has a touch of the Reagan magic, and at first I was sure the Dems should roll the dice with him, risking a loss in the hopes of gaining a landslide. But up against Clinton he looks so green ...
Photo Courtesy of Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Ross Douthat is a contributing editor at The Atlantic.