In Florida today, we read about the imminent announcement by Gov. Charlie Crist that he'll seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. Looking to the north and west, it's hard to see where Crist's message, whatever it may be, fits in with what his party's other Senate and Congressional candidates will say in 2010. Remember, Crist not only supported President Obama's stimulus package, he helped the White House sell it. Not only does the White House consider Crist a friend, they consider him an ally of sorts; even though the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has started to take aim at Crist, the White House will not participate until the exigencies of politics require them to.
For Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, the stimulus package was the line in the sand. Indeed, in early March, when Steele decided to talk about this message and project it forward, the stimpak wasn't too popular; money hadn't gone out, and the public was skeptical about its costs. Crist wasn't, of course, and he remains a supporter. (How weird will it be to see and hear Crist talk about President Obama during the GOP primary?). Crist's general election theme is pretty obvious: I'll work with the President whenever I can, but I'll be independent, just like I am here in Florida.
Republicans elsewhere may try to run on the economy more broadly. Unemployment rates are a lagging indicator, and regardless of whether other economic figures are saying, a bad number will be mostly owned by the White House. Politically, they're not truly worried in congressional districts where Obama's personal approval rating exceeds 50% -- and in most of the competitive districts, according to Democratic officials,it is will above that.
National security? I think we're due for another debate, particularly over military commissions. But people will be focused on the economy and keeping national security in focus might make Republicans look out of focus. The other problem is that Americans trust Democrats and President Obama to keep them safe more than they do Republicans and Dick Cheney. The White House pays very close association to this margin, as do Congressional Republicans, which explains why their latest efforts are so blunt.
Congressional elections are always about local forces and personalities, except when they aren't. Plenty of Democrats had the latitude (blessed by the White House) to vote against the stimulus and show their local newspapers how they had a role in paring down the budget. Obama is also helping them by trying not to give Republicans a cultural wedge issue, which is one reason why think the White House is slow-walking a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
If you were a Republican congressional candidate, how would you run in 2010? Is it too early to know?