Charlie Cook is just about the savviest member of the elect here in Washington, and rightly so: he's more often right than wrong when it comes to predictions, short-term and long-term about elections. Charlie has followed electoral politics as closely as anyone, and talks to everyone. So his pronouncement yesterday that Democrats faced peril in 2010 made news on its own. Gallup polls, he wrote,
"....confirm anecdotal evidence, and our own view, that the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and Congressional Democrats. Today, The Cook Political Report's Congressional election model, based on individual races, is pointing toward a net Democratic loss of between six and 12 seats, but our sense, factoring in macro-political dynamics is that this is far too low."
As Charlie admits, election projection is an art, not a science. (Hence: "our sense.") Cook's sense is based on a reduction in the partisan identification gap between Democrats and Republicans, anecdotes of Republican grassroots enthusiasm, President Obama's declining approval ratings, the lower and lower ratings of Congress, historical results, the mottling up of the Democratic agenda, candidate recruitment, the slow economic recovery, anxiety and frustration in the land.
Charlie's been following elections since I was in diapers. So I'd give more credence to what he thinks. My own sense is that I think it's still a little early to know what Obama's approval rating is going to look like in early 2010, much less in September 2010 or November 10, much less whether Democratic enthusiasm will return as quickly as it diminished if the economy begins to recover, if unemployment reverses, if personal income stops dropping, and if Obama's favorability and likability ratings stay over 50. (In the Post-ABC poll, there is optimism about the pace of economic recovery, Obama's approval rating is at 57%, etc -- all amid his worst possible month.)
I also think that, although the party enthusiasm gap is quite evident today, the Democrats grassroots capacity exceeds that of the Republicans, in many ways analogous to the way Republican capacity exceeded the Democratic capacity in 2002 and 2004 (and blunted the scope of the Democratic wins, believe it or not, in 2006). A lot depends on what happens -- obviously -- whether the President not only signs a bill but whether he signs the bill as a winner, whether he can build on his agenda, whether the Democrats come up with a coherent narrative -- or, conversely, whether anger and anxiety continue to mix with independent buyer's remorse.
Ron Brownstein notes that one think seems very likely: conservatives will turn out in droves in 2010. What's not known is whether the Obama coalition -- under 55s, the younger voters, Hispanics -- will be able to match them. Because Democrats are holding on to so many Republican seats, above-average conservative turnout can swing quite a few of them.
It's not unreasonable to think that Republicans aren't going to pick up some seats in the House. At this point, though, I don't know whether we know enough to say anything more definitive.
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