Predictions 2010: Best Case, Worst Case For Democrats

Imagine, if you will, that in a secret sub-basement of the White House, in a padlocked room surrounded by an impenetrable steel barrier, David Axelrod is putting the finishing touches on a machine that would generate a proton-driven plasma wake field, pushing the country months into the future; we'd come out of our collective flash forward right before the November 2010 election.

I don't think Axelrod possesses such a machine, but I do know that he's built one in his mind.

Right now, Obama's strategists are thinking about the best case and worst case scenarios for Democrats in 2010.

In an ideal world, the Democratic majority begins to build up a set of real accomplishments, the economy measurably improves, and Republicans can't figure out a way beyond conservative populism.

Item: Health care passes the Senate before Christmas; Final passage in January.

Item: Obama uses SOTU to lay out agenda for the rest of his first term, focuses heavily on education reform and government reform in general.

Item: Obama appoints a bipartisan deficit reduction commission with teeth.

Item: White House and Congress agree to divert $150 b from TARP into (a) deficit downpayment (b) aid to states and (c) direct job stimulus.

Item: The House and Senate pass tough financial services reform legislation.

Item: Obama's education reform legislation passes overwhelmingly.

Item: By March, it's clear that employers are hiring again, although the pace remains slow. Unemployment drops to 9.5%. Republicans unable to talk down economy.

Item: Personal income begins to rise, along with consumer confidence.

Item: Democrats prevent more longstanding incumbents like John Tanner and Dennis Moore from retiring in the House.

Item: As economy recovers, independents become less anxious about Obama; Democratic enthusiasm increases; populism on the right pulls away from the center of the electorate. A victory on immigration reform energizes Hispanics.

Item: Afghanistan and Pakistan remain relatively stable; already anticipated retirements of senior national security figures are handled gracefully; most agree to stay put until after the midterms.

Item: Obama presents a new START II Treaty to the Senate and convenes a world summit on nuclear disarmament in April.

Item: Democratic ethical problems turn out to be all smoke and no fire.

By contrast, the worst case scenario finds Democratic policy bottled up in the procedural lock of the Senate, Obama frustratingly hovering above it all but being dragged down, a health care bill that falls apart and an economy that dips back into recession.

Item: Democrats cannot get to 60, thanks to Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman, and cannot agree on a strategy to pass at least the more popular insurance restrictions.  

Item: The TARP surplus turns out to be a mirage, and/or is used to bail out the commercial real estate market.

Item: Obama gives his State of the Union speech with health care languishing, with the increasingly antsy Democratic center rebelling even further on climate change, and with no money left for his education reform initiatives.

Item: When Democrats introduce comprehensive immigration reform into a maelstrom of populism and nationalism, numerous centrists defect; the Hispanic base is incredibly demoralized. Republicans are further energized from their victory.

Item: Even more Democrats decide to retire, increasing the number of open seats to five (all top GOP opportunities. Note: in 1994, there were 22 open seats).

Item: The Afghanistan troop surge is poorly executed; Obama fumbles nuclear diplomacy at the non-proliferation conference; START II talks with Russia fail

Item: A senior Democratic lawmaker is indicted on corruption charges.

Item: Senior administration officials don't wait until after the midterms to resign, creating a sense that the White House is under siege.

Item: By April, it's clear that the economic green shoots on display during early winter were mirages; growth stalls or even declines; the unemployment rate remains above 10%.

Item: Wall Street rejects Obama's deficit reduction panel and the Dow begins a months-long slide.