The Beltway is buzzing about the pessimism of one of its most beloved prognosticators. Charlie Cook just doesn't think the Democrats will hold on to the House of Representatives. Cook bases his projections on two realities: at the level of individual races, Republicans are leading; the national environment, he believes, is heavily weighted against the Democrats because President Obama lost the confidence of the American people by pursuing an "Ahab-like" quest for health care when instead he should have spent his time tending to the economy.
Cook is being questioned on several fronts. Some of his colleagues quietly wonder if he is overcompensating for failing to see the Democratic wave early enough in 2006 and 2008. (I doubt that Cook is this insecure, so I discount this possibility.)
Then there's the matter of whether it is appropriate to compare the anchor that was Iraq to health reform, not just in the moral quality of the two policies but also in the way that they harmed the presidents who pursued them.
But there are enough seats in play (54 Democratic seats and six Republican seats), Republicans are recruiting deeply, Democrats have yet to come up with a decent ...anything, and we're still a ways of way from filing deadlines -- meaning more potential retirements. The wave metaphor may not apply...in that the wave implies popular support for a party, and Republicans don't have that. The main problem for Democrats is that they can't build beachheads very high because they've got little to show for their efforts. So even a moderate sized wave, combined with a turnout enthusiasm gap, could easily overwhelm defenses.
I don't know if Cook is right, but his projection, based on history, and reality, is plausible. And even though the Democratic public affairs machine will say otherwise, White House officials do not seem to disagree with Cook. (None would talk about this particular projection, however.) There are many scenarios, but midterm elections are zero sum.
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is a former contributing editor at The Atlantic