Anticipating the 2010 elections
When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, Democrats were flying high. Now, over a year later, this is no longer the scenario; rather, as Sarah Palin correctly pointed out in a sarcastic comment during the Tea Party Convention earlier this month, "How's that hopey, changey thing working out for ya?" Please, don't get me wrong her: as far as I see it, this is one of the few things Palin has gotten right. Nonetheless, Palin's comment reiterated a question on the minds of many: What shape is this growing trend of discontent going to take? And more specifically, how will it affect the 2010-midterm elections?
When Scott Brown, won the Massachusetts special Senate election on January 19, the U.S. watched in amazement as the unthinkable occurred. A Republican--yes, a Republican--won the Bay State, a long-held Democratic stronghold, after Senator Ted Kennedy (in office for 46 years) passed away. Political analysts have largely concluded that the surprising blow to the Democrats was an expression of the American public's discontent with the Obama administration. But what about the larger implications of the election? If a Republican can win a Senate seat in Massachusetts, one of the strongest of strong Democratic states, what does that suggest for the rest of the nation as the 2010-midterm elections approach? Further horrific upsets and referendums on Obama's policies? Fierce partisan debates and divides?
On January 25, just days after the Brown victory, Beau Biden--the current Delaware attorney general and son of Vice President Joe Biden--announced that he would not be running for the Delaware Senate seat long held by his father. Beau's decision sparked many speculations, including criticism that he sought to avoid what would likely be a tough contest with highly respected Republican Mike Castle.
Since the younger Biden's surprising announcement, a series of unexpected retirements and resignations have come to light. Among the Democrats stepping down are Senator Chris Dodd (Connecticut), Representative Pat Kennedy (Rhode Island), Senator Byron Dorgan (North Dakota) and Senator Evan Bayh (Indiana). As the November elections approach, many of those resigning from office do so leaving strong Republican challengers and no Democrat candidates. In particular, Senator Bayh leaves his Republican challenger, Dan Coats, largely uncontested.
Bayh, who announced his resignation last week, explained his departure by saying, "To put it in words I think most people can understand: I love working for the people...but I do not love Congress." In particular, Bayh highlighted a ferocious partisan divide that made it impossible to accomplish anything and made going to work each day feel like going to war. Although Bayh officially based his retirement on his dislike of the bitter bipartisan divide, some argue that he did not want to play a part in what would likely be an exhausting election. Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee had his own interpretation, "The fact of the matter is Senator Evan Bayh and moderate Democrats across the country are running for the hills because they sold out their constituents and don't want to face them at the ballot box."
These sentiments--discontent with Congress, negative anticipation of the campaign season and fear of constituents--are not merely coming from the Democrats; rather, the recent resignations have taken on a decidedly bipartisan flavor. Among the Republicans leaving office are Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart (Florida), Representative Vern Ehlers (Michigan), Representative Steve Buyer (Indiana) and representatives from Arkansas and Arizona.
Nonetheless, as Paul Lindsay of the National Republican Congressional Committee noted, "All retirements are not created equal." The trend seems to be that the Democrats who have stepped down have done so in states that tend to be competitive, which may give Republicans an advantage in the midterm elections. This "strategic luck," combined with the recent decline in Obama's popularity and the success of Scott Brown in Massachusetts may lead to Republican victories in the midterm elections. Furthermore, new public opinion polls reveal anti-incumbent fervor and voter anger over partisanship--sentiments that will likely benefit Republicans in the elections. With all this evidence in place, it comes as no surprise that in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll about the matchup for the 2010-midterm elections, Republicans pulled ahead of Democrats.
Despite these speculations, however, there is still time for change--after all, uncertainty remains on all sides. In the meantime, perhaps Republicans should try not to get too excited and Democrats should be a little more worried? For now, only one thing is certain: after Scott Brown, anything is possible.