To make sure Republicans are motivated, Vice President Joe Biden, who likes to say things, announced that a Republican takeover of the House in 2010 would be the "end of the road" for the President's agenda. Ironically, the President's job approval is one of the factors pointing to GOP gains. Democrats have picked up 54 seats in the past four years to establish a substantial majority, but trouble is brewing. Republicans would need to pick up 41 seats to regain the majority, a sweep that was thought impossible, but is now not entirely inconceivable. Charlie Cook believes the "situation has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and Congressional Democrats." Stu Rothenberg sees 70 Democratic-held seats as competitive compared to only 34 currently in GOP hands. He is predicting a GOP pickup of between 20 and 30 seats. Forty-nine Democrats represent districts won by John McCain in 2008. It is important to note that the President's party typically loses a number of House seats in his first midterm election, but 2010 is shaping up for greater than expected gains for Republicans as the party targets 80 seats, including some of entrenched Democrats. The upcoming midterm is being compared to 2006 election in which Democrats gained 30 seats as well as control of the House and the Republican Revolution of 1994. All experts see double-digit Dem losses in 2010 at a minimum, with statistical forecasting predicting at least 15.
The Senate will also play host to a number of top-notch races in 2010 as Democrats may struggle to retain their 60 vote supermajority. There are some notable Democratic senators who have proven extremely vulnerable as we approach the midterm elections. The most prominent is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who, in the latest polls out of Nevada, is trailing his top challenger by 10 points. Also behind in the polls is embattled veteran senator Chris Dodd and party-switching Arlen Specter. Democrats from blue-states seem to be ignoring the fact that their party has a problem and are putting red-state democrats in potentially perilous positions. Even members not up until 2012 are concerned and raising money years early. In North Carolina, incumbent Republican Richard Burr is vulnerable but leads potential opponents, including Elaine Marshall, by double digits. There will also be a number of additional gubernatorial elections around the country in 2010, where incumbent difficulties are signaling trouble for Democrats.
Fortunately, political junkies, and especially Republican voters, don't have to wait until November 2010 for the excitement of a comeback. Virginia and New Jersey always elect governors one year after presidential elections. This gives these races disproportionate significance and earns them the focus of the political chattering class as well as the national parties and
White House, despite their "hyper-localism." In Virginia, Republican Attorney General Bob McDonnell is leading the race against State Senator Creigh Deeds, in a rematch of the razor-thin 2005 attorney general race, that some see as a model for a GOP comeback. In New Jersey, the Republican Chris Christie is also leading incumbent Jon Corzine. Both races are proving daunting for Democrats.
Living in Virginia and working in Republican politics, I've enjoyed a first-hand view of the gubernatorial race, and the McDonnell campaign in particular. In the last 8 elections, Virginians have elected the candidate from the opposite party of the President. Republicans are hoping the "presidential jinx" continues this year. McDonnell opened up a 15 point lead in the race during the summer, but negative, backward looking attacks by Deeds have closed the gap somewhat as election day approaches. However, Deeds stumbled mightily as he was caught on camera talking out of both sides of his mouth, incoherently, on raising taxes. The video, particularly his condescending snap at a female reporter has gone viral and is now featured in a major ad buy for McDonnell in Northern Virginia. Also, with Obama's popularity now upside down in Virginia, it is unclear whether he would help or hurt Deeds, who is facing a major enthusiasm deficit and is struggling to motivate NOVA liberals, in the closing weeks. McDonnell now leads by an average of 7.3 with four weeks to go. In New Jersey, where the race has also tightened, Christie leads by 3.8. (Note: Follow RCP polling charts on both races at the bottom of the PG Blog.)
It's not too early to look a bit further ahead to the 2012 presidential election in which President Barack Obama, who has been on the defensive quite a bit, will have to again face voters and, perhaps, pay a price for his rapid move towards further government intervention which has angered a large segment of Americans and dramatically hurt his standing in the polls, leading to major losses among Independents who now disapprove of the President. If I had to make a prediction today, it would be that one of the two men pictured on the left, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, will challenge Obama for the White House. These are two of the most influential Republicans, and both are making clear moves towards a presidential run, the second for Romney who came up short in 2008.
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, called the gut of the party, announced in early summer that he would not seek reelection, a move understood as allowing him to focus on a presidential campaign. He has already traveled to eight states in recent weeks, assembled a campaign team and started a PAC. Meanwhile, Romney's 2012 team is poised for another run. Some commentators are going so far as to predict that Romney will be our next president; he is after all "next-in-line." However, in addition to Romney and Pawlenty, there are other formidable candidates who may mix up the field, including rising star John Thune and grassroots conservative favorites Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee.
A major voting blog Republicans must better attract in 2012 is young voters, aged 18 to 29, which Obama won 66-32. The GOP challenge to win those critical voters back will be a major storyline in the next three years as the campaigns heat up. Some argue that to attract these and other Obama voters, Republicans should move off base. Meanwhile, Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele works to merge all factions of the party into one cohesive and effective organization. Indeed, Obama is losing support with Hispanics and young voters. Seniors, who make up a disproportionate share of the electorate in midterm elections will also be critical in the upcoming cycles.
Ideologically, more Americans identify themselves as conservative than liberal by a two-to-one margin. What's more, also by a two-to-one margin, Americans report becoming more conservative in recent years. In each of the 50 states, conservatives now outnumber liberals. The term "liberal" is actually the least popular of all political labels. However, on specific policy issues, public opinion seems to be tilting more liberal.
These days, politics is money. For better or worse, exorbitant amounts of money shape races and can determine elections. On that point, Republicans are off to a better start than Democrats in 2009. The Senate campaign arm for Republicans, the NRSC, has outraised the DSCC two months in a row as Democrats have been jarred by a drop in fundraising. Meanwhile, on the generic ballot, Republicans have recovered from their deep deficits which preceded the last two election and pulled to even or slightly ahead, major signs of a changing political reality as Democratic Party ratings have plummeted.
In a sign that Republicans learned something from the dominance of the Obama campaign in Web 2.0, the GOP has taken a great liking to Twitter and is dominating the medium compared to their Democratic colleagues. With more Americans paying "very close" attention to politics than ever, Twitter provides a unique and direct way for elected officials to communicate with their constituents and supporters. Even John McCain, who did not know how to use a Blackberry as he ran for president, is now one of the most prolific tweeters on the Hill.
Aided by a variety of factors from Twitter to the mortalizing of Obama, Republicans will make gains in Congress in 2010 and may very well pick up wins in both gubernatorial races only 28 days away. How significant, or even historic, the GOP comeback will be a year from now remains to be seen. I look forward to following the races as excitement builds and news breaks. Stay tuned to the PG Blog for all the latest, follow on Twitter and send in first-hand accounts of campaigns around the country. It promises to be a fun ride.